It can’t have been a very fun weekend at Tracy Morgan’s house. The comedian and 30 Rock star is being taken to task for a series of extreme jokes he made about gays and lesbians during a recent standup show in Nashville. Overnight he’s gone from a goofball comedian to a representative of the perils of hate speech—it’s not an enviable transformation.
Morgan’s trouble started on Friday when Kevin Rogers, an audience member who attended his June 3 show took to his Facebook page to complain. According Rogers, at one point in the show Morgan went on a tear about gay people who complain about bullying, joking that if his son turned out to be gay and then complained about being bullied for it he would stab him with a knife.
Pause to cringe now.
Morgan later issued an apology via a public statement to the Hollywood Reporter. At one point, Morgan says, “While I am an equal opportunity jokester, and my friends know what is in my heart, even in a comedy club this clearly went too far and was not funny in any context.”
No one is going out of their way to defend Morgan’s material, perhaps because it’s so irretrievably bad. But friends of the comedian are defending him against the more damaging allegations that he’s homophobic. Tina Fey issued a statement acknowledging that while she was disturbed by the imagery in Morgan’s monologue, she doesn’t believe her co-star meant to advocate hate crimes.
Co-star Cheyenne Jackson, who is gay, was slightly less sympathetic. Jackson gave a statement to Out magazine saying that he was “disgusted and appalled” by Morgan’s jokes and that he hoped they didn’t reflect the actor’s real feelings.
Morgan isn’t the first celebrity to get into trouble for letting it all hang out during a standup routine. In 2006, Michael Richards, a.k.a, Kramer from Seinfeld, seriously tarnished his image after leveling racist slurs at a black audience member heckling his act.
Like Richards, Morgan is going to have to deal with the fallout of his words. The problem with making tasteless jokes that may or may not reflect your real feelings on the subject is that occasionally you may have to defend them in the court of public opinion. At the moment, I’ll bet Morgan feels like stabbing himself with a knife for giving so many people such inflammatory material.