By Bill Vaughan
Garrett Morris is one of those people who can truly lay claim to being a survivor. In spite of a number of life-threatening situations, the actor, comedian and singer is still going strong.
He spoke to Tasty Clips on the eve of his 86th birthday in an exclusive, two-part interview, joking, “I wished for old age, but I did not wish for arthritis. My memory is going back and forth. I remember only the sexy parts … and I don’t remember the names, even then.”
The New Orleans native first sang in a gospel quartet at age 5 for his Baptist minister grandfather, before turning to the blues and going on to school and earning a degree in music. Then he “started singing opera and all that.”
Upon graduating, he jetted to New York City where he was six weeks homeless due to a dysfunctional family situation. Through the understanding intervention of both a Black cop and a judge, Morris was placed at the YMCA until he got a job with the Harry Belafonte Singers.
Subsequent gigs, including one with playwright/poet Amiri Baraka, led to about 30 shows on Broadway including “Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death,” before the opportunity to join what would become a landmark show arrived in 1975.
“(‘Saturday Night Live’ producer) Lorne Michaels first hired me as a writer,” he recalled. “As time passed, he asked me to bring in Black actors because he wanted one for the (cast). Gilda Radner, John Belushi and Laraine Newman said, ‘Wait a minute, Garrett is an actor, too.’ They told him I did a movie, ‘Cooley High.’ He watched it and that’s how I became one of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players.”
Memorable characters such as Dominican baseballer Chico Escuela followed during his five-year run. In fact, he was the first person to play Marvel’s Ant-Man, which was not lost on Paul Rudd, who portrays him in the movie franchise.
Of their special encounter, Morris recalled: “Paul, being the beautiful man he was, actually came to my Winnebago, knocked on the door and said ‘Garrett Morris, I just wanted to meet you,’” which later turned into an appearance in the second film in the series.
When asked if he still watches “SNL,” Morris said not as much. “Sometimes when people like Dave Chappelle or someone I think I’m going to enjoy is on I look at it, but it doesn’t do for me what it used to do,” he said.
Recurring roles on “The Jeffersons,” “Hunter,” and “Roc” followed before Morris was cast as radio station owner Stan Winters on the sitcom “Martin,” starring Martin Lawrence in 1992.
He was on the show for three years until he was shot and nearly killed in an attack in South Los Angeles. Due to the remarkable efforts of Dr. Randy Hawkins he came out of a coma, underwent several major operations and was in the hospital for a few months when he got a script from Lawrence in which Stan sells the station and moves to China.
“Basically, Martin fired me while I was already in the hospital,” Morris said, “and I didn’t understand that because I never had an argument with him. Whenever anyone would question me about it I would tell the truth. I believe that is the reason why I wasn’t in the reunion: because Martin didn’t appreciate the fact that I never lied about the fact that I was fired while I was still in the hospital. It was almost as if he was rushing to get rid of me. So I believe that’s the reason I wasn’t in it.”
“Let me say this,” he added. “Martin is a comic genius as far as I’m concerned. He’s an extraordinary, gifted, funny man. … Having said that, some of the most talented people I ever worked with were in that show. I’m not without great praise for his comic ability, but I never lied about the fact that when I was at my lowest ebb, he didn’t support me.”
The following year, Morris landed the role of Uncle Junior on “The Jamie Foxx Show” and most recently enjoyed a six-season run as Earl on “2 Broke Girls.”
These days Morris is working on his autobiography. “I do a page a day writing,” he said. “I got that from James Baldwin, may he live forever, because he said that’s what he would do. He’d write a little bit and in a month he would pick up the pieces and see what he had. When I get through, the police will probably come to my door and arrest me, because I’ll be telling everything.”
“The thing is if you’re in the business we’re in, you have to maintain a certain thing in your head about self-esteem. You can’t let them rob (you of it). All you have is yourself. If you lose yourself, what is it about? So, for me, the joy of my life is that I believe I’ve maintained myself.”
