Forget elephants. The Walmart truck in the room when Tracy Morgan stepped onstage was this: Will he talk about the accident?
It took, oh, about 30 seconds to answer that.
“I got hit by a Walmart truck,” Morgan told his near-capacity crowd Friday night in the Seneca Niagara Events Center. (And yes, that’s a slightly edited version of his quote. Consider any quote hereafter to be sanitized for your reading comfort.)
“It could have been worse,” continued Morgan, dressed simply in a white button-down and dark pants. “It could have been a dirty furniture truck.”
The load of the comedian’s hour-plus set was shaped around his recovery from a 2014 accident that nearly killed him. He was riding a tour bus on the New Jersey Turnpike when a Walmart truck struck his vehicle from behind. One of Morgan’s six passengers, comedian James McNair, was killed.
Morgan was in a coma for weeks.
“I went to the other side,” Morgan told The Buffalo News in a recent interview. He added, “I came back bearing gifts.”
So what are those gifts?
The simple answer is humor, but Morgan has long had that. He’s a pop-culture idol, one who gained fame on mainstream shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock.” The extremely and sometimes excruciatingly vivid sex humor he shared in Niagara Falls was decidedly harsher than network TV fare. That’s no surprise – PG-rated stand-ups are rare – unless you didn’t know to expect it. Early in the show, an older man in front of me stood up, walked up the aisle, returned minutes later with his wife’s wheelchair, and away they went.
Why did they leave? I can only wonder if they came expecting to see the Morgan of “30 Rock” fame, the guy who chortled with Tina Fey on NBC.
They didn’t get razz. They got raunch.
So was that the gift Morgan came back bearing? The comedic version of a sex-toy store?
Yeah, he talked a lot about carnal truths, mostly in ways that can’t be shared here. (Suffice it to say if you were in the crowd, you’ll never look at salad dressing the same.) But Morgan seemed determined to latch the message to something bigger. Here’s our PG-13 example: Morgan prefaced his re-creation of an orgasm by telling the audience it was his first after the coma. He talked about seeing a white light while on that “other side,” but added, “I didn’t go to it because I thought it was the police.”
That was subtle social commentary, but Morgan, now 47, had more overt things to say, too. His wife, Megan Wollover, who is 18 years younger, is biracial. That provided ample fodder for Morgan’s humor, much of it centered on whether he was talking to her “black side” or her “white side.” But his dominating message, woven together by his hole-poking at societal hot spots, is that it shouldn’t matter.
Morgan’s talented openers, Marc Theobald and Tracey Ashley, warmed the largely young and mixed crowd nicely for this. Ashley’s set was built around her biracial marriage – her husband is white – and she did a masterfully smart job of making the case that people should simply stop judging.
Morgan spoke about the famous chef Paula Deen, who was disgraced in recent years for racist comments rooted long ago in her Southern, white-woman upbringing. Morgan intimated that she should be forgiven. “It’s not what you say,” Morgan urged in his muscular, husky voice. “It’s how you say it.”
In a different context, the same it true for Morgan. What he said was funny, if not a bit squirmy. But how he said it?
That was inspirational. The man nearly died. Now, he’s laughing at it.
Friday night in Seneca Niagara Events Center