TRACY MORGAN LIVES IN A LOFT THAT feels like a third-grade classroom’s fantasy field trip sprung to life. Wander past the obligatory giant plasma TV and the plush leather sectional couch, and you arrive at the apartment’s most eye-boggling feature: a $30,000 row of lavish, fluorescent-lit glass aquariums. There’s a bandit shark, a nurse shark, a goldfish-eating piranha, plus tarantulas and a moray eel that Morgan’s girlfriend, Taneisha, has nicknamed Squidward, after SpongeBob SquarePants’ jerk-off neighbor.
“These animals live here on this Earth with us, and most people don’t even know it,” Morgan says softly, sounding a bit like Brian Fellow, the flamboyant street naturalist he played on Saturday Night Live. “When I don’t want to watch the fucking idiot box, I just look at their world. Whole lot of shit going on in there.”
Dressed in sweatpants and a faded New York Giants T-shirt, Morgan, 41, sounds less impressed with the rest of his 3,000-square-foot Soho apartment. “This is nothing,” Morgan says dismissively. “I’m quite sure Dane Cook got more than me.”
Morgan doesn’t leave the house much these days. Despite a hit TV show, 30 Rock, and a forthcoming buddy movie with Bruce Willis, Cop Out, it’s often just him, Taneisha, his fish and that fucking idiot box. “I’ve got a thing now for Donnie Brasco,” he says. “I’m watching The Great White Hope, with James Earl Jones, and studying technique. Robin Williams in Insomnia.” Regular TV enrages him. “ESPN used to be my sanctuary,” he says, flailing his arms. “But now I got motherfuckers pulling guns on each other in the locker room!”
Not long ago, when Morgan was bored, he’d go to a nightclub. After a handful of drinks, he would stop being Tracy Morgan and transform into a wild alter ago he calls Chico Divine. Chico would drink, maybe smoke some weed and, if the DJ played just the right Biggie Smalls song, take off his shirt and jiggle his belly for the ladies. A pajamas-wearing Prince once booted Chico out of his house after a pre-Grammy party. At 7 a.m., Chico told Prince his father loved “When Doves Cry.” “Motherfucker, get out,” Prince said.
“I love Chico,” Morgan says, wistfully. “He is the coolest dude, he would never hurt anybody. Chico never shot at the cops. Chico never fought. The most Chico ever did was throw up in Club Suede.”
Still, Chico was a headache. The barf at Suede made the New York Post. A couple of times, Chico got behind the wheel of a car, and Morgan got arrested for DUIs. By 2007, Chico had gotten Morgan into so much trouble the police made him wear an ankle bracelet that monitored his alcohol intake. “That embarrassed me,” he says. “My oldest son looked at me like I was a jerk.”
Chico was sabotaging Morgan just as his career was taking off. An underappreciated SNL-er who had never come close to Will Ferrell-level adulation, Morgan was cast in 2006 by his old SNL friend Tina Fey in the cafl’einated show-within-a-show spoof 30 Rock. He plays what is widely assumed to be an outsize version of himself — a truculent urban comic named Tracy Jordan who utters off-the-wall musings like, “I love this corn bread so much I want to take it behind a middle school and get it pregnant.” The character is a sendup of every hip-hop cliché, but what defines him is Morgan’s ingrained weirdness, the way he innocently delivers every ludicrous line — “There’s no link between diabetes and diet. That’s a white myth…. like Larry Bird or Colorado” — with a flat obliviousness, as if he were reading letters at an eye exam.
“No one else could play that part,” says Fey. “Our scripts are the salt and pepper, but Tracy is the meat — the meat that you bought out of the trunk of a dude’s car. But there’s nothing without the meat.”
Tracy Jordan made Morgan comedy’s favorite space oddity. But thanks to Chico Divine, his home life was crumbling. His marriage fell apart, his battle with diabetes was taking its toll, and a wound on his leg — caused, ironically, by the ankle monitor — became infected and almost forced doctors to amputate his foot. “I thought I was winning,” Morgan says. “I didn’t know I was losing. Taking my shirt off, parties, Saturday Night Live, antics.” Morgan suddenly turns deadly serious, an emotion he’s not especially known for.
“I didn’t know which way was up,” he says. “I lost a 21-year marriage. Who does that? I was a real dick.”
A CONVERSATION WITH TRACY MORGAN does not adhere to an orthodox flow. Over the course of two hours, he leapfrogs from talking about Star Wars (“Darth Vader went against the Rebel Alliance for a chick? Give me a fucking break”) to his short-lived NBC sitcom, The Tracy Morgan Show (“People say, ‘We love that show!’ Maybe you should have watched it, motherfucker”) to gleefully singing the theme to The Facts of Life. He claims triumphantly several times that he is the “black Bon Jovi,” but he doesn’t offer any concrete explanation as to why.