While we always thought he was funny on Saturday Night Live, over the past few years, it feels like Tracy Morgan has really come into his own. His 30 Rock character Tracy Jordan — a very loose parody of himself — is arguably one of the most hilarious parts of what we consider the best comedy on television. And unlike some comedians who seem to have no personality when they’re not inhabiting a role, he’s able to maintain that same over-the-top charm that makes us love him in interviews and public appearances, as well. As today is Tracy’s 42nd birthday, we thought we’d celebrate his career by telling you 42 things you didn’t know about him before. Enjoy!
1. Tracy was born in Queens, but grew up in the Bronx and Bed-Stuy.
2. His father, Jimmy Morgan, Sr., was a musician who left the family when Tracy was just six. He died of AIDS in 1987 — a result of his heroin use.
3. Tracy went to middle school in Brooklyn. He got on the subway at 7 am to commute from his father’s house in the Bronx. “It was hard,” he has said. “I was like a young Harriet Tubman.”
4. Tracy attended De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx, but did not graduate. “I’m glad I dropped out of high school, man. I wouldn’t be where I’m at. I would have had a net. I’m glad I didn’t have anything to fall back on, man, because that made me go for my dreams that much harder,” he has said.
5. Before he began his career in stand-up, Tracy worked as a painter for L&L Painting and Rose Company.
6. According to Tracy, “When I said I was gonna be a comedian, my mom said, ‘Motherfucker, you better go down to UPS — they hiring.'”
7. He names Redd Foxx, Eddie Murphy, and Andrew Dice Clay among his early comedic influences. “I like saying ‘mother-fucker’ without curbing it. You get your point across when you say ‘motherfucker.’ It’s simple — it’s just an exclamation point,” he has said.
8. Tracy was discovered by Martin Lawrence’s ex-wife while doing stand-up at the Apollo Theater in 1984.
9. He began his TV career on Martin, playing a recurring character called Hustle Man. His catchphrase? “What’s happenin’, chief?”
10. He married his high school sweetheart, Sabina, and had three kids (Malcolm, Tracy Jr., and Gitrid) all before the age of 22. Tracy and Sabina divorced in 2009, and spent the final 8 years of their marriage living apart. They remain friends.
11. Tracy joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1996, and stayed on the show for seven seasons. His favorite character that he created was Astronaut Jones.
12. He launched a family sitcom, The Tracy Morgan Show, on NBC in 2003. It was canceled after one season (it was up against American Idol).
13. Tracy is a lifelong Knicks fan, and believes that they could have saved Michael Jackson. “I’m always going to stay with the Knicks. Good, bad, and ugly, I’ll stay with the Knicks. I wish I could’ve got to Michael Jackson — two Knicks games would’ve cleared all that shit up,” he has said.
14. He bought one of Michael Jackson’s gloves for $14,000 at an auction.
15. Some people say that 30 Rock’s Tracy Jordan character is based on Martin Lawrence. Tracy has denied this, saying: “Martin didn’t corner the market on meltdowns! My uncle Frank ran down the street in his drawers seven times, and twice without no drawers on! This could be Robert Downey Jr., this could be Margot Kidder, this could be anybody.”
16. When Tracy first started at SNL, he was getting paid $9000 an episode.
17. Tracy has a bunch of tattoos, according to Maxim . Among them: a peace sign; a happy and sad face; a cross bearing the names of his wife and three sons; the name of a friend he played football with in high school who was murdered; the words “ME, MYSELF, & I”; and the phrase “Stove Top.”
18. He has a lot of pets: two snakes, three sharks, two moray eels, two piranhas, one jellyfish, five scorpions, one bird spider, and two dogs, according to People . A faulty lamp on his shark tank caused his apartment to catch fire in February 2009, but none of the fish were injured.
19. Tracy has only been nominated for an Emmy once — in 2009 for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series on 30 Rock. He says that he’s OK if he never gets nominated again.
20. He was diagnosed with diabetes back in 1996. After developing a 104-degree fever on the set of 30 Rock 12 years later, he finally started taking the disease seriously.
21. As a kid, Tracy created a stand-up character named Biscuit, a little boy who had also been abandoned by his father.
22. Tracy returned to SNL as a host in March 2009. In an earlier interview he had said that it was one of his goals and would be “a dream come true.”
