PLAYBOY: In your new memoir, I Am The New Black, you describe your childhood as being filled with poverty and violence. Was it really as horrible as it sounds?
TRACY MORGAN: When you grow up black in Brooklyn, in the ghetto, you see a lot of shit fast. I seen my first murder when I was just six, seven years old. His body was lying out there all night long, brains splattered on the sidewalk, people just fucking standing around looking at it. Motherfucker is dead and everybody in the neighborhood knew who did it. But nobody said shit. Because you could be next. It’s the hood, man. It’s about fucking survival. That’s why it’s so promiscuous there. You sell some pussy, that’s like an ATM machine. It truly takes a village, man. Sometimes you gotta put out to survive.
PLAYBOY: You claim in the book that your sense of humor was a “bullet-proof vest.” How did being funny keep you out of harm’s way?
TRACY MORGAN: The kids in the schoolyard could be cruel. A lot of them were sociopaths. But if you got a big brother, you could go get him and your big brother would come out and fuck ‘em up. I couldn’t do that, cause my older brother was born with cerebral palsy. I’d get my big brother and he’d come back cripple. So I had to develop a sense of humor, make motherfuckers laugh to keep ‘em off my ass. When you’re the funny motherfucker or the motherfucker who can sing, when you’re the source of entertainment, they protect you. But you gotta make it worth it for them.
PLAYBOY: You also suggested that you briefly sold drugs. Is it wrong to imagine you as the funniest drug dealer ever?
TRACY MORGAN: I was, man. As a matter of fact, my dealing partner, my best friend, god bless him, he was murdered a month to the day after my son was born. We used to be chopping that crack, bagging that shit up at night, three o’clock in the morning, and I’d be making that motherfucker laugh. And he was like, “Yo Trey, why the fuck you doin’ this, man? You should be at the fucking Apollo or something.” I’d tell him, “Shut the fuck up, Al.” He got killed and I went into comedy. He’s guiding me right now. He’s probably sitting here next to us, him and my father and my grandmother. All of them are with me every day, every second of the day, leading me in the right direction.
PLAYBOY: I Am The New Black details some pretty painful memories from your life. Was there anything you were reluctant to share?
TRACY MORGAN: I was a little worried talking about my father’s death. That cuts deep, y’know? He got AIDS, and he went from about 200 pounds all the way down to maybe 90 pounds. He didn’t even look like my father anymore, he looked like a skeleton. I came home from football practice one day, when I was in the 12th grade, and he was sitting outside our building. I said, “Dad, what you doin’ out here?” He looked so fragile, no teeth in his mouth, and he said, “I had to get out of the house, get some sun.” I picked him up, took my father upstairs in my arms. We got to the door and he started crying, blood coming out his eyes. I said, “Dad, what you crying for?” And he said, “I remember when I carried you up here when you was a baby.” Two, three weeks later, he was dead. That shit was really… it’s heavy, man. But that was my life.
PLAYBOY: You play a character on 30 Rock named Tracy Jordan who’s more than loosely based on you. When Tina Fey pitched the show to you, did you ever wonder, “Wait, is she making fun of me?”
TRACY MORGAN: Tina is my baby girl. She’s my sister from another mother of a different color. I’d do 25 to life for her. She is down like four flat tires. She pitched the show to me like, “Yo, this is your personality, it’s your alter-ego.” She knows everything about me because we’d spent so many years working together on Saturday Night Live, and she knows my voice probably better than I do. People fear what they don’t understand and they hate what they can’t conquer. Tina Fey never did that with me. She said, “Keep the cameras rolling and let Tracy do what he do.” I love that about her.
PLAYBOY: How are you and your character similar? Where does Tracy Morgan end and Tracy Jordan begin?
TRACY MORGAN: Tracy Jordan is a part of Tracy Morgan, but Tracy Morgan is not a part of Tracy Jordan. Tracy Jordan is a figment of my imagination. He’s a character that I do when I go to work. When I’m not at work, Tracy Morgan is much more interesting and far out than Tracy Jordan could ever be. Look around my home. I got fucking sharks and tarantulas in here! I got a fucking gargantuan bird spider over there, eats monkeys and birds and shit. I’m like Michael Jackson. They said, “Well, he had Bubbles the chimp and a giraffe.” Well yeah, because he was a fucking genius! Nobody could do it like Mike! Who else could walk around with a fucking monkey? You think you’re getting away with that shit? There’s a little Mike in me. I got my own animal kingdom.
