First, let me say that I don’t agree with Tracy’s homophobic comments at all.. but I’ll defend his right to say whatever he wants to say during a theatrical performance. He is known for saying completely outrageous things.. and for walking audiences. For me, half the fun of going to see Tracy Morgan perform is watching people who don’t know what they’re getting into react.. and I had a ball.
NashvilleStandUp.com gave away dozens of tickets to see Tracy Morgan at the Ryman.. but we made a big deal out of making sure people knew what they were getting into BEFORE we gave them tickets. We posted video clips of his NSFW stand-up online and wrote up a warning:
As crazy as Tracy has acted on television, his stand-up comedy is entirely different. When he was scheduled to perform in Denver, The Comedy Works pre-emptively emailed all ticket holders warning them that the performance would be extremely filthy, “We especially want to make sure you are aware that Tracy’s show is very, very dirty. His stand up show is not what you might expect from seeing him on 30 Rock or Saturday Night Live. His show is the most extreme in nature that we can possibly express.” They even offered to refund tickets prices if buyers decided to opt out of the show.
I attended the show with a comedian buddy of mine and a couple ladies.. and we all had a fantastic time. I wasn’t laughing at the gay-bashing stuff, but I don’t remember it being a show-stopper either. I think I saw 2-3 couples leaving the show early at one point or another, but I
didn’t see any kind of mass-exodus. Honestly, homophobia didn’t seem that out-of-context for the show. It’s Tracy Morgan. He’s said crazy stuff about Sarah Palin, about getting people pregnant.. about everything.. he says crazy stuff. That’s what I expect from him. Plus,
homophobia is a fairly common theme in the culture Tracy is a product of. Not all, but a lot of hip hop acts are pretty quick to say, “no homo.” I’m not defending that, I’m just saying it wasn’t totally unexpected.
After the show, a couple local comics were complaining about Tracy’s show online.. saying it was just, “an hour of butt-fuck jokes” – which is not off-base – but I replied to them that if they don’t enjoy that, it’s their fault for going. Nobody shows up for concerts at the Ryman without knowing what kind of music the band plays. People should know better by now. You can’t just show up at a comedy show and expect that the comedians will be what YOU specifically like. You have to research the acts and seek out what appeals to you. It’d be different if this were an open mic and people didn’t like one of the guys in the line-up – because in that case, that performer wasn’t advertised – there’s no way you could have known what you’d be subjected to that night. With a famous comedian at a theater, you just don’t have that excuse.
Some of the criticism of Tracy has been that “his tone changed” and this homophobic rant “wasn’t funny” – well, that’s not prosecutable. I know people think comedians have to be funny all the time, but that’s not true. Humor is subjective. I didn’t laugh at the homophobic stuff, but I didn’t think much about it at all until this controversy popped up. Tracy had bits that were clearly bits, but he also had portions of his act that seemed, to me, to be completely ad-libbed. When comics do that, they’re really taking a risk – just talking, hoping it’ll end up funny. I’m certainly guilty of that myself.
Writing on stage is fairly common. When a comic is comfortable enough to launch into a subject with only a general idea of where the bit should go, it’s not going to be the punchiest, tightest material ever.. but hopefully the comic can get a feel for where the laughs are and go back and rewrite the bit using what worked and losing what didn’t. Was Tracy doing that on June 3rd? Who knows. I’ll bet he wishes it had come across as funnier than it did. Would those homophobic remarks be justified if it was the funniest thing Kevin Rogers ever heard?
I don’t think Tracy should have apologized at all.. I think comedians should be completely unapologetic and let the act speak for itself. Of course, I’m an unemployed, unfamous comic who has spent the last 10 years driving across the country for little money and less glory. Tracy does have a day job – a primetime show on NBC.. and I’m guessing his handlers felt that he should apologize so he doesn’t jeopardize that relationship.
The main point is: everything Tracy Morgan said was within the context of a theatrical performance. Miranda Lambert sings about loading a shotgun and waiting to kill a guy.. does that mean she’s a confessed murderer? No, it’s an act. “Offensive,” “funny,” and “appropriate” are all subjective terms. Tracy has made a living for himself by being outrageous, ridiculous and shocking. When you go to his show, that’s what you should expect.
Tracy’s inappropriateness IS what’s funny to me. Watching people get upset about him being inappropriate is downright hilarious.