SXSW 2016: Tracy Morgan is Back

...and that's good, because he's the only Tracy Morgan we have

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SXSW 2016: Tracy Morgan is Back

The best comedy never really feels like a performance. Whether it’s a comic inhabiting a character or persona so well it seems effortless, or one who transcends the setup-punchline-setup-punchline formula, the less we feel like someone is trying to be funny and the more they just are funny, the better.

Tracy Morgan is funny. He’s also a little gross and certainly not politically correct, but he described himself best at the Funny or Die performance at the Scoot Inn on Monday night: “I’m like that uncle at the cookout that the parents say ‘stay away from him.’ I’ll give you your first beer. I’ll teach you about sex.”

In other words, Tracy Morgan is Tracy Morgan, and that’s funny. It could have been tragic, however—we almost lost him in June 2014 when a Walmart truck collided with his tour bus and put him in a coma for two weeks. And that naturally played a huge role in his set, 12 shows into his first tour since the accident. Morgan walked out mouthing the “don’t call it a comeback” line from LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” (which was playing on the PA) and received an instantaneous standing ovation, one he looked genuinely touched by, and then proceeded to crack that he felt like “the Desmond Tutu of entertainment.”

He wasn’t afraid to make light of the elephant in the room—”we all know I got hit by the Walmart truck”—and he spent a good chunk of his set talking about the aftermath of the accident, joking about learning to walk and getting out of diapers at the same time as his young daughter and talking about seeing a white light and running from it because it might be the cops. But he also got emotional a few times, pausing to soak up the atmosphere and tell the crowd how thankful he was to be back.

For someone who had to learn how to speak all over again (a fact he turned into a solid bit during his set), there’s little evidence of the accident in Morgan’s ability to perform. He spent a good chunk of the show seated, and he now relies on a printed-out copy of his notes, but when a fan onstage blew his cheat-sheet to the back of the stage, he insisted “it’s OK, I don’t need it anymore.”

The jokes were strong (Morgan even cracked himself up a few times, particularly after zinging Tiger Woods with “the blackest thing he ever did was suck at golf.”) but perhaps more importantly, Morgan was strong. There’s no one else in comedy who fills the niche he does, no one as good at being Tracy Morgan as he is, and the fact that he’s still here to do it—and do it well—is truly remarkable.

Bonnie Stiernberg edits Paste’s music and TV sections.

Photos by Rebecca Adler: | @rarphoto.