Tracy Morgan isn’t shy. Anyone who’s caught him on a talk show knows he’s as quick to strip down as he is to declare his intentions to impregnate half of the audience. (A quick YouTube search will yield plenty of results, especially with the keywords “Tracy Morgan is wasted”). This rep is bolstered by Tracy Jordan, the comedian’s thinly veiled and completely batshit alter ego on 30 Rock, who is just as prone to bust out with wild pronouncements and other inmate-running-the-asylum behavior. Neither of these, it turns out, is really Tracy Morgan at all.
Take, for example, how the Bronx-born Morgan regards his tattoos. They are treated with the utmost seriousness, and when he talks about them, he’s quick to reflect on the personal reasons behind each one. They’re not trendy, they’re not designed to shock, and they’re really not meant to be any of your business. They keep him grounded. And even though the 40-year-old comic recently had to trade his old Boogie Down tattoo shop in the Bronx (“It’s no longer there. I think it’s a convenience store or something now”) for a swanky spot on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills, don’t think Morgan has gone Hollywood.
Always the funny guy, Morgan parlayed his school-yard cracks into a stand-up gig at the legendary Apollo, which led to television roles on Martin and Uptown Comedy Club before he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in the mid-’90s. Now, it’s all movies (he recently finished work on the troubled David O. Russell movie Nailed), a third season of 30 Rock, and not a care in the world, right? Not so fast. While the previous emotional bumps in Morgan’s life might have inspired a forearm tattoo or two, his most recent drama, a messy divorce, required the entirety of his back to absorb it all. But if you were expecting this to make Morgan somber and depressed, allow him to subvert your expectations yet again. “I don’t ever mess with the gift.”INKED: What was your first tattoo?
TRACY MORGAN: My first tattoo was this one [points to forearm]. A happy face and a sad face. The same thing that makes you laugh makes you cry. That’s always there to remind me. I got this about 10 years ago.
Since your old shop in the Bronx is gone, do you have a new regular place?
Yeah, on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills. I forget the name of it, but Tupac got his “Thug Life done there. So I got the last five or six done there. I just recently had my back done, about four months ago.
What did you get?
A lot of my tats are how I’m feeling at the time, what I’m going through. I got my back done recently because I’m going through a heavy divorce right now and I feel lonely. I don’t have my family with me for all these good times. I mean, God is with me, he’s always with me, but I’m feeling like it’s just me, myself, and I. So that’s what I put on my back: me, myself, and I.
Do you have any tattoos you look back on and regret?
No. I don’t regret getting no ink on my body. That’s for life.
Is there a part of your body you would never get tattooed?
My butthole. I don’t want no tattoos on my butthole. I’m freaky, but not that motherfucking freaky. Not my brown eye, goddamn it.
Are you good in the chair, or do you squirm?
No, I’m pretty good. When I get tatted, most of the time, I get an erection. It turns me on. It does! I don’t know why, but it turns me on.
Has that ever led to awkward moments at the shop?
Hell, yeah! If you was tattooing a dude and his dick got hard, wouldn’t you think something was crazy? That’s why I only let women tattoo me.
Do you have a method for talking him down? Think about baseball?
I drink a cold Coca-Cola.
Ever run into a celebrity with a crappy tattoo?
I don’t study anybody else’s tats like that. I don’t think there’s a shitty tattoo—I think people get tatted because that’s the way they’re feeling at that time. I just don’t like when people get the Chinese letters and they don’t know what they fucking mean. But when women have tattoos, it turns me on. It lets me know they’re fearless. Warriors. You have to be a warrior to get ink, man. That’s where it started.
Would you ever get a face tattoo like Mike Tyson?
No. I do TV. I’m a comedian. That would scare people. I want to make people laugh. My tattoos are personal. I have one on my penis that says “Stove Top. Named after the stuffing.
No, that’s for real! My girlfriends can verify it.
Did you sport wood getting that one?
Yeah. Matter of fact, I came! Is this why people assume you really are your 30 Rock character, Tracy Jordan? It’s pretty close to me. I mean, he’s not me. I’m not Tracy Jordan. Tracy Morgan is a bit calmer, a bit more stable. Tracy Jordan is a figment of my imagination that I get to play with and have fun with. He’s lovable and people like him.
Did Tina Fey let you create the character yourself?
No. Tina did that. Tina’s been partying with me. She saw the crazy side of Tracy from when we were at Saturday Night Life. She just put that on TV. Tina works hard, man. She is the hardest-working woman in show business, seriously. But she’s a mom and a wife first, and she balances it out, and I admire her and I love her. She is my sister from another mother with a different color.
