When he stepped onto the stage at NBC’s Studio 8H for his opening monologue on “Saturday Night Live,” Tracy Morgan knew that viewers would question whether he was up to the task of hosting the show some 16 months after he was nearly killed in an automobile accident.
As Morgan told the audience, “People were wondering: Can he speak? Does he have 100 percent mental capacity?”
”But the truth is, I never did,” he continued. “I might actually be a few points higher now.”
Morgan’s appearance on “Saturday Night Live” was his first extensive television performance since he was critically injured in the spring of 2014.
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The 90-minute broadcast was a sentimental homecoming for Morgan, who gained fame as an “SNL” cast member in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and then on the NBC comedy “30 Rock.” A sketch during his monologue (presented as if it were a prophetic “30 Rock” episode from 2012) reunited him with the show’s cast members Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski and Jack McBrayer.
Another “SNL” alumnus, Larry David, appeared in what was likely to be the evening’s most discussed sketch, an opening sendup of CNN’s Democratic presidential debate. The “Seinfeld” co-creator and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star was on hand to impersonate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
In adenoidal tones that effortlessly mimicked Sanders’ voice, David declared himself a Washington outsider: “I’m the only candidate up here who’s not a billionaire,” he said. “I don’t have a super PAC. I don’t even have a backpack. I carry my stuff around loose in my arms like a professor between classes. I own one pair of underwear, that’s it.”
For Morgan, the show celebrated the raucous sensibility and absurd characters he is known for while also announcing to fans and the entertainment industry that he is ready to return to the comedy career that was halted by his debilitating crash.
The accident, Morgan said in his monologue, “was awful, but it also showed me how much love and support I have in this world.”
”I’m so lucky I have my comedy family,” he said. “When this happened, I knew they would all be there to support me.”
On June 7, 2014, Morgan was riding in a limousine van that was struck from behind by a Wal-Mart tractor-trailer on the New Jersey Turnpike. In the collision, Morgan suffered numerous broken bones and a brain injury that left him comatose for several days; two other fellow passengers were also injured and a third, James McNair, a comedian known as Jimmy Mack, was killed.
During his monthslong recovery process, Morgan underwent physical and cognitive therapies to help regain his abilities to walk and speak. In May, he agreed to a settlement from Wal-Mart, the amount of which was not disclosed. The driver of the tractor-trailer, Kevin Roper, has pleaded not guilty to charges of death by auto and assault by auto.