PLAYBOY: You’ve repeatedly insisted that Tracy Jordan isn’t based on Martin Lawrence, yet there are some glaring similarities. Are you sure there isn’t a little of Martin Lawrence in that character?
TRACY MORGAN: Martin Lawrence didn’t corner the market in doing crazy shit. You got Dave Chappelle, you got me, you got all kinds of crazy motherfuckers out there. Everybody does something bizarre in their life. It’s just that black entertainers stick out. When we do something crazy, they go, “Oh, shit!” Mike Tyson ain’t the first motherfucker to put a tattoo on his face.
PLAYBOY: So when Tracy Jordan stripped down to his underwear on an episode of 30 Rock and ran through traffic, that was pure imagination?
TRACY MORGAN: That was based on my uncle! My uncle Fat Mike! He ran down the street in his underwear with a light saber! Several times! Several motherfucking times, man. He was way crazy. He was Tracy Jordan to the fifth power. I grew up around funny people my whole life. When you live in poverty so long, you see some strange shit. You live in that desperate fucking situation of deprivation and degradation, you see some strange fucking shit.
PLAYBOY: How about a character like Spoonie Luv from Comedy Central’s Crank Yankers? Aside from being a puppet, just how fictional is Spoonie?
TRACY MORGAN: Spoonie was a tribute to one of my best friends ever. We played high school football together, and he got murdered in the 90s. Spoon had charm, he was my dude. He was making fun of some young guy up in the Bronx and the guy got a gun and fucking shot him. So Spoonie Luv is my tribute to Spoonie. “Spoonie Love from up above.” That’s what I used to say on the show, remember? “Spoonie Love from up above.” That’s my tribute to an old friend.
PLAYBOY: You told David Letterman last year that your hobbies include “Doing karate and trying to get female pregnant.” Now that you’re older and wiser, have your hobbies changed?
TRACY MORGAN: I’ve got my third degree black belt and I’ve gotten several women pregnant, so I’ve moved on to other things. These days, I’m into bike-riding and breaking water. I like breaking women’s water. If you’re pregnant and you need your water broke, you need your labor induced, give me a call and I’ll ride my bike over and take care of it. I don’t have to know you. I’ll put a mask on you. Women need that labor induced.
PLAYBOY: You’ve claimed that you had your first sexual experience at just 8 years-old. How is that even possible?
TRACY MORGAN: I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t say I was effective. I didn’t knock the bottom out the pussy or nothing. She was 14, babysitting me and my brother. She was in the tub and she told us, “Come do it to me.” So we did it to her. I didn’t start getting busy for real until around 15, maybe less than that. There was a fat girl in the projects that let us take turns on her. That’s the first time I felt wet pussy. It was awesome, man, awesome. It was the first time I ever did it naked and with the lights on. There was one time, when I was maybe 19 years old, I was selling crack—at that time in the 80s when crack was king—and I gave this girl five or six cracks for some pussy. She had a fat ass, I mean fucking bubble-butt Kim Kardashian to the third power ass. But it looked like a mule had kicked in her face. So I made her put a brown paper bag on her head. I cut out holes for the eyes and a smile, and put a cigarette in the mouth hole. It was like fucking the Unknown Comic.
PLAYBOY: Your stand-up includes a lot of jokes about anal sex. Are you just talking about it for shock value, or are you really a butt fiend?
TRACY MORGAN: I like fucking ass! Ain’t nothin’ like the butthole. The ass is a delicacy, goddammit. I’d put hot sauce on it. When you eat the brown hole, that’s when her toes do this. (He sticks his legs out and curls his toes.) You got to be willing to do anything to please your woman, to satisfy her. I didn’t invent it. You think I was the first one to think of having anal sex with a girl? Hell no. That shit’s been going on for fucking thousands of years. I’m quite sure Adam fucked Eve in the ass. In the Garden of Eden, he tore her ass up and she was screaming like a motherfucker.
