The Bronx-born comedian Tracy Morgan has carved out quite a career for himself – a long stint with Saturday Night Live and currently starring in a role on the hit NBC sitcom 30 Rock, in addition to movies and stand-up. Bully for him, right? Maybe not. Morgan, in Toronto on Friday for the Canadian International Comedy Fest (which runs concurrently with Canadian Music Week), talks about music, monkey poop and bullying for laughs.
You’ll be in Toronto during Canadian Music Week. There’s not a big component of it with the festival, but what’s your take on modern hip hop?
I think hip hop is dead. It’s all pop now. If you call it hip hop, then you need to stop. Hip hop was a movement. Hip hop was a culture. Hip hop was a way of life. It’s all commercial now.
Hip hop, or urban pop, we’ll say, complains that it doesn’t get respect from the Grammys. Is that a legitimate gripe?
They’ve never given it respect. They never looked at it as an art form. Just like people never looked at graffiti as an art form. They looked at it as vandalism.
And yet the Grammys use hip hop for its television broadcasts. Could we compare that with the way the Academy Awards uses comedy for its shows, but doesn’t give comedy any golden statuettes?
Comedians are the monkeys of acting. When you go to the zoo, everybody loves the monkey exhibit. They play with themselves. They play with their own poop. But when they throw their own poop on you, you wanna kill them.
In your biography, you said that comedy was your way of dealing with bullies. What did you mean by that?
That was when I was younger. Comedy was a knife in which to cut through the despair of my community. Where I came from, people couldn’t afford to go to the theatre. I was a funny guy in the neighbourhood. And people protect you when you’re that. I was coveted.
Isn’t bullying a large of comedy, though?
No. You got it all wrong. That’s not what we do. George Carlin didn’t do that. Richard Pryor didn’t do that. We don’t just grab the microphone and destroy people. You’ve never seen that.
I see it at the clubs all the time.
That’s the clubs. That’s people either on their way out or their way in. That’s always been a part of comedy.
So, bullying is a part of comedy, then. Is that what you’re saying?
That’s not bullying. You’re in a comedy club, dude. We’re laughing. We’re making fun. If you have the [nerve]to heckle, you should be able to take it.
I’ve been the target of a comedian, while sitting in the first row in a club. I didn’t heckle at all.
Oh, so it’s a personal thing with you. You sat in the front row and a comedian went off on you for no reason.
Exactly. You don’t think that’s bullying?
You shouldn’t take it personally. But, okay, I don’t think it’s right for a comedian to be on stage with their microphone and tear into somebody in a mean-spirited way. Those are people who have been bullied themselves. I think they should get out of the business.
Do you interact with your audience?
If I make fun of somebody at my show, believe me, it’s something we can all laugh at. I’ve never thought it was right to tear somebody’s heart out. It’s too easy. Besides, I’ve got so much messed up stuff about me and my life, I can make fun of me all day long.
Tracy Morgan appears at the Sony Centre, March 23, as part of the Canadian International Comedy Fest (March 21 to 25, canadiancomedyfest.com).