Tracy Morgan’s surprise appearance as the final presenter at the Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday was the brainchild of his publicist Lewis Kay, the comedian said backstage after awarding HBO’s Game Of Thrones the night’s last prize, Outstanding Drama Series. Emmys executive producer Don Mischer and Television Academy President Bruce Rosenblum said tonight at the post-show Governors Ball that only about five people knew about the plan for his first primetime appearance since his June 2014 car accident that killed his friend and fellow comedian James “Jimmy Mack” McNair. Even the pre-show lineup awards had a TBD in the presenter slot.
Morgan had worked with Mischer before, hosting the 2013 Billboard Music Awards show for the longtime EP, so they worked out details of the plan together. Morgan was brought in about 30 minutes before the end of the show, and didn’t want to sit in the audience in order to preserve the surprise. He got one of the night’s longest standing ovations when host Andy Samberg announced him.
“It was overwhelming,” said Morgan about taking the stage before his TV peers. “I miss this stuff. I had to make sure I wasn’t so emotional in the moment; I wanted to let them know I missed them very much.”
During his speech, Morgan had the room rapt as he discussed his accident — until he broke them up with a Morgan-esque quip: “Only recently have I started to feel like myself again, which means a whole lot of women are going to get pregnant at the afterparty.”
Afterward, a teary-eyed Morgan took a seat backstage on the raised platform in the press room and took questions. He credited his wife, his family as well as Kay for getting him back on his feet. In the months after the accident, he said: “My therapy was seeing my friends on TV and saying, ‘I’m coming back.’ My wife, my therapist made sure of it. I wanted to walk my wife down the aisle with no cane.”
When asked how he could jump back into comedy after going through his physical tragedy, Morgan said: “Because if God gets through to it, he gets you through it. I’m here. We did that tonight. I also learned (how to rebound) from Lorne Michaels. When September 11 happened, I said: ‘This tragedy has happened to the country. How do we get to do it again?’ Lorne said that he was going to let Mayor Giuliani come on and say we need to start laughing again.”
Morgan then added some advice he got from another SNL buddy about getting back into the groove with comedy: “Will Ferrell said, ‘Do you know how much a polar bear weighs? Enough to break the ice.'”
When Morgan hit the Governors Ball, the first people he went to in the room were Mischer and Rosenblum. After that, Rosenblum took him to see Michaels.