In 2014, a sleep-deprived Wal-Mart truck driver caused a six car crash that left the SNL alum Tracy Morgan in critical condition in the ICU. Now, Morgan's upcoming Netflix special Staying Alive will be his latest way of finding humor in that near-death experience. "It was a serious incident," the 30 Rock star tells a group of reporters at Netflix’s summer press junket. "But like every other thing that ever happened to me in my life, I tried to turn it good with the gift that God gave me, which is my sense of humor. I injected my sense of humor into that."
Of course, it also helped that crafting new material out of something truly terrible that had happened aligned with the comedian's belief that comedy is an art form that is based on life rather than on developing new material while constantly touring. Which makes sense. If you're not a comedian yourself, you're not going to find the meta-stylings of a comic riffing about the process of writing comedy or performing it all that engaging.
That's why Morgan suggests all comedians require time away from the stage because it makes the humor a person brings to subjects that much sharper — which is something he can obviously speak to personally. "You gotta go through ups and downs to have sh*t to talk about on stage," he says. "You can’t just stay on the stage. Who does that? Not real stand ups... You go through something, so you got something to talk about."
If, at this point, you're wondering if this is a theory that other comedians subscribe to, Morgan then proves the wisdom of his recommendation by referring to one of the most famous sketches in U.S. comedy history. The Richard Pryor set also uses a dark, painful topic and metamorphoses it into humor, which Morgan appreciates:
"I'm not Bugs Bunny, I’m going to talk about truth in mine. That’s what Richard [Pryor] taught me: truth. We’re scared of the truth. Richard didn’t just tell you he did cocaine. He told you where he bought it from, he told you... how much they wanted a gram. That was Rich. You know why we loved him? Because he was honest. And I’ll always be honest with y’all, my audience."
So, if you're looking for comedy that isn't just played for escapist entertainment, but that forces its audience to confront the darkest, most dangerous element of our life — our proximity to mortality — Staying Alive could be exactly what you're looking for. If not, well, at least it's helping Morgan deal with his own demons, and that alone makes it worthwhile.