Tracy Morgan, in his first full interview since the horrific road accident that killed his friend, comedian James McNair, and nearly took his own life one year ago this week, didn't even try to crack a joke.
He wasn't ready – and he knew it.
"I'm not 100 percent yet," he told NBC's Matt Lauer Monday on "Today."
The 46-year-old comedian clutched a cane even as he sat, and his words were both halting and repetitive at times as he battled tears recalling his fallen friend and speaking about his ongoing recovery. But in some respects, the extraordinary interview gave us vintage Tracy Morgan: raw, real and honest.
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Morgan's appeal as an entertainer rests greatly in his ability to share his life, presenting a largely unvarnished version of himself during a two decade-plus comedy career built on streetwise wisecracks. It was appropriate that he made his first extensive public comment since the June 7, 2014 accident on "Today," housed in NBC's studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza – Morgan's first TV home on "Saturday Night Live" and his fictional headquarters as Tracy Jordan on the sitcom "30 Rock."
During his emotional eight-minute conversation with Lauer, a somber Morgan thanked his former "SNL" and "30 Rock" colleague Tina Fey, along with his family, doctors and nurses, for their support since a Wal-Mart tractor-trailer slammed into his limo bus after he performed in Delaware. "I can't believe I'm here," said Morgan, who suffered brain trauma and broken bones in the New Jersey Turnpike crash.
His "Today" appearance seemed to be a way to begin to move on from the accident, amid news last week that he had settled his lawsuit against Wal-Mart – a development his lawyer, Benedict Morelli, who accompanied Morgan, took pains to emphasize during the interview.
But Morgan focused most on McNair, noting his last memory of his friend is of a joke the comic wrote for the stand-up gig in Delaware. Morgan didn’t tell the joke. But the poignant recollection underscored the bond between comedians, as well as the special relationship comics have with their audience – and their craft.
“I love comedy – I’ll never stop loving her… I can’t wait to get back to her," Morgan said, before leaving viewers with a brave vow: “I’ll get back to making you laugh, I promise you.”
Morgan's many fans – and perhaps some new ones he made Monday – will be waiting for the day he's physically healed and emotionally ready to share his hard-earned, very personal comic perspective once again.