While I am a big fan of 30 ROCK, and Tracy Morgan is often a standout playing his Tracy Jordan alter-ego on the often brilliant sitcom, his standup act, as represented here, is strictly second tier.
BLACK AND BLUE, Morgan's initial foray on HBO, taped at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, was the premium channel's highest rated comedy special of 2010. Practically every significant comedian of the past thirty years has appeared on the pay cable network's standup format. Some of them, like Chris Rock and George Carlin, have done hysterical, groundbreaking work. Others, including Jerry Seinfeld and Ellen DeGeneres, are brilliantly hilarious masters of the art form. Watching BLACK AND BLUE, it becomes quickly apparent that SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE alumnus Tracy Morgan simply doesn't have the sharp insights or sterling delivery of the best of his comedic counterparts.
The ultimate litmus test of a standup special like BLACK AND BLUE is how much it made me laugh. In Morgan's case... not much. Let's be clear. This is raunchy, adults-only fare. But Morgan's material, mostly dealing with well-trod topics like sex, the differences between blacks and whites, sex, drugs, Obama, sex, and terrorism lacks the fresh intelligence of a Chris Rock or Richard Pryor or Eddie Murphy. Morgan doesn't come close to those comedians' honest, whip-smart delivery that can leave an audience helpless with laughter and gasping in disbelief all at the same time.
Which isn't to say Tracy Morgan isn't a formidable comic presence. His ability to wring laughs from terrific writing is evident in every new episode of 30 ROCK. The key, though, is the writing. There are some chuckles here and there in BLACK AND BLUE, but overall, the material isn't all that compelling. In fact, Morgan, the standup comedian, is operating at the middle-of-the-road level of 90% of the foul-mouthed comics whose acts you can catch almost every night on HBO or Showtime. It's a tough racket. But when you've seen the best, why settle for anything less?