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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

He’s a comic and a survivor: ‘SNL’ and ‘30 Rock’ star Tracy Morgan headlines Northern Quest on Saturday night

Tracy Morgan is gushing. The veteran comic and actor sounds like the enthusiastic entertainer from the aughts who was one of the more animated subjects in the business.

“I’m so excited because I’m getting the Icon Award by the Friars Club,” Morgan said while calling from his Manhattan apartment. “It means a lot to me since the Friars Club is a New York institution. I’m humbled. I’m following in the footsteps of greatness.”

Morgan, 53 and a Bronx native, will be the ninth icon to receive the award when presented with it this month at the New York City landmark. Morgan is the lone Black standup to receive the Entertainment Icon Award.

Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Martin Scorsese, Billy Crystal, Tom Cruise, Robert De Niro, Tony Bennett and Douglas Fairbanks are the other legends who have received the honor.

“It’s amazing, but I’m going to have to focus on other things prior to getting that award,” Morgan said. Morgan, who will receive the award on May 26, is headlining Saturday at Northern Quest Resort & Casino.

“Who knows what I’ll do when I come to town?” Morgan said. Perhaps the star of the hilarious sitcom “30 Rock” will wax about his entertaining rise from the hardscrabble streets of the Bronx, a literal stone’s throw from Yankee Stadium. His poignant and hilarious anecdotes would make for a Broadway show.

Morgan sold drugs and cracked jokes in order to survive during the Bronx is burning era. “It was a drug-infested area,” Morgan said. “I dealt cocaine. I did what I had to do.” A way out was unlikely in a bleak environment in which teen pregnancy was the norm.

“We really didn’t have anything,” Morgan said. “We had sex. We didn’t go on trips. We weren’t going to Hawaii like the upper class. We had no way to really escape, so we had sex. The lower class has no say, and the guys running the show don’t care what the lower class thinks.”

Morgan was advised to try comedy. After working New York clubs during the early to mid-1990s, Morgan auditioned for “Saturday Night Live.” Producer Lorne Michaels chose Morgan over Stephen Colbert, and from 1996 to 2003, Morgan was a Not Ready for Prime Time Player.

From 2006 to 2013, Morgan went primetime with “30 Rock,” portraying Tracy Jordan, who was an exaggeration of himself, alongside Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey and others on the award-winning NBC sitcom.

“I’ve been very fortunate during my career,” Morgan said. “I have so many great memories of ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘30 Rock.’ I worked with so many talented people.” Morgan starred in the amusing sitcom “The Last O.G.,” which ran for the last four seasons, but has been focusing on standup lately.

“That’s where I’m at now,” Morgan said. “I grew up loving standup. I loved Eddie Murphy and comedy. If it weren’t for comedy, I would have died at 46 due to alcoholism.”

Morgan became somber when discussing the recent death of fellow comics and Friar Club members Gilbert Gottfried and Bob Saget. “It’s terrible, but I’ll see them again,” Morgan said. “I’m building my house. I’m trying to do good so I can go to that good place and see all of my old friends at some point (in heaven).”

Morgan still returns to the badlands of his childhood. “I go back to water the garden in the Bronx,” Morgan said. “I go back on late-night drives. I still have friends in the game. I still see people. It’s where I’m from. It’ll always stay with me, just like comedy will always stay with me. I stay true to it all.”

An earlier version of this story miscategorized Morgan’s accomplishment as a recipient of the Entertainment Icon Award.