The Last Days of '30 Rock'

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Tracy Morgan swears he isn’t worried about his post-30 Rock future, so it must be pure coincidence that he’s had some unnerving dreams lately. “I had two nightmares,” he says, sitting in the basement of his house in an affluent New Jersey suburb. “Want to hear the second one?” His home is, by TV-star standards, relatively modest and sensible, except for the snakes, sharks, custom-painted Last Supper mural of a handpicked pantheon of comedians (Lucille Ball, George Carlin, Bernie Mac, Richard Pryor, Charlie Chaplin, Lenny Bruce, Sam Kinison, Jackie Gleason) that covers a living-room wall, the full gym in the basement, and, under glass upstairs, a sparkly glove that belonged to Michael Jackson. We’re side by side in a pair of leather chairs – Morgan hits a button and they begin to deliver a relaxing massage. In front of us is a glass enclosure where a huge snake is napping. “That is a black African python,” he says, looking solemn. “She’s really nasty. Two years ago, one of those ate an 11-year-old boy in Africa.”

Anyway, Morgan’s second dream: “I’m driving a cab,” he says. “That was the nightmare. Nothing against people who drive cabs. But in the dream, I did something wrong, ’cause you don’t go from 30 Rock to driving a fucking cab unless you are doing something wrong. But I feel blessed to be where I am. I don’t want to do anything else. Look at Mike Tyson, he looks like he’s built to fucking fight. Look at my face, babe – it’s comedy. You look at this fucking mug, man. This ain’t a face, this is a mug. God gave me an extra fucking layer of skin. I am funny. I embody that shit.”

The first dream was even scarier, because all of that went away. “I pissed God off and he took my funny back,” Morgan says. “And me, without funny, is a tragic, tragic thing. I woke up in a cold sweat.”

His funny isn’t going anywhere – he’ll do movies, ramp up his stand-up career, maybe do a one-man show on Broadway. But Morgan is going to miss Tracy Jordan (unless, that is, he can persuade Lorne Michaels to come aboard for the spinoff he’s thought about). “Playing him is like being Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” he says. “I got to be crazy every day, every week on TV.” The role’s lunacy was especially welcome after Morgan quit drinking in the wake of a split from his wife of more than 23 years and multiple DUI arrests. “I didn’t have to do it in real life no more; I got to do that craziness on TV.”

That said, Morgan’s real life wasn’t exactly a smooth ride during the show. Baldwin, sober since the Eighties, had counseled Morgan about his drinking, but there were larger issues with his health: Morgan’s diabetes slipped out of control, to the extent that he’d spend his days on the 30 Rock set and his nights in a hospital, under dialysis. His DUI bracelet injured his ankle, and he nearly lost his foot. Morgan shows me a horrific, whitish scar. “You could look into my ankle and see the other side. I was shooting an episode with a 103 fever plus green pus coming out of my leg.”

Clearly, Morgan adheres to a serious show-must-go-on ethic. So it was all the more painful when, in late 2010, he had to bow out of six weeks of filming when his kidney failed. He had a transplant, courtesy of an incredibly generous organ donation from an ex-girlfriend. “It was scary, because you’re facing death,” he says. “But you gotta understand, I seen my first murder at eight years old, growing up in Bed-Stuy. And that generation of crack and AIDS, so I faced it. I come from the ghetto, man. From the ghetto-ghetto ghetto. My jungle gym was an actual jungle.”

30 Rock’s creators were forced to write around Morgan’s absence, which was only the most dramatic instance of his life shaping Tracy Jordan’s. “We would try to exaggerate his life, so we did a whole thing about him getting ready to lose a foot and put a wheel on instead, “ says Carlock. “And we thought, “OK, this will make it clear to Tracy that we’re not just cribbing from his life all the time,” and cut to a couple of years later, ‘I might lose a foot,” Carlock continues.’ “I don’t know what to tell you, Tre, I’m sorry we did that wheel story.”

Morgan doesn’t necessarily share some of Jordan’s more extreme conspiratorial beliefs (“I believe the moon does not exist,” the character once declared). But he’s not big on conventional politics. “I don’t vote,” he says. I don’t get all into that. And if you don’t vote, people think you crazy. I don’t have to do that shit! I don’t have to do that shit. I do whatever the fuck I want to do. I’m grown. Like I said, I’m not no kid. Even though Tracy Jordan had like this little kid character in him, I’m a grown man. I look around, and my family, a lot of them are below the poverty line. And they still below the fucking poverty line, whether Obama is the president or Bush is the president or Romney. Power to the people, that’s what I believe.”

Morgan didn’t mind when the writers slipped his health woes and DUI bracelet into the show. But he was uncomfortable when they riffed on “a dark point in my life.” During a 2011 stand-up date in Tennessee, Morgan made an extremely unfortunate joke about stabbing a son if he turned out to be gay. An audience member’s offended Facebook post went viral, condemnation spread, and it became the worst controversy of his career. Morgan hid out in his house, not leaving for a month. “I was hurt because I had hurt other people,” he says. “And that’s not what I pride my comedy on. It was a joke. And, uh, I didn’t mean for it to go that way.”

His fiancee, a tall, 26-year-old former model named Megan Wollover, walks by. “She’s the one that got me through that,” he says. “She would tell you how hurt I was.”

She nods. “He wouldn’t leave the house, and he wanted to give up comedy. That’s just because he was hurt.”

Baldwin, for one, is concerned that Morgan might be in danger without the structure of 30 Rock. “He had 150 pairs of eyes on him every day,” Baldwin says. “There were different sets of reasons that people had for this concern, some of it commerce and some of it humanity and empathy, but either one of them worked for him in terms of his health. Tracy’s always saying, ‘Go get me the damn White Castle’ – he’s going to get his way and violate his nutritional probation. He’s going to miss the producers calling him every day and checking up on his sugar count.”

But so far, Morgan’s health is holding up, and he’s firm in his lack of interest in drinking, at least. “Sometime you gotta leave the party,” he says. “Big boy now. I ain’t missing nothing. Shit in the club ain’t changed. Nothing changed out there in 40 years.”

Thanks in part to his fiancee, he’s optimistic about the future. “Every time I make love to her I say, ‘Damn it! We getting it together!’ I have an orgasm and look at her and say, ‘May the force be with you!’ ”

He’s got three grown sons, and hopes to have a baby daughter one day soon: “You know what happiness is? Happiness is a simple thing, man. It’s having something to look forward to.”

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