PLAYBOY: In November, you’re performing at Carnegie Hall as part of the New York Comedy Festival. After so much time on closed studio sets for TV, is it weird to get back in front of a live audience?
TRACY MORGAN: No, no, it’s not weird, because I’m not just funny when I’m onstage. I’m funny when I’m in the elevator, I’m funny when I’m in the shower, I’m funny when I’m pumping gas, I’m funny in the barber shop. I’m not a motherfucker who needs to be onstage to be funny. I don’t need no stage, I don’t need no microphone. I make myself laugh all day long. I’m a lot funnier when it comes to attitude and behavior. I’ve never told a joke in my life. Rodney Dangerfield told jokes. I don’t do that. I observe.
PLAYBOY: You’ve said that you joined Saturday Night Live “as a puppy and left as a man.” How exactly does working at a comedy sketch show turn somebody into a man?
TRACY MORGAN: I’ve seen Saturday Night Live break people. If you can survive that, you can survive anything in show business. Anything. SNL makes you fucking tough as steel. Cause when you get your sketch cut, there is no explanation. You just take that loss. There were plenty of nights I only said goodbye at the end of the show. And it hurt. Will Ferrell was perfect for the show, so he was always in everything. But when you’re the black dude, it’s different. Plenty of days I just sat in my dressing room and cried. Then my fangs came down one day and I said, “Fuck this!” And I began to feed.
PLAYBOY: Your best SNL characters, like Brian Fellows and Astronaut Jones, were happy idiots. Do you think ignorance is sometimes bliss?
TRACY MORGAN: Ignorance is definitely bliss. It is always better not to know. I take that approach whenever I do standup. I think not having too much knowledge keeps you on your toes. I may have an idea of what I’m going to talk about onstage, but I don’t plan it out. That’s the beauty of it. Sometimes I surprise myself. We didn’t know what this interview was going to be like until we got into a bag! It’s all about being honest. That’s it, that’s all you gotta do. You know why we love Richard Pryor? Cause he was always fucking honest with us, man. He gave us everything. He was a shell of a man when he left. It was the open wound technique. “Hey, give me that knife, man. (He mimes cutting open his chest.) Here, look, laugh at this.” Then when you’re done, you stitch it back up. And stay away from people for a couple of days. Cause people can be salty. They rub salt in your fucking wounds. And it gets infected.
PLAYBOY: You’ve frequently referred to Lorne Michaels as “my Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Does he have special powers we don’t know about?
TRACY MORGAN: Yeah. Motherfucker took me out of the ghetto. That’s my dude, man. He’s been like a dad to me. I remember when I was on Saturday Night Live my first year and I wasn’t getting much. I was down, I was ready to quit. It was three o’clock in the morning, man, I’ll never forget. Makes me want to cry sometimes when I think about it. I love that man. I love that man. (Long pause. He starts to cry.) I’m sorry, man. Excuse me. (Another long pause.) Son of a bitch… motherfucker’s good. I remember one time… Lorne brought me in his office… he said, “Tracy, you here… not because you’re black. You here because you’re fucking funny, man.” (Bursts into tears again, wipes his face with his shirt.) Changed my whole perspective. He changed my mind. I wasn’t so guarded anymore. I knew that white people weren’t so fucked up. I could’ve fallen into some dark shit. I could’ve fallen into that bullshit trap. But he wouldn’t let me. I left his office and I was crying for like two hours. It made all the difference to me, not just for my career but for my life. I had no excuses anymore. Just like Obama said, no more excuses. They say every Jewish man is supposed to love one black motherfucker in this life. I’m glad Lorne Michaels chose me.
PLAYBOY: A lot of SNL alumni try (not always successfully) to bring their characters to the big screen. Are we ever going to see Astronaut Jones the Movie?
TRACY MORGAN: I’d never do a movie about any of the characters I did on SNL. That’s just not me. It’s not my handle. But I’d love to do a movie about one of my family members. I can’t wait to produce and write and direct my own movie, cause that’s where I want to go with it. Martin (Lawrence)’s done it. Eddie (Murphy)’s done it. Will Ferrell’s done it. You should see the comedy that’s in my head. I’m gonna put Blanket in my movie. Michael Jackson’s son? I want to do a movie about Blanket as an older man. That’s why motherfuckers grow up and start gangbanging. Your father name you Blanket, what the fuck you gonna do? Imagine that shit. Motherfuckers in your neighborhood saying, “Yo, Blanket, what’s happening?” He’s seventeen years old, what’s he going to say? “Yo, I told you my name’s Derrick! Jermaine, I want my $450 dollars, man! I sold you the fucking car!” He’s got a hard road to climb. Talk about baggage.
