Tracy Morgan on Almost Dying, The Last O.G., and Being Barbershop Famous
SNL star goes back to the gentrified hood at SXSW
"I want to be a topic of discussion in the beauty salons and the barbershops," said living comedic legend Tracy Morgan, formerly of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock fame. "If they talk about your shit in the beauty salons and barbershops, you're good."
That won't be a problem, as the razor-sharp Jordan Peele-produced TBS series The Last O.G. is sure to shock even those viewers used to Morgan's cutting and street-wise brand of comedy. The single-camera show also stars two other comedians-by-trade, the ascendant Tiffany Haddish and Cedric the Entertainer, with Malik Yoba, Allen Maldonado, and Ryan Gaul also given hilarious recurrent roles. Morgan stars as Tray, a witty former low-level drug dealer recently released from prison – back to a brand-new Brooklyn. His ex-girlfriend Shay (Haddish) is now married and raising twins she's purposefully kept from Tray all these years.
Hijinks aren't only found in exceptional lines – which are news in and of themselves. Though numerous recent cable shows are pushing the boundaries of permissiveness, The Last O.G. marks new territory in, let's say, the full utilization of the English language. However, the show's subtle charm is its cultural and city-distinct nuance. O.G. is as much a reference on both Brooklyn's gentrification and reintegration for ex-cons, as it is about Tray's redemption. It goes for it all, and somehow, despite its particulars, it maintains a broad appeal. "You know what I based it on? Old-school TV," explained Morgan. "I wanted to do TV where everyone was in one room watching it, where some little kid says, 'It's on,' and everyone came running."
From here, Morgan's explanation of the show and his association involves a lot of unusual and hilarious non sequiturs built upon each other, nonsensical from anyone other than Morgan or that one cool uncle that tells the best stories. He repeats my comment, interrupting me, "One thing you like about the show is this, is that it's kind. Even Wavy [former drug dealer turned trendy coffee shop manager played by Yoba] changed. That's what the show is about – redemption and change.
"There's dark subject matter," he said, "but the show is kind. It has a heart, man."
Morgan will talk over you – not so much in a disrespectful way, but seemingly as a matter of the condition of merely living. Every word he says has a singular efficiency attached. He means everything. He knows too well what many presume to understand. Coming home from Delaware during the early hours of June 7, 2014, a Wal-Mart long-haul truck driver who hadn't slept in over a day struck a Sprinter limo-van Morgan was riding in, off Exit 9 on the New Jersey Turnpike. Morgan's close friend James "Jimmy Mack" McNair perished in the collision, with three others injured. The "Brooklyn dude with a Bronx heart" laid in a coma for eight days with a body virtually broken all over and a traumatic brain injury. He even woke up in blindness, which lasted for six days.
Almost fully recovered, it's only heightened his awareness of who he is, what he's accomplished, and what's left on the table. "You can be here and gone later on that day. You ain't gotta be hit by no truck, and you ain't gotta go to school and get shot. You can literally lay down in your bed and not wake up. So I don't take it for granted."
Attempting to jump to his level, and jam in questions about how it was working with Haddish, he retorted: "Ask her how was it working with Tracy Morgan. You're talking to the dude with the star [on the Hollywood Walk of Fame]."
The 49-year-old's tone softened his bristle. Still, there's mutual love and admiration with comedy's rising star, he said. "'Just stay consistent and focused,' that's what I tell her," he says. "She got it. She knows what she's doing. I'm proud of her, and she's really proud of me. She told me, 'You survived a truck accident with Wal-Mart, Tracy. I love you, and thank you for surviving.'"