NBC recently announced that the next (and seventh) season of its marquee sitcom 30 Rock will be the series' swan song, which will effectively set Tracy Morgan loose into an even wilder wild.
But Jordan didn't want to talk about 30 Rock ending when we reached him via phone from New York. During our speed-date, he pretty much dismissed any question on the topic ("I'll cross that bridge when I get there," he says of life after the show, "but right now I'm looking forward to San Francisco") in favor of loosely discussing his upcoming stint at Cobb's on May 24-27.
For Morgan, who came to household attention as a series regular on Saturday Night Live from 1996 to 2003, stand-up comedy is his first love and place to release his unfiltered thoughts.
"I love it, it's what I do," he asserts. "It chose me, I didn't choose it. This is it; this is my life, this is what I do. This is what I was born to do; this is what I'm built for. People like Donald Trump were meant to build buildings, I like to do comedy."
Unlike on television, Morgan flies without the safety net of a script when on the stage.
"I have an idea of what I think I might sculpt," he says, "but once I get there, I might change my mind. I keep my mind open. I'm a free thinker and for me it's just a funny conversation. I don't have anything prepared. I'm not like that. I'm not no alternative comedian. I get there, it's a funny conversation and funny things will arise and it's not like that when you're doing art. When you're doing comedy."
He mentions Richard Pryor.
"He had an idea of a few things he might wanna mention, but that might spark a whole new conversation. I just tell everyone, don't look for anything prepared. Don't look for anything you might have seen on 30 Rock. People come to the show looking for [30 Rock character] Tracy Jordan, but he doesn't even do stand-up on the show. I don't even know how he did it. But some people don't know how to think outside the box. They don't come to the show just to have a good time and laugh, they come looking for something specific and I get and understand that. But whatever happens, let's just enjoy the evening."
Morgan can be counted on to kick political correctness in the balls regardless of whether it backfires on him, as it has in recent years with remarks that have offended the queer and disabled communities and drawn backlash. But he's compelled to stay uncensored in his craft.
"I don't go on the Internet to get my jokes. I've suffered for everything that I've ever written. I tell young writers all the time, 'You'll be a better writer when you suffer more.' People don't like to suffer. They like to steal, they like to copy, they like to duplicate. That's where we're at with it now; it's all watered down.
"That's why I can't watch these talent shows," he says, his voice gaining more intensity. "All these talent shows -- how you gonna get to the top when you starting at the top? You already on TV. That didn't happen for Aretha Franklin. In order to get to the top, you've got to dig a hole. How you gonna get to the top of the tree if you at the top of the tree? Instant gratification. Every year, there's another American Idol. So where do these American Idols end up at? You're not gonna get bigger than J-Lo! There's a voting process, and you're not gonna get bigger than Steven Tyler! It's trickery! It's not about art, it's about the watered-down, it's about commercialism and it's about money and these young people don't know. You gotta love what you do or it's gonna crush you. You keep it and put it first, like God, before the money."
With approximately 120 seconds left in this quickie, I realized that this has been quite the serious conversation for a chat about comedy. Morgan sounded passionate and aggressive when talking about being funny, and that made me feel a bit meek, but I somehow managed to find the right icebreaker as the time ticked into finality.
"I heard that you might try to get me pregnant over the phone," I ventured, "so I appreciate that you have conducted yourself like a gentleman on this call."
"You better know it!" he exclaimed, and the air was already looser. "I might even break your water! I might stop by and induce that labor!"
"Well, I'm sitting here in a full-body condom, so it's gonna be a little bit of a challenge."
"Oh, I don't mess with condoms! Two things I keep away from me is rubbers and rattlesnakes!"
Tracy Morgan appears May 24-27 at Cobb's Comedy Club, 915 Columbus (at Lombard), S.F. Admission is $43.50; call 928-4320 or visit www.cobbscomedyclub.com.