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Tracy Morgan says accident didn’t rob him of ‘the funny’

Tracy Morgan says God and Richard Pryor helped get him through his life-threatening accident. The advice of one he shares freely. The other he saves for the show.

God “didn’t take the funny from me, so I’m just staying funny,” says the comedian and actor, who performs at The Mirage on Friday and Saturday for the first time since his near-fatal highway accident in June 2014.

“That was a priority: to be funny. Because that was a gift God gave me. And Before I left Heaven he said, ‘Stay funny.’ Right as I was walking out of the Pearly Gates, God said, ‘Stay funny! B-y-y-e.’ ”

This is one of the few times that you can detect humor in Morgan’s voice over the phone. Another is when he laughs at his own hook-baiting, telling fans they will have to come to the show if they want to know what wisdom Pryor shared with him, apparently while he was in a coma.

“I spoke to him,” Morgan says of the comic legend who died in 2005. “You’ll hear what he said to me when you come to the show … I’ll let you know what Pryor said. And if Richard said something to me, you know it’s going to be hilarious.”

The rest of the time Morgan, 47, is sincere and serious, even a little testy when asked if he retained his sense of humor during the recovery process from the New Jersey Turnpike accident in which his chauffeured vehicle was hit by a Wal-Mart truck.

The accident killed his friend and fellow comic James McNair. Morgan was in a coma for nearly two weeks and then spent nearly a year recovering from several broken bones.

“I wasn’t thinking about no funny. I was thinking about talking again. I was thinking about walking again. That’s a scary thing. You may take it for granted because you walk and talk and go to work and wake up in the morning. You never faced death. It was scary. There was nothing funny about it.”

He says it was a year before “I even thought about comedy. I thought about my health. You ain’t s—- if you ain’t got your health, man. It just helped me put everything back into perspective and priority. And I know what’s important and I know what’s not.”

Morgan resurfaced last summer, then returned to his old “Saturday Night Live” stomping grounds to host the show last fall. And now he’s back doing stand-up with the “Picking Up the Pieces” tour, which started in February.

Picking up those pieces was a little scary, he says, because he didn’t know if his comic instincts would survive the accident. “I just had to redo my instincts, my footing, and just get back on track. Got my memory muscle back and I knew what time it was. And that was it.

“Career-wise, stand-up is the first thing, the foundation of my career,” he adds. “When I was able to do stand-up, everything else would follow through. Stand-up is the hardest thing you could ever do in show business.”

“It’s like Garry Shandling, God bless him, said, ‘It gotta come from the heart. It comes from the heart.’ That’s the only way people can feel it, is if you’re emotionally connected. And I try to be emotionally connected to my stand-up, and that’s what it is. It has to come from the heart.”

Morgan agrees the emotional connection is a two-way street with audiences these days. He’s received standing ovations when he walks out onstage in some cities, and that has to feel good, right?

“Hey listen, man, if you want to describe me, my comedy is temporary. To make them laugh is transferable, it’s temporary. But to make people care is permanent. It just showed how much people care. That don’t go away. I care about them too. Those that care about me, I care about them.”

Morgan says it’s a done deal that he will play the late Las Vegas-based comedian Redd Foxx in a Richard Pryor movie biography from the Weinstein Company, set to star Mike Epps under the direction of Lee Daniels.

“I said a prayer to Mr. Foxx, ‘I promise to do justice by you,’ because he was an icon,” Morgan says.

Back in 2010, a Morgan interview with the Review-Journal included a quote that took on new resonance after his accident: “You have to take it as it comes. You can’t plan the (stuff), man. You could wake up dead one morning. You have to just live it to the fullest.”

Reminded of that, Morgan says, “I feel that way even more now. I didn’t know that truck was coming. Nobody knew that. You gotta enjoy and not take it for granted. I know my purpose in life now is to connect the dots … I survived, I got married, I got a daughter, I’ve connected the dots. Now all I do is just follow through and stay righteous.

“The greatest shame in the world is wasted talent,” he adds. “You could have all the talent in the world, and if you don’t do good things, nothing’s gonna happen. You gotta do good things. And I try to do that. When I see people I make sure to say ‘I love you.’ I don’t gotta know you, I just love you. I love you on this phone, wish you all the best, good health and joy and all of that, man. There’s nothing wrong with it.”

Read more from Mike Weatherford at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Mikeweatherford

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