Tracy Morgan is ready to make nice

After a slew of homophobic remarks, he's working with GLAAD. Is his about-face to be believed?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published June 14, 2011 2:56PM (EDT)

Tracy Morgan is changing his tune. After running afoul of the LGBT community -- and a whole lot of comedy fans in general -- with a homophobia-tinged set in Tennessee earlier this month, the "30 Rock" star is now meeting with an LGBT youth group and teaming with GLAAD for an anti-bullying PSA.

It was less than two weeks ago that Morgan drew gasps for a routine in which he declared "that 'Born This Way' is bullshit, gay is a choice," and that his son "better talk to me like a man and not in a gay voice or I’ll pull out a knife and stab that little nigger to death." After an audience member posted a Facebook note on the content of the show, the story snowballed into a public relations disaster for the comic. LGBT organizations Truth Wins Out and the Human Rights Campaign condemned the routine, and Morgan's own celebrity peers were none too supportive either. His "30 Rock" costar, the openly gay Cheyenne Jackson, told Out last week he was "disgusted and appalled by Tracy Morgan's homophobic rant," and Tina Fey called it "disturbing to me at a time when homophobic hate crimes continue to be a life-threatening issue for the GLBT community."

So now, faced with perhaps a combination of remorse and concern for his career, Morgan has gone into heavy damage control mode. In a Monday interview with Russell Simmons for Global Grind he said, "The truth is if I had a gay son, I would love him just as much as if he was straight ... I might have to try to love even more because I know of the difficulty that he would have in society ... Of all the sicknesses, there is probably none more abusive than homophobia."

And GLAAD reports that on Wednesday, Morgan is returning to Tennessee to work with the Tennessee Equality Project, "a group that fights discrimination based on sexual orientation," and to apologize to audience members there. He's also doing GLAAD's upcoming "Amplify Your Voice" anti-LGBT bullying campaign. 

One might wonder, who's the real Tracy Morgan here: the guy who said his son had better "talk like a man" or the one who told GLAAD "parents should support and love their kids no matter what"? Was Morgan truly expressing a deeply felt loathing of gay people when his routine went off the rails, or is he telling the truth now when he says, "I don't care if you love the same sex as long as you have the ability to love someone"?

It's likely a little of both. Comedy draws from life, and it's certainly possible that Morgan was admitting to -- and riffing on – an honest degree of personal discomfort. But comedians are also actors playing parts when they go onstage, exaggerating their own deepest weaknesses and worst foibles. Among the great ones -- and Morgan can be pretty great -- are storytellers, revealing their narratives in a way that invites the audience to recognize its own fears and failures. When they hit the mark, comics make us feel less alone in our moments of insanity and loserness. When they bomb, it's because they've lost the audience. A microphone can be a powerful weapon, and used indiscriminately it can make the person wielding it seem less like an astute observer of human nature and more like a big bully. And that's when a comic commits his greatest sin: not being funny. No funny, no career.

So Morgan, who may simply have been taking a comedic risk that failed miserably, is now trying to atone for his mistake. While that means reaching out as fast as he can to the LGBT community, it doesn't stop there. The real work is still to come. As he told Global Grind, "I guess the reason I am successful is because I am so unfiltered. And sometimes as a result I say really stupid shit ... Now, I just gotta think of some funny shit, not some shit that gets me knocked upside my head."

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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