Tracy Morgan enjoyed several career highs during his eight-year run on “Saturday Night Live.” His star never shined as bright as, say, Eddie Murphy‘s, but he did create signature breakouts such as Brian Fellows, Woodrow, Astronaut Jones and Dominican Lou before departing in 2003.
So it came as no surprise when Morgan, 46, reprised three of those characters during his return as host of the show this weekend. Despite flubbing a few lines and missing a comedy beat or two, Morgan was as funny as ever as he seamlessly transitioned from one sketch to the next.
Call it sympathy after his 2014 car crash or maybe even nostalgia, but there was something warm and reassuring about seeing Morgan ham it up as wannabe zoologist Brian Fellows and homeless man Woodrow in a “Weekend Update” bit featuring Willie the neighbor.
Best of all, Morgan — who suffered a traumatic brain injury last year when the car he was riding in was struck by a tractor trailer — refused to play the victim, and even found a way to joke about his current mental and physical limitations during the opening monologue. “Can he speak? Does he have 100 percent mental capacity?” said Morgan explaining how viewers might see him. “But the truth is, I never did.”
The best among Morgan’s turns was a “30 Rock” rehash featuring his former co-stars Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski and Jack McBrayer. Baldwin did double duty, also playing presidential hopeful Jim Webb in the cold open, which mocked this week’s Democratic debate. Larry David stole the sketch as candidate Bernie Sanders.
That said, the night belonged to Morgan, who didn’t garner big laughs as Astronaut Jones or as a pot maker in a musical number, but more than made up for it in a film short as a misunderstood thug who longed to Tango.
Morgan also drummed up giggles in a “Family Feud” parody featuring all five black cast members and an unexpected bright spot called “Yo! Where Jackie Chan At Right Now?”
The only thing missing was Uncle Jemima.