23. The creation story behind his Brian Fellows character: “It was a friend that went to school with my wife. And she told me about him one day, and I just started doing him around the office, and some of the writers picked up on it, and he occurred. People love Brian Fellows.”
24. Tracy has admitted to dealing crack. “It still bothers me today, but it’s something that I did. It was survival,” he has said.
25. According to Tracy, the murder of his best friend is what made him pursue a career in comedy: “He would say to me, ‘Yo, Tracy, man, you should be doing comedy.’ A week later, he was murdered. And that for me, that was like my Vietnam. I had my survival guilt when I started to achieve success. Why I made it out and some guys didn’t.”
26. What was Tracy’s first joke? “I think I said, ‘Your mother’s breath smells like cheese doodles: light on cheese, heavy on the doodle.'” He was only four years old at the time.
27. Tracy’s older brother has cerebral palsy, so he says when bullies tried to pick on him as a kid, he learned to be funny instead of fighting back.
28. Tracy Morgan insists that he’s not “mentally ill” like Tracy Jordan. “No, I’m not. It’s a character that I play. It gets scary when you’re dealing with people who don’t know how to separate fact from fiction. You know, people watch TV, and that’s television, not real. It’s scary… I’ve got a wife and kids. I’ve got a life,” he has said.
29. This past year, Tracy claimed on Letterman that Oprah was his Valentine, saying, “Every time I turn around she on the phone with Gayle! Get off the phone with Gayle! Gayle this, Gayle that. What about me?!”
30. When on SNL, Tracy says that his closest friends were Horatio Sanz, Jimmy Fallon, and Will Ferrell. “That whole crew was crazy. We had this little club called the Bro Bro Club, and we was going to after-after-after parties.”
31. When asked what he’d like to do that he hasn’t yet, Tracy says the he would like to produce and direct his own movie.
32. At a recent TimesTalk event, Tracy revealed that he dreams about working with Eddie Murphy and Zach Galafianakis.
33. Tracy has a cameo in Biggie Smalls’ posthumous music video for “Notorious B.I.G.” playing a hospital security guard.
34. He was popular in high school, known for being the class clown. “When I got to 9th grade, kids would cut class to see me and my homeboys joke with each other. And I was always the funny, funny, funny dude. It wasn’t just mama jokes. I would act out the jokes. Plus there’s my face. God gave me an extra layer of skin. My instrument is my face. So when I’m not saying anything, I throw a look and still get a laugh,” he has said.
35. Tracy’s stand-up career began at the Uptown Comedy Club, which was run by Kevin “Dot Com” Brown aka Dot Com on 30 Rock. He had to pay $20 before he was allowed to take the stage.
36. According to Tracy, he “scared the shit out of” Lorne Michaels. “That’s where the sketch of ‘Get Me a Soda, Bitch!’ came from. Me and Lorne Michaels was in the elevator, just me and him, one time, and I was just looking at him, and I smiled, because I knew he was nervous. I know how some white people are. When the elevator door is open and y’all see all the black people in there, you do a head count. ‘Oh, I’ll just take the next elevator.'”
37. Tracy owns a handful of cars, including an Escalade EXT, an Infiniti, a green Jaguar S-Type, and a red Jaguar S-Type.
38. He describes the SNL audition process as “the scariest thing in the world. It’s like auditioning in front of Darth Vader.”
39. Tracy was so moved when he met President Obama and the First Lady at the White House that he started crying.
40. He published a memoir, I Am The New Black, last year, but says that he’s never writing another one. “I’m not writin’ another book. I’m not writin’ another book because I’ve seen people can’t handle it. I feel just like Jack Nicholson. You can’t handle the truth! Most people want to be lied to! They want it sugarcoated!”
41. Tracy lost his virginity to his babysitter at the age of 8. “I actually cried after that,” he has said. “I remember she gave me a stack of Oreo cookies to keep me quiet. It wasn’t the only time it happened either. Damn. Memories.”
42. What Tracy thinks about his name: “Tracy Mogan? That’s an Irish female’s name. With a name like that, I should have red hair, blue eyes, and big tits. I should be in a green bikini on a float every March.”