There were a few jokes I wrote to start this recap of Hot 97’s Tray Morgan-hosted Comedy Show: Tracy Morgan tackled the Walmart accident head-on. The laughs piled up like settlement money. You get the gist.
As flagrantly insensitive as those lines are to Morgan’s 2014 crash with a Walmart truck, none of them could properly capture the stunned joy that washed over me as I sat in the dimly lit Theater at Madison Square Garden on April 1, listening to him joke so casually about an accident that left him partially paralyzed. You know that comfort you feel around your family members that lets you casually joke about your private life? That permeated the venue the second Morgan spoke. He delivered an unhinged 45-minute performance divided into a mix of five to 10 minute stand-up routines that acted as intermissions between each of the seven comedians who performed that night.
In a red button-down and white pants — and constantly proclaiming “I’m back home” — the 25-year comedy veteran swayed back and forth on an illuminated stage that snatched the attention of an audience shrouded in darkness. Aries Spears, Rickey Smiley, DeRay Davis, Dominique, Donell Rawlings, Felipe Esparza, and Charlie Woods joined Morgan with sets of their own. But from start to finish, Morgan was the central focus as he built a home from jokes in the world’s most famous arena.
“Jay Z just got hit by Solange,” Tracy began. “I got hit by a Walmart truck.”
He erased any doubt about whether he would address the Walmart truck in the room before most of the crowd was able to silence the small talk and find their seats. “Jay Z just got hit by Solange,” he began. “I got hit by a Walmart truck.” From that moment on, with pouting lips and a concerted scan of the crowd reaction after each salacious joke, Morgan dove right in. He treated the tragic accident not as a topic to ignore but as a comedic vehicle to drive home a specific point or transition into a new joke.
Once out of the coma, he explained, the world was a bit different than it was before the accident. For one, the Kardashian family he had grown familiar with went from Khloe, Kourtney, and Kim to “10 of them,” according to the former 30 Rock star. “One of them motherf*ckers was on the Wheaties box,” Morgan joked, referring to Bruce Jenner appearing on the cereal in 1977 for his decathlon victory in the ’76 Olympics. Tracy supported Caitlyn Jenner’s decision to come out as a transgender woman in the only way he can: “Caitlyn looks like a hot MILF.”
This newfound clarity on life had given him a different look on technology midway through the evening. “I know what’s f*cking us up as a society. In my opinion, it’s this,” Morgan remarked before holding up a cell phone to a chorus of “mmm-hmms” and applause. He was kind of like the drunk uncle of your family, laughing sporadically at his own jokes between unexpected spots of clarity. A number of bodies that had slouched over into their seats by that time sat up, perched over every word he delivered as he explained how cell phones are “destroying the art of communication.”
“My wife know better. You better not text me sh*t. Don’t email me sh*t. I’m your husband. You talk to me. ”
Tracy Morgan could have performed in house slippers and a bathrobe with a toothbrush hanging out of his mouth; the feeling that permeated Madison Square Garden would have remained the same: warm. He returned to his comedic roots in New York City when he hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live last October. But home is where you make it, and for three hours, Tracy Morgan and his band of comedian friends turned Madison Square Garden into their own — with us in it.
One vile joke at a time.