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Tracy Morgan Reflects on Life, Death, and Why He Doesn’t Care for Politics

Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images

“I’m relaxing so you gonna get the best side of me,” Tracy Morgan says as he stretches out on the divan of the hotel room where he’s doing a junket for his upcoming Netflix stand-up special, Staying Alive, available on the streaming network on May 16. If you wondered whether Morgan would talk about the car accident that left him with traumatic brain injury and a broken femur and killed his friend and fellow comic Jimmy Mack, look no further than the title and the opening bit, which features Morgan walking with Walmart shopping bags on the street before he gets hit by a truck.

“That was the first day I wanted to be funny,” Morgan says. In the special, he talks about the accident, but he also talks a lot about his family, his grandmother, his Aunt Flossy, and his baby daughter Maven, who was born a year before the accident. “I talked about my life in the last three years, ups and downs,” he explains. “It wasn’t just down though, that’s not comedy. I talked about my marriage, the baby, the glory, too. I talk about it all.” Morgan pulls a chair up toward him so I can put the recorder near his mouth, and places an arm underneath his head as he talks about how the accident changed his perspective on life, his bucket list, and why he doesn’t care to talk about politics.

How did the opening bit come together?
Walmart? You think about it, it was true! I just took the reality of it and made it funny. I injected my sense of humor into it, y’know, it’s the truth. I did get hit by a Walmart truck but I’m not supposed to talk about it. I just did it in a funny way like I’ve done every other thing that happened bad in my life. I turned it good with my sense of humor, the gift that God gave me. I injected it into it. So the truth, you know what I’m saying, I put a sense of humor on top of that and then people laugh.

Some people might not want to revisit that.
Well, some people don’t do stand-up. I do. Richard Pryor taught me that: Gotta be truth in it and it was.

You talked a lot about the recovery. Was that in some ways the most difficult part of your past three years?
No, it wasn’t. The hardest part about all of this was forgiving that driver, and that’s even in there and in a funny way. That was the hardest part of all of this, because if I didn’t do that we wouldn’t be sitting here talking. I couldn’t move forward if I ain’t forgive him.

How’d you get to that place?
I asked God for the strength. That’s the only way that strength come from. You ever had people do wrong to you? You ever forgave them? Where you think that kind of strength come from? The government? No.

Not this government!
Come from God. It’s the only one that can give you the strength to forgive those who trespass upon you.

Do you feel like the accident has made you firmer in your faith?
No, I’ve always been firm in my faith since I ran away from home at 13. I’ve always felt a presence. It brought me closer, yeah, I guess you could say it made me a bit firmer in my belief. You can’t go through something like that and not change a bit. You can’t. There’s no way. So I just know now my purpose in life is to connect the dots and spread love. There’s so much hate in this world, man. It’s time to spread love. But I’ve always believed.

What are some of the things that helped you during recovery?
My wife, my daughter, fighting, my fans, you, them, gettin’ back to the stage, making people laugh. I went hard, man, I put everything, I still go hard every day, every day. Y’know, just working hard. What you put in is what you get out. At the end of the day when I’m going, I want people … can I curse? Can I use profanity?

Yes, please.
At the end of the day when I’m in that box, man, I want people to say, That was a funny motherfucker, man. He ran a good race. He was good to people. He was good to himself and he believed in God, man. That’s it.

You spoke about how watching people like Tina Fey made you want to be working again.
Yeah, of course. I seen those, like Tina and Kevin Hart. At first it wasn’t easy. I got really depressed; really, I went through a deep depression. And my wife, she was the one, my gravity. She brought me back down to Earth. She said, You’ll do it again. You’ll be fine. That’s all she would say: You gonna be fine. Her and Dr. Laura. Dr. Laura was the one that cut my bloody clothes off me that night. She sat with me when I was in a coma every day, but Nurse Jackie was in the rehab, and because of the brain trauma, I was really, really mean to her. I threw my remote control. I didn’t know who I was, and she would go to the door every night with her hand on the light switch and wouldn’t even look at me. She would just say, Everything gonna be fine, turn the light off. Every night. She would sit out in the back of the hospital with me and read me books. Good lady. I love those people.

So it wasn’t just me. I had people saying prayers for me, man. All those prayers going up, the blessings come down. When the prayers go up, the blessings come down, and that’s how it happened.

