Brooklyn-born Tracy Morgan started out in showbiz in his teens, doing stand-up until he was invited to join Saturday Night Live’s ensemble cast in 1996. During his seven seasons on SNL, the colorful comedian played such memorable characters as Brian Fellows, Astronaut Jones and Woodrow while also doing impersonations of everyone from Al Sharpton to Star Jones to Aretha. Currently, Tracy is co-starring opposite Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin on the Emmy-winning NBC series 30 Rock.
Meanwhile, on the big screen, he’s made such movies as G-Force, Head of State, How High, The Longest Yard, Little Man, Are We There Yet, First Sunday and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Last fall, he published his autobiography, I Am the New Black. Here, he talks about that memoir and about collaborating again with director Kevin Smith to make Cop-Out, a buddy comedy co-starring Bruce Willis.
Nothing much. What interested you in making Cop-Out?
Come on! It’s Bruce Willis! Bruce Willis, Kevin Smith and Tracy Morgan, what an awesome combination.
Kevin Smith was just in the news because he was booted off an airplane for being too heavy. What did you think of that?
That’s great stuff, man! That’s good stuff. I love it! In fact, Kevin’s the one that told me that when things like that happen, it happens for us.
It may be good for publicity for the movie, but it must have been humiliating to Kevin when it happened.
No, not Kev, you can’t humiliate Kev. Not Kev Smith. Kev is tougher than that.
What was it like working opposite Bruce Willis?
It was a joy. It was a pleasure. It was definitely fun and interesting. That man has been doing this for a long time, and he taught me a lot about camera angles and about how to be professional in the work.
Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks, ‘How is this movie different from other buddy cop movies?’
The actors are different, although I didn’t set out to be different. My inspiration came from people like Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. The genre is what it is. My inspiration was drawn from great movies like 48 Hours, Bad Boys and Rush Hour.
Irene was also wondering whether you based your character, Paul Hodges, on anybody?
Yeah, man. I’m from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. So, you grow up around police officers. Some of them are in your family, some of them you have encounters with. I had a young police officer we were friends with in our group. He was a little older than me and he became a cop. So, I just channeled him.
I’m originally from Bed-Stuy, too. You know where Medgar Evers College is, at the corner of Nostrand Avenue and President Street?
Are you serious? So, you going Downtown! You from Nostrand. I’m from Tompkins. So me and you come from the same ‘hood!
That’s wassup! You said Medgar Evers, right?
Yeah, that’s where I went to high school. It’s a college now, but it was a high school back in the day.
So, like my pops, you were probably around when Power Memorial existed.
Oh yeah, I saw Power Memorial play when Kareem Abdul Jabbar was on the team. Of course, he was still Lew Alcindor back then. So, how did this brother from Bed-Stuy get interested in making Hollywood movies?
When I was a young kid, my pops introduced me to it. He took me to Harlem, 145th and Edgecombe, to watch the filming of Claudine with James Earl Jones and Diahann Carroll. That was my first taste of seeing a set and the cameras, and I was bit by the acting bug at a young age, man.
Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks whether you looked up to Colin Powell, another native New Yorker, as a role model?
Yeah, I looked up to Colin Powell, absolutely! But I was really busy looking up to my father, because he was also a righteous man. My father was the role model I looked up to. My dad was an entertainer, too. I patterned my life after him. He wanted me to do better than he did. He never sold a record in his life, but to me he was still a rock star.
Jimmy Bayan asks, ‘Are your kids interested in showbiz?’
You’d have to ask them. They’re grown men. One is 24, one is 22 and one is 18. They have their own lives, and they’re going in their own directions. They might not know what they want to do yet. Right now they’re very decent, respectful people, and I love them for that. They don’t have to be rich or funny, but they are better men. The thing that I love is that they are better than me.
Jimmy also asks, ‘Where in L.A. do you live, and where is your favorite place to hang out there?’
I don’t have a place in L.A. I used to live at the Palazzo on West 3rd Street. And when I go to Los Angeles, I like to go to the SkyBar and just hang out. I don’t drink or anything. It’s been two-and-a-half years since I had a drink. But when I’m in the mood to listen to music, I do like to go to the SkyBar. But I’m 41-years-old, and so busy with work, that I like to just stay home and get my sleep now. I try not to burn both ends of the candle.
Larry Greenberg says he loved that hilarious Maya Angelou Hallmark Cards SNL skit you did. He wants to know if you’re planning to turn that into a movie.
Oh, absolutely not. The things I did on Saturday Night Live are going to stay as Saturday Night Live. You’ve never seen Eddie Murphy do a Gumby movie. There’s a lot more new material inside of me.
When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
I see me. I see Tracy Morgan. It’s been a journey. I see the ups and downs. I see the mistakes I’ve made. I see a funny person. I see a serious person. I see a diamond. I see the good times. I see the bad times. And I see knowledge of self. I see knowledge of self. I know who I am. When I look in the mirror, I see me.
The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
I was four-years-old, in the park in my neighborhood in Tompkins. I was with my father who was telling jokes and snapping on all the guys on the basketball court. And he told me one to say about somebody’s mother, and everybody laughed.
Aspiring actor Tommy Russell would like to know, ‘How long did it take you to get to where you are as an actor, and whether you still struggle internally about your career path?’
I’m not really struggling about my career. The struggles are in my personal life. I can’t really pinpoint how long it took me to get where I’m at, and I didn’t care how long it was going to take, because it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Tell Tommy he has to stay in the moment and focus on that, because when all is said and done, and there’s no more to say or do, you want to be able to look back and say, ‘Wow! What a ride!’ Fame doesn’t matter. Money doesn’t matter. Those things are forever fleeting. I just want to have a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, so that when I’m long gone my great-great-grandchildren can walk up to it and say, ‘That’s my ancestor.’ That will be my legacy.
Jimmy also asks, ‘What do you give Obama as an approval rating on a scale of 1 to 10?’
I give him a 10 because he’s not God, and he inherited a couple of wars, and a financial mess. Nobody could fix all that in nine months. But he’s gotta step up his game now. I want to see him curse somebody out on TV. You can’t finesse a bull. He’s gotta throw down. He’s in the shark tank.
Tommy has a political question, too. ‘What do you think about the Obama administration using nuclear energy as part of their overall energy policy plan? Can we achieve France’s level of success with nuclear energy and cleanup, or, will politics ruin our chances of moving forward?’
Well, I’m not really much into politics, because it’s rarely discussed in my line of work, but I know that he’s trying his best, and that at some point down the road, he’s going to get it right.
The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
I got to say the last book I read was the one I wrote, I Am The New Black, which was inspired by my experiences as a black man, as an American, and as a human being.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Don’t follow in my footsteps. Be original, and create your own path. Be a trailblazer! Do you! Be better than me. Do you! Be happy and have joy in your life.
Cop Out is in theatres now, and I Am The New Black is available now.