I’m late to the party on this, but stories like this one keep popping up, so here we go.

Tracy Morgan’s stupid and homophobic comments, made during a Nashville stand-up gig, have garnered a lot of attention. The story I linked to above caught my eye for this quote from one of Morgan’s apologies:

I guess the reason I am successful is because I am so unfiltered. And sometimes as a result I say really stupid shit. The truth is if I had a gay son, I would love him just as much as if he was straight … I might have to try to love even more because I know of the difficulty that he would have in society.

All this has made me think a lot of when I saw Morgan’s routine a few years back. Let me run down that experience for a bit of context on the man.

More than anything, the show where I saw him, at a music venue in Seattle that was mostly standing room, was possible and pretty much the product of his success on 30 Rock. The exaggerated version of himself that he plays is one of the anchors of the show. It is also a version of himself that is well-scripted and edited, so that the mania and non sequiturs are never disturbing. That version of himself allows him to garner big crowds who come out, and line up around the block at the show I was at, to see not just Tracy Morgan but Tracy Jordan.

What they get is mostly Morgan, a comic who’s material is flabby.

I don’t know his process these days for developing a set, but the routine I saw and certainly the material he’s in trouble for now don’t seem constructed and refined in the way a road-tested comic’s material should be.

He gets by, when his show doesn’t fall flat, through the actual performance and not the material. That leads us to the best part of the set I saw: “Titties underneath the bra.”

It wasn’t so much a joke as just a concept that Morgan found funny. I can’t remember what led to this revelation. But, when he hit on it, he spent a couple of minutes with titties underneath the bra, musing on how the bra would still be on but the titties would be under it, and so on from there.

The riff was easily the highlight of the show. I wouldn’t accept that from most comics; if a comedian like, say, the prairie dog‘s own Dan MacRae just described that for two minutes, I probably wouldn’t find it funny. (Though he is very, very welcome to try it out.)

What made it work was the joy Morgan visibly took from just thinking about titties underneath the bra. He was elated. The phrase immediately conjures up the huge smile he wore whenever I hear it, which isn’t that often, as you might imagine. The delight he showed entirely won me over for that moment.