Tracy Morgan is back. The garrulous East Coaster, who played the exasperating Tracy Jordan on the Tina Fey–led sitcom 30 Rock and was a longtime Saturday Night Live cast member (1996-2003), has spent much of 2015 recovering from a 2014 six-vehicle accident caused by a Walmart truck driver that claimed a friend’s life and nearly his own. Morgan received an undisclosed, substantial settlement from Walmart but of course that pales in comparison to the emotional and physical suffering the 47-year-old comic actor has had to endure.
Santa Barbara’s 85-year-old Arlington Theatre will be the third stop on the comedian’s Picking Up the Pieces tour — his first creative endeavor since the accident sidelined him from the entertainment business. “I’m really grateful to be doing this tour!” said the excitable Morgan. “I feel funnier than ever. It feels good to be back onstage. I didn’t know whether I was going to have a tour; it was bigger than show business.”
On a recent Howard Stern interview, the shock jock satellite radio host inquired about his recovery: everything from his spiritual experiences exiting a coma to using his penis again. Morgan laughed, Morgan cried, Morgan shared many explicit sexual details…but don’t suggest that Stern may have been exploitive. “Howard [is] a friend,” Morgan said. “He wasn’t pushing my buttons. This was a different interview. I was ready to talk about it with Howard because he’s my friend!”
Morgan credits wife Megan Wollover, whom he married in 2015, with his recovery. While he was incapacitated: “I had my wife take care of me,” which included tending to medications for pre-accident incurred complications from diabetes and liver damage. “She’s younger than me. She embraced all my illnesses with my goodness,” he said. When I suggested that the timing of Morgan meeting his wife was pretty cool, he replied emphatically, “[It’s a] good thing I met her period. Accident or no accident, I met somebody to keep me solid in my life.”
Expect a good amount of improv at the Arlington show, but Morgan said he also has topics to discuss “in [his] back pocket.” “I focus on the funny — the funny is more important than the material,” he said in regard to the material for Picking Up the Pieces. “Some of my best creating is done live onstage. Things happen from millisecond to millisecond,” he said. His act will cut to the bone in a way that other comedians can’t, he said, “because [everything] was almost taken from me. It’s deeper than that. The ability to see my wife, my daughter, my son, was almost taken from me.”
Morgan hasn’t acted in a lot of films but he’s made some fun stuff, including Chris Rock’s well-received recent romantic comedy Top Five, Kevin Smith’s only normal and commercially successful movie Cop Out, and 1998’s cult-classic stoner comedy How High, starring legendary rappers Redman and Method Man. “I had a good time!” he said of the latter. “I got to rap lines with Red and Meth. I love Redman.” He also played opposite the Rock, Martin Lawrence, and Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage in the ensemble Death at a Funeral, an unconventional type of comedy from nihilistic filmmaker/playwright Neil LaBute. “I loved that!” Morgan said of the 2010 remake. “[LaBute] just let me be free. [His only direction was] I want you to get up at 3 a.m. to get some water. Everybody had fun.”
So does Morgan miss the routine and structure of doing a sitcom? “No! Because you move on.” Yeah, but he, Fey, and a talented gang of actors and writers spun sitcom magic for seven seasons on NBC doing 30 Rock. “I know! But this is not Tracy Jordan. Tracy Jordan is with the dust. This is Tracy Morgan now,” he exclaimed.
When asked who is funnier, pre-accident Tracy or post-accident Tracy, the comic replied, referring to himself in the third person: “I can’t say. They’re both very funny! Post-accident Tracy — his eyes are open a little more. But the funny is there.”
Tracy Morgan performs Friday, September 23, 8 p.m., at the Arlington Theatre, 1317 State Street. For tickets, call (805) 963-4408 or see thearlingtontheatre.com.