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Friday, May 16, 2014

Recap: Tracy Morgan's "Turn It Funny" Tour Won Over the Pabst Theater

tracy morgan pabst theater 2014 standup review
Photo credit: Benjamin Wick
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As talented as he is, comedian Tracy Morgan often attracts more attention for saying crazy shit than he does for his standup. Whether he’s referring to Sarah Palin as “Good masturbation material” during a live NBA broadcast or stirring up controversy with some insanely homophobic remarks (which, while wildly inappropriate, didn’t derail his career in a Michael Richards-esque way mainly thanks to a convincingly sincere apology and Tina Fey vouching for his character), the former “30 Rock” star has a tendency to go off script in rather spectacular ways, just as his thinly fictionalized counterpart did on the now sadly departed NBC sitcom. Depending on who you are that might be reason enough to buy a ticket right there, but this particular evening at the Pabst, there was only quality standup comedy on display.

Sporting bright white pants and a shiny purple shirt, a bit of an odd combo, Morgan emerged to uproarious applause, the crowd having been warmed up by a pair of agreeable but eminently forgettable openers. He began, as many comics do, with a little light local color, mostly about how the area’s known for producing more than its fair share of serial killers, before holding court on a wide variety of subjects, from horror movie tropes and life in the suburbs to the shortcomings of today’s popular music. There was of course a great deal of material about sex, the blue stuff being his bread and butter, which he approaches just like he does everything else, with an irreverent mix of candid realism and outright silliness, all liberally peppered with well-timed four-letter words.

Morgan’s at his best when he moves away from the broader observational humor, which strays at times into Def Comedy Jam cliché, and draws on his own personal experiences, as when he reminisced about his troubled days spent selling crack, a profession he was ill-suited for as a self-professed sensitive young man, always telling junkies to get help, or broke down the way his life has changed with money and fame. Not that it got serious at any point, it’s called the “Turn It Funny” tour after all, and despite a brief lull about three quarters through his hour-long set, the show delivered on its title. Morgan’s taken things too far before, but if any part of this performance ends up on YouTube, it’ll be because it’s hilarious, not merely outrageous or offensive.