PLAYBOY: During the Golden Globe acceptance speech for 30 Rock, you called yourself “the face of post-racial America.” Do you really believe in a post-racial America?
TRACY MORGAN: We come a long way from steppin’ and fetchin’. “Here come the judge,” that kinda thing. I think progress is being made. Who you think is buying hip-hop? Black kids? That’s white kids, man. I see more interracial couples now than ever. But we got a long way to go. You can count on one hand the number of black actors on TV, especially network TV. Damon Wayans has this joke that I can relate to. He said, “I made $14 million dollars last year and now white people ask me, ‘Is there still racism in America?’” And Damon’s like, “Well, iffum there is, I ain’t seen none!” That’s kinda how I feel.
PLAYBOY: Sometimes the funniest comics are also the most quiet and reserved in their private lives. Do you resent it when fans expect you to always be “on”?
TRACY MORGAN: Comedians are the monkeys of show business. You go to the zoo, everybody likes to see the monkeys, right? Cause they jerk off, they play with their own shit, that kinda thing. Until the monkey throw his shit at you. Now you want to kill the fucking monkey. Some people actually believe that when they turn off their TV, I just lay down in the box. Just the other day, it started raining and this young boy yelled at me, “Tracy Morgan, what you doin’ out in the rain?” Motherfucker, life hits me in the face just like it does you. What about the phone call I got earlier from the IRS? You care about that? “My momma’s got cancer in her breast/Don’t ask me why I’m motherfuckin’ stressed!” That’s a quote from my man Biggie Smalls.
PLAYBOY: You’re clean and sober after a very public battle with alcoholism. Do you ever worry that you won’t be as funny or outrageous without the booze?
TRACY MORGAN: Never. I’ve always been funny. Why do I have to be drunk to be funny? Because John Belushi and Chris Farley put that stigma on funny people, that we all gotta be high or drunk to be funny? That’s fucked up. I can be crazy without the liquor. I’m old school funny. I’ll do anything to get a laugh. I never drank before I went onstage. My problems came after I came off. Reality can be harsh. People would make comments like “You weren’t all that funny” or “You should’ve done this instead.” They gotta tear you down. So I would drink. Now I just ignore people. I ignore their ignorance. I see through them and under them and around them. That’s just the way they are and it’s got nothing to do with me. You can’t let people get in your head, cause they’ll live there rent free.
PLAYBOY: It’s not like you don’t go out to nightclubs anymore. How do you resist all of those temptations?
TRACY MORGAN: Fuck temptations! I’m 40 years old! What am I going to be tempted by? Pussy? Money? I did all that shit already! Love? Fools fall in love! Love don’t love nobody! It takes a fool to learn that. Love yourself if you want to love some-fucking-body. Love yourself. Start with you. It’s been over a year and a half since I had a drink. I don’t even think about it anymore. I love my sobriety. There is nothing in this world, other than probably my son dying, that would ever get me to go back to that shit. Ever! I don’t focus on what I don’t want. I used to be like, “Oh, I hope I don’t go into this club and get drunk.” I don’t do that no more. I focus on what I want. “Give me a seltzer water. What the fuck I just say? Give me a seltzer water, I don’t want that shit!”
PLAYBOY: After two DUI arrests, you were court-ordered to wear an ankle bracelet that monitored your alcohol intake. Was that enough to scare you straight?
TRACY MORGAN: The bracelet made me feel like a slave. I felt like Kunta Kinte (from the novel Roots.) Some days I wanted to cut my foot off, just to get rid of that shit. But that wasn’t rock bottom for me. Rock bottom came when I was sitting in my house and my oldest son came downstairs and he was sitting on the couch, it was just me and him, and the lights was really low, and he looked at my foot like this. (He shakes his head.) He was disgusted with me. I felt like an asshole. I felt like a jerk. That was it for me. That was the end of my drinking. The end of it, right then and there. We’re working on our relationship right now and he tells me what he sees, and I’m trying to love me. He comes over from time to time and cooks me dinner. We watch Sport Center. He’s my son, man. The last time he was here, maybe two days ago, he said, “Yo Dad, you know what it feels like? I feel like this is the happy ending we always wanted. It ain’t perfect but it’s a happy ending.”