You recently went back to SNL for a Weekend Update segment where you declared, in reference to Barack Obama, that “Black is the new President. Are you usually this political?
No, I’m not. I mean, I support Barack Obama, obviously, because he’s a black man, but most of all because he’s a visionary. I buy into his vision. And he has a vision for all people. Not just black people. All people. I’m with that.
So it was a rare thing for you to come out and declare something like that.
Yeah. I love pushing the envelope. Some people might get offended, but most people loved it. And I was the one who said it! How cool is that? Tracy Morgan said, “Black is the new president.”
When people see you on the street, what character do they bring up most often?
Brian Fellows. I did a movie with Ice Cube called First Sunday, and they bring up that character, LeeJohn. My core audience remembers Hustle Man. And Biscuit. My first character that I ever played was called Biscuit. My first TV show. You also host Scare Tactics on the Sci Fi Channel.
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever seen?
The scariest thing I’ve ever seen was the IRS in my building. Thought they were coming for me. But I’m a good boy. I pay my taxes.
What’s scarier: Aliens or ghosts?
I don’t believe in none of them motherfuckers. What’s scarier is real human beings. Human beings are the ones that are scary.
Since that show is on the Sci Fi Channel, are you willing to appear at sci-fi conventions?
If I had time I’d do it, because deep down I’m sci-fi myself. Planet of the Apes. Godzilla vs. Megalon. All of that. But it’s fun. It’s a different audience. And I get to be Rod Serling. You’re seeing me in a different light.
Your live TV appearances are legendary. Do you have an idea of what you’re going to do or say, or do you just wing it?
I just wing it, man. That’s just me being me. There’s no alcohol, no weed. Sometimes on the Web sites people might say, “Tracy’s drunk. But that’s all me. When I get drunk, I get quiet. And I haven’t had a drink in a year. I don’t mess around no more. I don’t ever mess with the gift.
It’s probably because you never seem like you’re doing material. It seems like— Conversation?
Because that’s where I come from. My sense of humor is based in reality. It’s like basting a turkey, you know? My sense of humor is the turkey, but I baste it in reality. When I was younger, I did a lot of written material. But that was a learning ground. It was based on my imagination. Now, a lot of it is based on my observation. What I see every day.
You started doing stand-up at the Apollo. After that, can anything intimidate you?
I got booed at the Apollo, man. Can’t nothing fuck with me. Let me tell you something: Way before show business, I was making motherfuckers coming home from 25-to-life laugh. So I know I’m a funny motherfucker. I make fucking sociopaths laugh. That’s where we come from. We know motherfuckers doing years in the hundreds. So where we come from, ain’t nothing much to laugh about, but we found it. I knew just how far to push people without being murdered because in the hood, people are sensitive. So now that I’m making this money, if cats snap on me in the hood, I just let it go. Because I got it. So what does that look like, me snapping on someone who ain’t got it, giving him a reason to kill me? No matter what color you are, people hate famous and rich people. Most people avoid success. Most people are smarter than any job they ever had, but they avoid success because when you’re successful, people hate you and envy you. And most people want other people to love them. But I don’t give a fuck–you can hate me now.
A lot of people think that when a comedian becomes successful, he grows detached from the reality that made him successful in the first place. Ever feel that?
No. My people won’t let me. That’s the one thing they’re stubborn about, they won’t let me fake it. I got to stay me, all the way through.
So you’ve always been the funny one?
I’ve been funny my whole life. That was a gift that God gave me, when I was an angel up in heaven, before I even got here. I used to make him crack up. But I got into show business because I felt like it was a good way to get girls. It was just us, going to the shows, making girls laugh and getting pussy. Then it turned into a business, and we were like, “Oh, shit! We can get paid!”
You’re working on the movie Nailed with Jake Gyllenhaal and Jessica Biel. It had a pretty rough shoot. There were reports it was shut down.
Yeah, it was one of those things, man. Unprecedented. The movie was shut down seven times. But it was incredible.
Director David O. Russell has a rep for being…difficult.
Yeah, well, he has his process. I love him. He was cool with me.
Is it true your character suffers from a prolapsed anus?
Yeah. I thought that was funny as a motherfucker, your asshole hanging out the whole movie
What did you do to research? Talk to anyone with a prolapsed anus?
Hell, no! I don’t want anybody that’s ever had a prolapsed anus around me. You mean your fucking asshole bust out? I don’t want you around me. What the fuck were you doing to make your asshole drop out? If you ain’t have a baby, something happened.
Is there anyone in your family you can’t make laugh?
My oldest son, Gitrid Morgan. He never laughs. Don’t even appreciate a good sense of humor. Serious motherfucker.