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The Fun Cooker: 30 Rock’s Five Funniest Tracy Jordan Moments

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Of the core cast of 30 Rock, Tina Fey is the one who gets to plot out her own story arcs, Alec Baldwin is the one who picks up the Emmys, and Jack McBrayer is the one who got a publicity boost earlier this year when it was discovered that his creepy doppelganger is the governor of Louisiana. In a crowd like that, it’s easy to take Tracy Morgan for granted, even though his breakout moments on the show frequently have the impact of a wild bull crashing through the scenery. Not that he hogs the camera — part of what makes him so jaw-droppingly funny is his habit of cloaking his insanity behind a deceptively mild exterior, not that he’s fooling anybody. As the uncontrollable star comedian Tracy Jordan, Morgan is often less rampaging bull than contemplative cow, his eyes and mouth taking on the dreamy look of an uncomprehending but eager pupil, patiently waiting for someone to give him some wisdom to misconstrue or a valuable lesson that he can apply to his next fiasco.

Is Morgan, you know, acting? Anyone who’s seen him in full spew on a talk show has to wonder about it sometimes. If he’s playing a character, he could teach Sacha Baron Cohen some things about Method lunacy. On the other hand, if he really is Tracy Jordan, you’d think there would have been reports by now of the NBC building burning to the ground as hookers in lingerie dive from the windows. Whatever demons Morgan is stoking for fuel, he’s channeled them effectively enough to produce several of the funniest moments on the funniest show now on network TV. Here are our five favorites.

1. “Rosemary’s Baby” (Season 2, Episode 4): Arguably Tracy’s funniest scene, though some will argue that it’s actually a showcase for Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy, as the ever-adaptable network suit draws on his memories of the Norman Lear oeuvre to impersonate Tracy’s phantom family and help his star out with a little role play. It’s a beautiful duet, though, with Tracy’s eagerness to go with it providing the base that allows Baldwin to reach for ever greater heights of offensiveness. And it’s Tracy who gets to deliver the capper, a line that ought to be chiseled in stone in therapists’ offices everywhere: “Thank you for showing me there really is love in my family after all, and I need to stay the hell away from ’em.”

2. “Corporate Crush” (Season 1, Episode 19): Source Award winner, NAACP Image Award presenter, and Academy Award watcher Tracy unveils his handsome, handmade trailer for his yet-to-be-realized dream project: a biographical epic about the life of his distant relative Thomas Jefferson, with Tracy playing not just Jefferson and George III (“Who are these Americans with their ridiculous ideas of freedom and equality?”) but Sally Hemmings, because what’s a Tracy Jordan movie without a drag role? Still as funny as when it was first broadcast, though today, the words “Christmas 2008” are a heartbreaking memorial to broken dreams.

3. “Anything You Want” (Season 3, Episode 19): This scene, in which Tracy tries to counsel Jack on whether he should marry Salma Hayek (what’re ya, nuts!?), contains two of the most shocking revelations in the history of 30 Rock: first, that Tracy himself has secretly never been unfaithful to his wife (“The partying is just for show, and because I’m a functioning alcoholic”); and second, how Brian Williams gets all that tail.

4. “Kenneth’s Date” (Season 3, Episode 8): In a typical act of gallantry, our hero helps the pathologically girl-shy Kenneth date his dream girl, taking only slight advantage of the girl’s blindness to play Cyrano (and to make an abandoned studio stand in for “Manhattan’s fanciest restaurant”). A high point in the annals of Valentine’s Day TV, even if it is all fated to end with the line, “Kenneth, why do you suddenly sound white?”

5. “The Funcooker” (Season 3, Episode 14): Having mastered the concept that the network’s problem with people cussing on TV is that it will cause sponsors to bail, Tracy decides to buy up all the ad time on his show himself, so that he can cuss on the air to his heart’s content. In the thrilling climax, the company doctor (Chris Parnell, who is to oily what Tracy is to pleasantly deranged) interrupts a live broadcast to administer a beat down to a cast member in an animal costume, which leads to Tracy unwittingly revealing a defect in the catchy name chosen for General Electric’s new mini-microwave oven. It all kind of makes sense in context.