CLIPPETTES: Longtime daytime legal series “Judge Mathis” and “The People’s Court” are being shut down after 24 and 26 respective seasons …
Ben Vereen is “Steppin’ Out” for two consecutive evenings of music beginning Feb. 24 at the Catalina Jazz Club, as Sky Blu of LMFAO is at The Venice West, and Melvin Seals & the Jerry Garcia Band are playing the Lodge Room …
The Nick Cannon-hosted Future Superstar Tour 2023 with Symba, 24KGoldn, Justina Valentine and others stops at The Wiltern Feb. 25 and Anaheim’s House of Blues the following evening …
Feb. 27 finds Cornel West speaking on philosophy, politics, and culture for a free virtual event with RSVP at pd88iewu.paperform.co. Also that evening jazz fusion trumpeter Theo Croker is at the Moroccan Lounge …
Pedro Pascal, Carl Weathers and more are expected at the premiere of “The Mandalorian – Season 3” Feb. 28 at the El Capitan Theatre. The series will begin streaming March 1 on Disney+…
TC ON TV: Feb. 24 – “Die Hart” (Prime Video): Kevin Hart’s Quibi action comedy series with John Travolta and Nathalie Emmanuel has been edited into a movie. “Bruiser” (Hulu): Director Miles Warren’s searing feature debut about toxic masculinity stars Jalyn Hall (“Till”) and Trevante Rhodes (“Moonlight”). “We Have A Ghost” (Netflix): A supernatural “dramedy” starring Anthony Mackie, David Harbour, Jahi Winston, Jennifer Coolidge and Erica Ash. “M3GAN” (Peacock): The sci-fi horror hit written by Akela Cooper streams with the option of an unrated version. “Kelly Clarkson” (Syn): Gina Torres and gospel artist Jonathan McReynolds, (whose new album “My Truth” is now available as he prepares to tour). “Great Performances” (PBS): “The Magic of Spirituals” offers a glimpse behind the curtain at opera legends Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman’s famed 1990 concert at Carnegie Hall.
Feb. 25 – “Loudmouth” (BET): A documentary on Rev. Al Sharpton produced by John Legend. “54th Annual NAACP Image Awards” (CBS/VH1/BET/BET Her): Queen Latifah hosts with honorees to include Benjamin Crump, Bennie Thompson, Bethann Hardison, Gabrielle Union-Wade and Dwayne Wade. “The Weeknd: Live at SoFi Stadium” (HBO): Excerpts from 2022’s “After Hours Til Dawn Tour.”
Feb. 26 – “A Nashville Legacy” (HMC): Andrea Lewis, Pooch Hall, Roz Ryan and Stan Shaw star in this movie romance. “The Simpsons” (Fox): Henry Louis Gates Jr. makes a guest voice appearance. “Lavell Crawford: Thee Lavell Crawford” (SHO): The comedian is back, riffing on everything from white neighborhoods to getting blessed with impossibly good deals on chicken.
Feb. 28 – “Black Broadway: A Proud History, A Limitless Future” (PBS): Filmed at Howard University, highlights include Corbin Bleu performing “Make Them Hear You” from “Ragtime,” Norm Lewis singing both “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’” from “Porgy and Bess” and “Waiting for Life” from “Once on This Island,” and Stephanie Mills re-creating her “The Wiz” showstopper “Home.” “CMT Crossroads” (CMT): Jimmie Allen and For King + Country team for the first time.
March 1 – “The Wine Down with Mary J. Blige” (BET): “Sex, love and situationships” is discussed with Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Taraji P. Henson and Caresha “Young Miami” Brownlee. “Beauty and the Bleach” (Fuse): Tan France (“Queer Eye”) shares his experiences as a youth with bleaching cream in this exploration of perceptions of beauty, skin tone and colorism. “Made From Scratch” (Fuse): Nicole Scherzinger
March 2 – “Marlon Wayans: God Loves Me” (HBO Max): The comic addresses “the slap” that took place at the Oscars by divulging his teenage crush on Jada Pinkett Smith, getting humbled by Chris Rock in an early stand-up set, and examining the impact of Will Smith’s long career. “Omega: Gift and Curse” (WE): Singer-songwriter Omarion takes fans behind the scenes with exclusive interviews, rehearsals, tour footage and performances in this docu-series.
END QUOTE: “Where there is love and inspiration I don’t think you can go wrong.” – ELLA FITZGERALD
As featured in the Los Angeles Wave and Independent, Tasty Clips is one of the leading entertainment columns in the nation, serving nearly 1 million weekly readers. Bill Vaughan may be reached at email@example.com, via Twitter @tastyclips, or Instagram @tasty_clips.