After 30 Rock star Tracy Morgan was widely denounced yesterday for a series of extremely homophobic remarks he made at a stand-up appearance, many turned to his employees at NBC to see what steps they might take next. Morgan has made controversial comments in the past, but, according to the description of a gay audience member, at this appearance he promoted violence by saying he'd stab his son to death if he found out he was gay, and that President Obama should stop defending bullied gay youth. Despite the fact that Morgan later issued an apology that he "does not condone any kind of violence," and he "went too far," many called for Morgan's resignation from the 30 Rock cast. Evan Hurst, director of social media for Truth Wins Out, a gay advocacy group, said that as “Morgan has worked under 30 Rock writer and producer Tina Fey since 2006," the group "would ask her to respond to these allegations as well."
Both Tina Fey and NBC have now issued their apologies, reports The Hollywood Reporter. Although Tina Fey was strongly supportive of the gay community and her industry's reliance upon it, she did defend Morgan in her statement, saying he is "not a hateful man" and too "self-centered to ever hurt another human being." This is her statement in full:
"Stand-up comics may have the right to 'work out' their material in its ugliest and rawest form in front of an audience, but the violent imagery of Tracy's rant was disturbing to me at a time when homophobic hate crimes continue to be a life-threatening issue for the GLBT Community. It also doesn't line up with the Tracy Morgan I know, who is not a hateful man and is generally much too sleepy and self-centered to ever hurt another person.
I hope for his sake that Tracy's apology will be accepted as sincere by his gay and lesbian coworkers 30 Rock, without whom Tracy would not have lines to say, clothes to wear, sets to stand on, scene partners to act with, or a printed-out paycheck from accounting to put in his pocket. The other producers and I pride ourselves on 30 Rock being a diverse, safe, and fair workplace."
And Network entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt gave the following statement:
"We will always recognize an artist’s freedom to express him or herself, but not when reckless things are said no matter what the context. Unfortunately, Tracy’s comments reflect negatively on both 30 Rock and NBC – two very all-inclusive and diverse organizations – and we have made it clear to him that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated. I speak for NBC and myself personally when I say we do not condone hate or violence of any kind and I am pleased to see Tracy Morgan apologizing for recent homophobic remarks in his standup appearance."
But is this response, a strong apology combined with a defense of Morgan's true character, with no indication of any remedial action (not even a PR-friendly community service tour, or taking up GLAAD on their invitation to meet families who have lost children to anti-gay violence), sufficient?
Fey, comedy's darling, has not been widely criticized for her response. Only a few news outlets, like the New York Daily News and US Magazine, focused on Fey's defense of "her friend" Morgan, or observed that she apparently "wants the staff of hit NBC show to accept Tracy's apology, and move on," as the Examiner put it.
And other comedians have refrained from vilifying Morgan so far. Co-star Alec Baldwin simply tweeted, "Oh that Tracy." And Chris Rock wrote an outright defense, tweeting: “I dont know about you, but I dont want to live in world where Tracy Morgan cant say foul inappropriate s—” In response, Glaad tweeted back: “Language about stabbing kids for being gay isn’t ‘foul.’ It’s dangerous.”
Overall, GLAAD responded to the apologies by saying that at the very least, the network "must now push Morgan to tell his fans that such violence is not only not funny, but unacceptable." But senior religion editor Paul Brandeis Raushenbush wrote at the Huffington Post that unless Morgan goes, the controversy will call into question both 30 Rock, Fey, and even the SNL machine as a whole.
Tracy Morgan's violent tirade unfortunately raises wider questions about the whole Lorne Michaels production machine. Why there has never been an "out" SNL actor? Is there is some kind of odd sanction of gay bashing within the ranks of that outfit? I just read Tina Fey's hysterical memoir "Bossypants" which shares her important relationships with gay people throughout her life. Clearly Fey must be appalled as are probably most of the other members of the cast. But ultimately, if Morgan stays, it is a signal by the entire 30 Rock show that joking about gay bashing, and even killing, doesn't really cross the line.