Tracy Morgan makes emotional return to Dover

DOVER — After the laughs, it was time to get serious.

Comedian Tracy Morgan made a triumphant return to the stage at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino’s Rollins Center Friday night, more than two years after an accident that left him temporarily in a coma and killed his close friend following a performance at the venue.

Mr. Morgan delivered a solid hour of comedy in front of the sold-out crowd of approximately 1,500, peppering his routine with jokes and stories about the crash, along with other very adult routines about his family, sex and growing up in Brooklyn.

During his actual performance, there was little mention of the fact that Dover was the place from where he was returning when a WalMart truck struck Mr. Morgan’s limo bus from behind on the New Jersey Turnpike.

The June 7, 2014, crash killed his friend, fellow comedian and mentor James “Jimmy Mack” McNair while Mr. Morgan suffered a traumatic brain injury, a broken leg, nose and ribs. He was in a coma for two weeks.

Three other passengers, comedians Ardie Fuqua and Harris Stanton, along with Mr. Morgan’s assistant Jeffrey

Tracy Morgan

Tracy Morgan

Millea were also injured.

Although there were scant words about the milestone evening during his act, at the end of it, he asked that the house lights be brought up so he could see the cheering audience. He then asked that the driver of the limo bus and his assistant Mr. Millea come on stage while he recited the exact number of years, months, days, hours and minutes that had elapsed since the accident.

The emotional display prompted more applause from the crowd and he pointed to a lone spotlight on stage, saying that was for Mr. McNair.

An overcome Mr. Morgan was enveloped in a group hug involving the men who were in the vehicle that night, along with his opening act comedians, who included Marc Theobald and Tracey Ashley.

After he gathered himself, he brought out his wife, Megan, and 3-year-old daughter, Maven, who waved to the crowd.

A photo posted to Mr. Morgan’s Instagram account showed that Mr. Fuqua and Mr. Stanton were also at Dover Downs Friday night.

Another photo on Mr. Morgan’s Instagram page showed him before the show, kneeling and bowing his head in front of an empty seat in the audience that was topped by a gold bow.

The caption read “Back @ DoverDowns. Miss you Jimmy Mack. Tonight will be magical..”

It certainly was for those who greeted Mr. Morgan with a standing ovation as he stepped on stage to begin the Dover stop of his “Picking Up the Pieces” tour, which has been ongoing since February.

The former “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” star wasted little time in getting to the crash, saying early on, “It could have been worse. It could have been a Bob’s Discount Furniture truck.”

Throughout his set, he reiterated how thankful he was that the accident did not rob him of his sense of humor, which was certainly on display Friday night.

He noted that he has forgiven the driver of the truck but joked that perhaps his new neighbors haven’t. He recently built a multi-million dollar home in New Jersey as a result of his large settlement with WalMart.

Mr. Morgan told of his brief trip to heaven, with God saying that he didn’t belong up there, and his interactions with rapper Biggie Smalls, Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley, noting that Mr. Jackson told him that he actually died shooting a Pepsi commercial and there had been a stand-in ever since and that Biggie Smalls had lost weight and was looking good.

Although he brought home the seriousness of the accident many times, he made plenty of jokes about it too, at one point saying that you’ll know if ever needs money again if you see him riding a bicycle down the New Jersey Turnpike wearing all black and looking for another truck to hit him.

His quick wit and sharp delivery belied the months of rehab he said it took to get him into comedic shape again. The only concession he made to whatever impairment he still has were the sheets reminding him of certain routines spread out on a table and the time he spent sitting down while telling his jokes.

His only other mention of what the night might have meant to him came during a tense exchange with a heckler who yelled out about the shiny black jacket he was wearing. The shout prompted other audience members to yell their disapproval of the first person.

He admonished those few to not to spoil the “special night” for the rest of the audience and to remember that his friend Jimmy Mack was killed in the accident.

But his 23 years of being a comedian was put to good use as he quickly got the audience back on track.

There was no photography or recording of the show permitted. In fact, audience members had their cell phones locked in special pouches that had to be opened by staff members after the show.

Mr. Theobald and Ms. Ashley got the crowd ready for Mr. Morgan with Mr. Theobald especially scoring as he discussed how much anxiety the audience must have been feeling without their phones.

But the star of the night was clearly Mr. Morgan, who was repeatedly told by crowd members that they loved and missed him. He returned the sentiment many times, ending the night by saying, “I love you. Thank you,” obviously overcome with emotion that he was back on stage doing what he does best – making people laugh.

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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