(NEW YORK) — Playing the diabolical secret black ops leader Rowan “Eli” Pope on ABC’s hit drama Scandal doesn’t compare to Joe Morton’s newest role — which he considers “frightening.”
The Emmy-winning actor returns to his theatrical roots with Turn Me Loose, a biographical play about comedy legend and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, officially opening tonight at the Westside Theater in New York City.
It was a role like no other for the veteran actor, who’s been working professionally for over 45 years.
“The most frightening thing about playing Dick Gregory is I’ve never done stand-up before and I had to learn how to be a stand-up comedian, which was a bit of a challenge,” Morton told ABC Radio.
Gregory, now 83, first came to wide notice in the early 1960s, and is recognized as one of the first black stand-up comics to make white audiences laugh at the absurdity of bigotry.
Harlem native Morton has done it all: hit musical theatricals, long-running soap operas, TV dramas, and sci-fi action fare. But getting into the nuances of comedy presented a learning curve.
“Well, there’s a relaxation that a comedian has to have, there’s a sense of timing with the audience that a comedian has to have in terms of not only delivering the joke and nailing the punch line but nailing it in such a way so that their laughter rolls on so you can tell the next joke,” he shared.
“It’s just all these little things about standing up and telling jokes is different from standing up doing Shakespeare or doing a play. But I think I conquered that part.”
Last appearing on Broadway in the 1998 play Art, Morton said there was no better time to bring Gregory’s story to life. “I mean, his life is so prescient. The things that we talk about in this play are the things that are happening now that he was talking about 30, 40 years ago. So it’s an amazing time for us to be doing the play as well.”
Oscar- and Grammy-winning recording artist John Legend is co-producing the one-man show, written by Gretchen Law.
“Being back on stage in New York, off-Broadway, I mean that’s an actor’s dream,” Morton said. “[It] is just icing on the veritable cake.”
Morton also appears as civil rights activist Roy Wilkins alongside Bryan Cranston’s LBJ in the HBO biopic of President Lyndon Johnson, All The Way, which premieres this Saturday.
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