Tears of a Clown: Tracy Morgan, Real, Awkward on NPR
Football legend Rosey Grier said it best in that feel-good classic from the 1970s, Free to Be You and Me: "It's alright to cry." That was the 1970s, read: a culture just slightly less sexist, mysoginist, racist, and repressed than in those martini-swilling Mad Men days of yore. Here we are, a couple of post-1970s later with another well-known, African-American having the nerve to, well, unnerve us one tear at a time.
Comedian Tracy Morgan appeared on the NPR show, Fresh Air, today to promote his new memoir I Am the New Black. (http://www.npr.org/templates/rundowns/rundown.php?prgId=13)
Fresh Air host, Terry Gross, probed deeply in her interview with the funny man of Saturday Night Live and, currently, 30 Rock, but grew noticeably uncomfortable when she cut a little too deeply. Morgan's book is an explicitly candid account of growing up in danger and poverty, grappling with a drug-addicted father and a strained relationship with his mother, and eventually finding his way to professional success. The comedian became very serious and visibly upset during several portions of the interview, causing Gross to simply stop talking, which might have seemed like the polite thing to do if it weren't accompanied by such awkward, uncomfortable silence that you could practically hear the cringyness on Gross' face.
Proceeding cautiously, asking if he were ok and offering him a tissue, Gross continued with the interview, but she never seemed to recover, making me wonder who was more upset: Morgan recounting carrying his dying father to his bedroom or Gross confined in a studio with a funny man who was supposed to be inducing tears of laughter, not tears shed from his soul. At one point she essentially asked him if he was being "for real," even though he prefaced earlier parts of the segment with a discussion about the difference between the character he plays on tv and his authentic self. Ever the sensitive soul, Gross proceeded to wonder aloud if his fans and people listening would take him seriously. Later on in the broadcast when further discussing his relationship with his ailing father, she mentioned, again, how upset he had just become and almost couldn't continue the interview. Was she pulling a classic Barbara Walters, pouring salt in the wound to make her guest squirm while she held her position as radio stoic? Or was she verifying for her own edification?
By Gross' demeanor and responses throughout the interview, it became clear that it's not o.k. to cry:
A. If you're a man
B. If you're a black man
C. If you're a funny black man
D. If you're a funny black man being interviewed by Terry Gross
The woman has interviewed Kennedys and comics, nobodys and somebodys, so her seeming insensitivity over Morgan's heartfelt approach to the discussion left me non-plussed. I briefly returned to my own personal theory that Gross is, in fact, a robot, but discarded it after realizing that it would provoke a cover-up that no amount of NPR pledge drives could possibly pay for. Maybe she had a chip implanted? A chip removed? I didn't want to think of Terry Gross as a heartless shrew, toying with her guests. How could I and still get that little, nerdy thrill whenever she'd say "And this is FRESH Airrrrrrrr."
Then I realized that currently, we are a polis powered by dirt, filth, scandal, sensation, shock, and seediness. Perhaps we no longer know how to recognize real, authentic emotion when we see it. We were, afterall, transfixed by the crocodile tears of a jackass who pimped out his own children for a shot at the spotlight. Apparently truth, pathos, and raw humanity is too much for us these days. Morgan's penchant to display all of those things instead of keeping them concealed behind his outrageous exterior reminds us that it's not only o.k. to cry, it's well..necessary.