PLAYBOY: You’ve given your demons a name: Chico Divine. Has Chico gone into permanent retirement?
TRACY MORGAN: That’s my alter-ego. Chico Divine! Chico’s the party motherfucker. He takes his shirt off in clubs and gets drunk. And then he comes home and shits and pisses in the kitty litter. When I was in the clubs, that motherfucker destroyed my marriage. 21 years of marriage, man. To a loving wife that was always there. Chico ruined my marriage. But I bury that motherfucker every day. I know he could come back from the dead. He’s like Jason Voorhees. I bury him every day. I go back to the graveyard to make sure he’s there. Dig him up, look in the coffin, “Yeah, he’s there,” then I bury him, put the dirt back on. I don’t know about tomorrow. Today I don’t want the motherfucker alive. Things are well for me, things are happening for me.
PLAYBOY: Now that you’re single and more famous than ever, is there no shortage of women you’d like to get pregnant?
TRACY MORGAN: It’s easier than it used to be. At my age, getting pussy ain’t a problem. Anybody can get pussy if they got a little dough. This ain’t high school. It ain’t free no more. After that, you got to trick. I don’t even gotta speak when I’m out. I put that jewelry on and I stand in the right light, and my diamonds go bling. But I’m not trying to fuck my fans anymore. I’m just not. You gotta be careful with that. You spend too much time in comedy, you start thinking they’re responding to you. You start thinking that every woman that smiles at you wants to fuck you. Maybe you just made her stop thinking about her emotional shit for a few hours. And that’s enough for me now. I’ve only got one dick and I can only fuck one woman at a time. I’m 40 years old, I learned about having too many women. That’s a lot of headaches, man.
PLAYBOY: Are you telling us that your sex drive has diminished at 40? You’re becoming an old man?
TRACY MORGAN: Fuck no! I bought my girl a Girls’ Scout outfit. I bought her the wig and everything. I made her go outside and knock on the door, try to sell me some cookies, goddammit. “Mister, do you want to buy some Butterscotch cookies?” I’m in my boxers and I’m like, “Yeah, come on in, baby. I’ll buy a couple boxes from you.” Then I fucked the shit out of her on the couch, that couch you’re sitting on right now! And then we ate some cookies.
PLAYBOY: Now that you’re rich and famous, are you a hero in your old neighborhood?
TRACY MORGAN: It’s hard when you come from where we come from. You don’t see people make it out. You don’t see it. Where I come from, it’s broken dreams and no hope. It’s the ghetto, man. The older people try to stomp that shit out. They see kids with a dream, if their lives didn’t turn out the way they wanted, they’ll try to crush you. Those motherfuckers don’t give a fuck. So now when I go back, motherfuckers are like, “You owe us!” That’s how America is sometimes. We love to blow you up, and then we love to break your ass down. People got to take responsibility for their lives. I don’t owe nobody nothing. Yeah, you laughed at me when I was in the fuckin’ hood. Now I come back to see my grandpa and you approach me like I owe you something? Sometimes my happiness don’t include everybody else. Sometimes my happiness just includes me.
PLAYBOY: You’re estranged from your mother and most of your immediate family. Was that their decision or yours?
TRACY MORGAN: When I first started doing comedy, nobody in my family was there for me. They never came to the clubs, they never watched me on Saturday Night Live. My mother never came to see me. She called me a wanna-be. My wife and three sons are the only ones who believed in me. So I’m breaking the cycle. I’m not following a generational curse. You gotta be tough, bro. Everything I went through as a kid, it made me hard as steel, sharp as cleats. Most people ain’t gonna change, cause they’re stuck in cycles of poverty and generational curses. My father told me before he died, “You’re gonna break that cycle!” At the end of the day, I love me. Cause I’m the only one I can depend on. It’s hard to find unconditional love in this world, man.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the November 2009 issue of Playboy magazine.)