Emmy surprise: Tracy Morgan gets emotional about his big Hollywood return (Exclusive Q&A)

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Watch Tracy Morgan's Surprise Emmy Appearance


The biggest surprise of Emmy night was not any of the winners but rather the evening's final presenter. Appearing on stage to hand out the outstanding drama statue to a standing ovation was the still-recovering comic and one-time "30 Rock" nominee Tracy Morgan.

It marked Morgan's first appearance at a Hollywood event since his devastating highway accident in June 2014, which left him severely injured and claimed the life of his friend and fellow passenger, comedian James "Jimmy Mack" McNair. In June, he told Today's Matt Lauer that once he came out of his coma, he would regularly watch footage from the crash on the Internet. At that time, he said he was "not 100 percent yet," and would need to focus on healing before he could get back to work.

By late August, news broke that Morgan's return would come Oct. 17, when he will host one of the early episodes of Saturday Night Live's 41st season. It will be familiar turf for the Morgan, who spent nearly a decade on the NBC sketch show. Prior to the accident, Morgan was prepping an untitled comedy series for FXX, which was created by It's Always Sunny's Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton and Luvh Rakhe. It's been on hold since the accident.

The newly married Morgan, who flew to Los Angeles privately Saturday to avoid being spotted and spoiling the Emmy night surprise, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about his emotional return.

Photos from Tracy Morgan's career on television:

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Emmy surprise: Tracy Morgan gets emotional about his big Hollywood return (Exclusive Q&A)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 16: Actor Tracy Morgan visits 106 & Park at BET studio on April 16, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/BET/Getty Images)
This Friday, April 21, 2013 image released by South Beach Comedy Festival shows comedian Tracy Morgan performing during the 8th Annual South Beach Comedy Festival in Miami Beach, Fla. The comedy festival runs through April 21. (AP Photo/South Beach Comedy Festival 2013, Mitchell Zachs)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 05: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Actor/comedian Tracy Morgan visits Covino and Rich at SiriusXM Studios on May 5, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 06: Tracy Morgan speaks onstage at Spike TV's 'Don Rickles: One Night Only' on May 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Spike TV)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 06: Tracy Morgan and Meghan Wollover attend the Spike TV's 'Don Rickles: One Night Only' on May 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Spike TV)
Alec Baldwin, right, and Tracy Morgan joke around backstage after "30 Rock" won the award for outstanding comedy series at the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards Sunday, Sept. 16, 2007, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Billy Baldwin is at rear right. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 10: Jack McBrayer, Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski and Alec Baldwin visit 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon' at Rockefeller Center on January 10, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE - 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' airs every weeknight, (12:00 - 1:06 a.m., ET), following 'Nightline,' packed with hilarious comedy bits and features a diverse lineup of guests including celebrities, athletes, musicians, comedians and humorous human interest subjects. The guests for TUESDAY, OCTOBER 30 included Howard Stern ('The Howard Stern Show'), actor Tracy Morgan ('30 Rock') and musical guest Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. (Photo by Jeff Neira/ABC via Getty Images) HOWARD STERN, JIMMY KIMMEL, TRACY MORGAN
30 ROCK -- 'Governor Dunston' Episode 702 -- Pictured: Tracy Morgan as Tracy Jordan -- (Photo by: Ali Goldstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
30 ROCK -- 'The Beginning of the End' Episode 701 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jack McBrayer as Kenneth Parcell, Tracy Morgan as Tracy Jordan -- (Photo by: Ali Goldstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
30 ROCK -- 'The Tuxedo Begins' Episode 608 -- Pictured: (l-r) Tina Fey as Liz Lemon, Tracy Morgan as Tracy Jordan (Photo by Ali Goldstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 20 -- Aired 05/10/2003 -- Pictured: (l-r) Dan Aykroyd as chief science officer, Tracy Morgan as Astronaut Jones during 'Astronaut Jones' skit (Photo by Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 7 -- Air Date 12/06/2003 -- Pictured: Tracy Morgan as Brian Fellows during the 'Brian Fellow's Safari Planet' skit on December 6, 2008 (Photo by Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- 'Tracy Morgan' Episode 1549 -- Airdate 03/14/2009 -- Pictured: Tracy Morgan (Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- 'Tracy Morgan' Episode 1549 -- Airdate 03/14/2009 -- Pictured: Tracy Mogran (Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- 'Tracy Morgan' Episode 1549 -- Airdate 03/14/2009 -- Pictured: Tracy Morgan (Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 11 -- Aired 02/08/2003 -- Pictured: (l-r) Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan as Joe Jackson, Jimmy Fallon during 'Weekend Update' (Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 17 -- Air Date 04/13/2002 -- Pictured: (l-r) Horatio Sanz, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Kattan and Tracy Morgan as themselves during 'A Message from Saturday Night Live' on April 13, 2002 (Photo by Norman Ng/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 16 -- Air Date 04/06/2002 -- Pictured: (l-r) Cameron Diaz as Renada, Maya Rudolph as Jennifer, Tracy Morgan as Keith, during the 'MTV Spring Break' skit on April 6, 2002 (Photo by Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 6 -- Air Date 11/17/2001 -- Pictured: Tracy Morgan during the 'War Party' skit on Novmeber 17,2001 (Photo by Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 10 -- Aired 01/20/2001 -- Pictured: (l-r) Janet Reno, Tracy Morgan, Darrell Hammond onstage (Photo by Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 9 -- Aired 01/13/2001 -- Pictured: (l-r) Tracy Morgan as Eric Dickerson, Will Ferrell as Dan Fouts during 'Eric Dickerson's NFL Pre-game Show' skit (Photo by Norman Ng/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 16 -- Pictured: (l-r) Chris Kattan as T'Ai Shay, Tracy Morgan as Devon during 'Jenny Jones' skit on April 8, 2000 -- (Photo by: Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 6 -- Pictured: (l-r) Colin Quinn, Tracy Morgan during the 'Weekend Update' skit on November 20, 1999 -- Photo by: Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 1 -- Pictured: (l-r) Tracy Morgan as Walt Dupree, Will Ferrell as Tom Bergeron, Cameron Diaz as Danika Sharpe during 'The New Hollywood Squares' skit on September 26, 1998 -- (Photo by: Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 20 -- Pictured: (l-r) Colin Quinn as employee, Molly Shannon as employee, Ana Gasteyer as Janet Blaum, Tracy Morgan as employee during the 'Rant' skit on May 17, 1997 -- Photo by: Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 1 -- Air Date 09/28/1996 -- Pictured: Tracy Morgan as William 'The Refrigerator' Perry during the 'Hey, Remember The 80's' skit on September 28, 1996 -- Photo by: Mary Ellen Matthews/NBCU Photo Bank
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How did this idea come together?