When did you start writing the set for the stand-up?
We started writing maybe two years ago. I started writing when I came out the hospital. I was writing in the hospital, but then when I came out and I got clear, clear, clear after a year and change, maybe two years after the accident. I was clear, clear, clear, then I got out with my facilitators, and we just started putting it together and that’s what it was.

Were there any challenges writing it?
There’s always challenges, of course, because I had to relive it. I relive it every day. People see me on the streets, have this goodwill and this love and they just care. They want to know if you’re all right. But for me, it can be traumatizing because I relive it. If I walk down the street, every block there’s 30 people that ask me, Are you okay about the accident? Or they ask me about the accident. So sometimes it’s difficult and I’ll just stay in the house because I don’t wanna relive it. My daughter’s a baby, my wife is young, and I’ve got to live and I got to grow, and if I stay back there then I won’t grow. But I dealt with that a long time ago. When I forgave that driver, I moved forward.

Did you talk with the driver?
No. For what? What do I have to say? I don’t know him, never saw him before. I only saw him on YouTube. I don’t know him. He killed my best friend, man. No, what’re you gonna say to me? We don’t know him. I prayed to God to forgive him for that because I knew it was an accident; nonetheless, Jimmy’s gone. I don’t really wanna … I moved forward with my life.

Could you talk a little bit about Jimmy Mack?
Aw Jimmy. Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy was the man. I love Jimmy. He was my OG. He was 62 years old: funny, funny, funny dude. Funny dude, that’s all I got to say. Jimmy was very funny and he would facilitate things with me. We would talk on the phone at three o’clock in the morning, four o’clock in the morning. That’s when friends talk. That’s when Bruce Lee called Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and said, “I got a movie called the Game of Death,” four o’clock in the morning. Kareem said “I’m in” and that was it. That was Jimmy. I was, “Hey Jimmy, I want you to go out with me out to Delaware to do the show,” he said: “I’m in.” Boom. I gotta live with that every day because I asked him to be there.

Life is precious. I see how quick it could go. One minute Jimmy was here, the next minute he wasn’t, but I’ve been going through that since I was a kid just from where I grew up at. You’ve gotta understand. I got traumatic stress disorder just growing up in the ghetto. I seen my first murder at 8. On top of that, I got TBI: traumatic brain injury. I got all of that. You know how fucked up I am? [Chuckles.] I take that and make it funny, that’s the gift God gave me. That’s why I’m a comedian.

I just told a young man, parking downstairs. He started complaining, looked to the side of my car and started complaining. I said, “Stop complaining. I don’t even know you. Stop complaining,” because when you think you doing bad there’s somebody out there doing worse. So I don’t feel sorry for myself. I just give love. We just gave money to somebody downstairs with no legs. We’ve gotta think about these things, man, I just want to make the world conscious.

What do you think about the health-care bill that the Republicans are …
I don’t discuss politics. Never gave a fuck about it. Know why?

I’m down with the King. I don’t give a fuck about no bill; it ain’t gonna save your life. When your room is ready, your room is ready. I don’t give a fuck about none of that shit. Never cared about no president. Nothing, none of that. I’m down with the King. God is still on the throne. I don’t give a fuck some health bill. When your room is ready, your room’s ready.

Right, but it can help you if you’re sick.
Sure can, that’s a nice thing to say.

No, I think it actually …
Right. You could lay down and go to sleep and just not fucking wake up.

That’s true.
It happens every day. You just got to know, you got to stay on the right side and keep your faith in God. I don’t give a fuck about no health bill. That’s just shit we find to be stressed about.

What’s on your bucket list? I know that you went to the Kentucky Derby.
But what else is on my bucket list? Maybe jump out of a plane with a parachute. Maybe go to Mount Everest. Maybe get in a submarine and go to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

So, adventure?
Yeah. Oh, what’s next on my bucket list? Tonight I’m going home to get my wife pregnant, that’s next on Tracy Morgan’s fucking bucket list. I’m old school. I don’t pull out. I’m like prison: When I come in, I come in. That’s next on my bucket list. Go impregnate my wife tonight. [Laughs.]

What else would you want to do in your career?
As far as professional, my wish is to one day do a movie with Eddie Murphy. I love Eddie. I want to do a movie. He’s one of my biggest comedic heroes. Him and Richard [Pryor] and George Carlin and Jackie Gleason and Lucille Ball and Moms Mabley, the comedy gods, and Eddie’s here and I would love to do a movie with Eddie Murphy, professionally. That’s my wish.

Tracy Morgan Reflects on Life, Death, and Politics