It’s a safe bet to guess that, while growing up in a Bedford-Stuyvesant housing project in 1970s Brooklyn, Tracy Morgan didn’t even know Spokane existed. Mention the Lilac City to a younger, less worldly, streetwise Morgan and chances are he’d think you were speaking in phonetic code about heading off on the sly for a hit off a crack pipe.
Hell, if you take into account that his Tracy Jordan character on the recently-wrapped-up-forever-and-ever sitcom 30 Rock was based largely on his own foibles, f---ups, ignorance (like ignoring preventative measures after being diagnosed with diabetes in 1996) and the act-first-think-second part of his personality, you might wonder.
When you’re the product of a home broken by drug addiction and a parent succumbing to the ravages of HIV and you’re selling drugs and performing comedy bits on the street as a means to an end — that end being survival — would you be worrying about anything going on on the other side of the country?
There’s probably a patronizing “picked himself up by his bootstraps” tale involving talent, luck and overcoming the odds that we could spin for you here. Suffice it to say, Morgan has since spread his wings and reach. His career started in the early-to-mid-1990s with a successful run at NYC’s comedy clubs, then blossomed with his “Hustle Man” character on Martin Lawrence’s Martin sitcom and his spot as a Saturday Night Live cast member.
The interesting thing is whether Morgan sometimes still suffers from a limited worldview, despite the broader range of experience that has followed his stand-up and screen successes.
This is the dude who appeared on a TV show with the idea of wanting to build a Jaws-themed replica shark tank in his house. His Twitter account is loaded with bipolarity: he splits tweets about discovering he’s the biological son of Richard “Shaft” Roundtree and not being able to “get Beyonce” while hanging at the Super Bowl with the usual harmless musings and ennui about life and career. He’s a man who doesn’t pull a single punch in the battle of the sexes (“You goin’ to the store, bitch? You better leave your vagina on the dresser. What the f--- you need a vagina for to go shopping?”) and is currently on a secondary-market tour of the Midwest dubbed Excuse My French.
So does he or doesn’t he have his finger on the pulse of broader society? His balancing act of two polar opposites — brilliant comedic tactician and bumbling stooge — make the more risqué things that tumble from his yap seem inauthentic. Or maybe they’re twice as funny and three times more offensive than if they came from another comic.
So when he rattled off something about how he would “pull out a knife and stab” his son if he came out as gay (like he did at a 2011 performance in Nashville) or made derogatory comments about disabled children — despite claims that he went “too far” in Nashville — an evening with Morgan’s stand-up becomes an anticipatory event. Responsive laughter will be as much a part of the show as the pins and needles you’ll be waiting on to see what cringe-inducing one-liner might come flying out of his holster.
And it’s just that — that audiences can’t tell if he is serious or just gutsy as hell — that make Tracy Morgan legendary.
Tracy Morgan • Fri, March 29, at 7 pm • Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox • 1001 W. Sprague Ave. • $45 • foxtheaterspokane.com • 624-1200