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Fifteen Things We Learned at Tracy Morgan’s TimesTalk

On Saturday night as part of the New York Comedy Festival, Tracy Morgan joined New York Times media reporter Bill Carter for the latest TimesTalk event. Ever the trouper, Tracy was there to promote his upcoming HBO stand-up special, Tracy Morgan: Black and Blue, despite a broken heart: “To be here today is really special for me, because I just recently broke up with my girlfriend, so my heart is a little shattered,” he said. “So you guys, I love you, and this makes me feel very good, being here with you.” After the jump, a few things we learned about the incredible Mr. Morgan.

• Tracy has the world’s best answer to the question “How are you feeling?” Tracy: “Magical! I have my Lucky Charms in the morning, and I feel magical.”

• When on SNL, his closest friends were Horatio Sanz, Jimmy Fallon, and Will Ferrell. “That whole crew was crazy. We had this little club called the Bro Bro Club, and we was going to after-after-after parties.” Will Ferrell, in particular, he says is his “comedic hero” for his fearlessness. “I call him Willie. That’s my bro-bro.” Now he dreams about working with Eddie Murphy and Zach Galifianakis. Also, he loves working with Alec Baldwin: “I call him A.B. ‘Hey, A.B.!’ He starred in Red October. I’m with the star of Red October!”

• He’s not as crazy as Tracy Jordan. “I’m not Superman all day long,” he explained. “I’m Clark Kent most of the time. I’m not going to go down the street with my tighty whiteys on and a light saber. Tracy Morgan don’t do that stuff. Tracy Morgan is subdued. I’m cool. I’m chilled out. I just get to fly over the cuckoo’s nest at eight-thirty on Thursdays.”

• Unlike Tracy Jordan, Tracy Morgan has never taken Tina Fey to a strip club. “Dude, Tina Fey is a middle-aged white woman with kids and her husband,” he said in response to an audience member’s question. “We work together, and that’s it. She has her friends, and I have mine. When they say, ‘Cut,’ she go home to take care of her husband and her daughter, and I go to the strip club.”

• Before he knew who Richard Pryor was, Tracy got inspiration from his funny uncles and his dad, who used to do stand-up in Vietnam. “I can remember being on my father’s lap on the basketball court in the projects telling my first joke when I was 4 years old. It was a mama joke. I got a laugh.” Later in the talk, he told the joke: “I think I said, ‘Your mother’s breath smells like cheese doodles: light on cheese, heavy on the doodle.’”

• Tracy had a tough childhood growing up in Coney Island projects, Bed-Stuy, and the South Bronx. “I was angry because my parents broke up. My father wasn’t there,” said Tracy. “My older brother was born, who was a cripple, then I was born, and my sister was born, the only girl. So I was between the only girl and the crippled guy. I was the middle guy. I was like Tito. I was sensitive. I had a rat named Ben and everything.” Really? “Well, he was a roach.” Every day in middle school he got on the subway at 7 a.m. to go from his father’s house in the Bronx to his school in Brooklyn. “It was hard,” he said. “I was like a young Harriet Tubman.”

• Being funny was at first his defense mechanism to get guys in the projects to stop picking on him and his crippled brother. “When you are the funny guy in the neighborhood, you’re sort of protected. And when you’re really funny, you’re revered. So I was revered in the projects. When you can make sociopaths laugh, you’re funny. You got someone coming home from prison after 24 years, and you make them laugh? I’m from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Now I have money and they don’t laugh. They’re like, ‘Save that for Radio City Music Hall.’”

• In high school he became the class clown to get girls and because it made him popular. “When I got to ninth grade, kids would cut class to see me and my homeboys joke with each other. And I was always the funny, funny, funny dude. It wasn’t just mama jokes. I would act out the jokes. Plus there’s my face. God gave me an extra layer of skin. My instrument is my face. So when I’m not saying anything, I throw a look and still get a laugh.”

• He got into comedy because a local drug dealer saw him on the street telling jokes with a big crowd laughing around him and suggested he go to Uptown Comedy Club on 125th Street, which was being run by Kevin “Dot Com” Brown, who now plays Dot Com on 30 Rock. Dot Com’s mother, Miss Brown, would sit at the door and take the money and stuff it in her bra, but she wouldn’t let Tracy go to the stage unless he paid $20. A security guard told him to come back to a workshop on Wednesday. Four months later, he did his first stand-up routine on television.

• By the time Tracy was 22, he already had three kids and a wife. “In the ghetto, we use sex as a sedative,” he said. “‘I’m broke, you’re broke, let’s go have one of those babies. Puppies cost too much. Can’t get food stamps for puppies.’” He considered himself a success even before showbiz. “I had three kids by the same woman! Success!” And even though he and his wife divorced after twenty years of marriage, “she’s the only woman in this world I’ve ever loved,” he said. “I told everybody I was going to be a comedian. And everybody laughed. Even my mother said, ‘You need to go down there and UPS is hiring. We’ll get you an application at Burger King.’ Everybody except for her. She said, ‘Pull the trigger. I’m with you.’ And we had three kids on welfare. And here I am coming into the house with a propeller hat, telling her I want to work in comedy? She had every right in the world to tell me to go get a job, but she didn’t. She knew how funny I was.”

• Now he says, “Whenever I do stand-up, my goal, my aim is to make the cute girl in the front row fart. I want her to laugh so hard it burns. When we would do our thing and it smelled like marijuana and fart.”

• “Before I went on [Saturday Night Live],” he bragged, “They had never had anybody like me. Eddie [Murphy] was from the streets, but I’m from the STREETS,” he said. “I scared the shit out of Lorne Michaels. That’s where the sketch of ‘Get Me a Soda, Bitch!’ came from. Me and Lorne Michaels was in the elevator, just me and him, one time, and I was just looking at him, and I smiled, because I knew he was nervous. I know how some white people are. When the elevator door is open and y’all see all the black people in there, you do a head count. ‘Oh, I’ll just take the next elevator.’”

• He remembers his SNL audition, which took place in Studio 8H in front of unlaughing judges: “It’s the scariest thing in the world. It’s like auditioning in front of Darth Vader.” Three days later, he was washing his car in the Bronx when Marci Klein called to tell him he’d gotten the job. His response: “‘Word. All right. Cool.’ I didn’t know how big it was going to be. Saturday Night Live was whatever to me. How much I getting paid? ’$9,000 an episode.’ ‘What?!’ Ever since I shook Lorne Michaels’s hands, my kids eat. I’ve been a millionaire ever since I shook his hand, and that’s why I love Lorne Michaels. He is my Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

• He’s okay if he never gets another Emmy nomination. “Just once. That’s all I needed. If anything ever happens, if I get arrested, the newspaper has to say, ‘Emmy-nominated Tracy Morgan.’” Though about this year’s Emmys, he adds, “I’m coming home with something this year. It might not say my name, but I’m coming home with something.”

• For him, being invited to the White House is right up there with making pretty girls fart. When he met Obama, says Tracy, “He looked up and he winked and said, ‘What’s up, Tracy?’ And I started crying. It was incredible. It was overwhelming. Him and his wife, they knew my name! I wish my father was here to see all of this.”

Fifteen Things We Learned at Tracy Morgan’s TimesTalk