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Friday, February 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 16.0° F  Fair
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30 Rock's Tracy Morgan digests fame and frustration in his act
"Standup is my gut check"
Morgan's mind is wonderfully warped.
Morgan's mind is wonderfully warped.
Credit:Matthias Clamer

Midway through a conversation with comedian Tracy Morgan, I present the synopsis of a hypothetical film called Being Tracy Morgan. A sequel to Being John Malkovich, Spike Jonze's bizarre 1999 tale about identity and self-awareness, it would revolve around some teenagers who discover a magical refrigerator that leads into Morgan's mind and body. If such a movie were to be made, I ask, what would its genre be? What kinds of images would people see?

"Oh, you want to open up that can of worms?" Morgan deadpans, his thick Brooklyn accent made thicker by the grilled cheese sandwich he's chewing. "That movie wouldn't be allowed in America. They'd probably ban it in 52 states. You don't want to get in my head, man. I'm complicated. One minute you think I'm Gumby, and the next minute you think I'm John Wayne Gacy. [It] causes people to say, 'He sounds demented.'"

It's a strangely poignant answer in an interview that begins with a discussion about grilled cheese. But maybe "complicated" is the best way to describe Morgan's brand of humor. To admirers of his films, his Saturday Night Live characters and his Emmy-nominated caricature of himself on 30 Rock, his persona is as lovable as that of Art Clokey's flexible green friend. To others, his abrasive style of standup and openness about his traumatic upbringing reveal a darker side that's more Gacy than Gumby.

Although fearful of life after 30 Rock, Morgan seems genuinely excited to return to the firing wall, even though many comedians of his generation left standup when fame came calling.

"[Standup] is what I built my house on," says Morgan. "I still love it and see no reason to give it up. To me, out of all the things I've done in my career, my standup is my gut check."

Morgan's fiancée named his latest standup tour "Excuse My French," thinking that a preemptive apology for its content was a wise move. The show will visit the Barrymore Theatre on March 17.

"It is adult rated, and I use adult words," says Morgan. "I just think profanity is a different language. Sometimes it gets your point across because it ain't just about being funny. Lewis Black gets his point across, but I'm a little more frustrated than Lewis Black because I'm a black man from Brooklyn. Sometimes I don't mean no harm, but I gotta say 'motherfucker' to get my point across."

His tone shifts as he shares an indecipherable joke about Bruce Lee through a mouthful of grilled cheese. It's a signal that he's teetering back into Gumby territory. By the time he fields my question about future projects, he sounds downright hopeful.

"I can't exactly say what's going to happen. I can't call it because I might jinx it," he says. "But whatever it is, let's enjoy it. I don't have a crystal ball, but I can tell you this: We're going to have fun."

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