This is was my publicist Lewis Kay's idea. He said, 'What you want to do is let Hollywood welcome you home.' And I loved that idea. I loved the idea of getting back with my community, the show business community. I loved it.

What does being on this stage mean to you?

It means I'm home. The love and support that I've been shown by many of the people [in the Microsoft Theater] helped get me through the tough times. Speaking to people like Steve Martin and Lorne Michaels, people who were there, that meant a lot to me. It meant a lot to me.

Were there any nerves heading into today?

I've been really, really excited about to doing this. I wasn't nervous. Words take on meaning, so rather than say nervous, I'd say I was excited. Nervous is for people who can't wait until it's over; excited is for people who can't wait for it to start. I couldn't wait for it to start.

From here, you're going to host Saturday Night Live. What did that decision entail, and what's the significance of getting back to Studio 8H for you?

It means everything. A month, month and a half ago, I was speaking to Lorne Michaels. I love Lorne Michael, like I love my dad. I'm very close to him. The conversation got kind of emotional, and I said, 'Lorne, I want to come home.' And he said, 'The door's open.' So I'm hosting.

How you given any thought to what you want to do on that stage?

Not yet. One thing at time, one thing at a time. I don't want to be overwhelmed with things. I've had a long year, and I don't want to be overwhelmed.

You look and sound great. How are you feeling?

Right now, I'm feeling good. But I have my good days, and I have my bad days. Sometimes on my bad days, I get really frustrated. Sometimes, I lock myself away in a room until I calm down. Overall though, I feel blessed that I'm alive, and that's the bottom line.

You've said that getting back to comedy is very important to you. Why is that?

When I came out of the hospital, I saw a lot of the reports and the love and support. Now, I just want to show my comedy because that's my way of giving back. I was really happy to do Matt Lauer, it was my time to say thank you and I love you to those on the road that night -- the police, the ambulance drivers, the helicopters, the firemen, the nurses, the doctors. I sat on that for a year, and I finally got to say. 'Thank you.' And now with my community, this is my way of saying thank you for your support and I love you. And then we can get back to business, and we get back to making the world laugh. That's what I learned from Lorne Michaels.

How so?

When 9/11 happened, I was a cast member on "Saturday Night Live," and we all wondered how we were going to be funny after this great tragedy had happened. And the genius Lorne Michaels said, 'Let's bring Giuliani,' who was the Mayor of New York City at the time, on the show and have him tell the world that it's time to laugh again. And I take on that same doctrine right now. I learned that from Lorne Michaels, who is my Obi-Wan Kenobi. [Editor note: Interviewer laughs.] I just made you laugh really hard just now. So, it's going to take more than 18 wheels. It's going to take more than that to stop me from making you all laugh. I'm going to do that until I die.

I know you just said that you're taking one thing at a time, but before the accident you had an FXX series in the works. Is that still something you think you'll do?

We will do it. As long as I got a breath in my body, we will do it. I will conspire to make [people] laugh forever.

To have everyone in this theater see you back on stage is very emotional...;.

You're going to make me emotional. [Editor's note: Morgan begins crying.] I don't want to be there [crying] right now. I'm just emotional. I'm sorry. I'm on my way back, and it's starting to hit me. I want you to see me smiling, not crying. But this is a big step for me. And I'm just thankful, I'm really thankful. People have loved me, and I'm really thankful for it. Excuse me, I'm trying not to do this. [Morgan cries harder.] For me and for the people who have helped me and been around me, it's been a long year. And I've waited for a long time to get back on this stage.

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