Tracy Morgan would have had them at "hello" in Studio 8H. Or even goodbye. Just stand there. Wave. Smile. Or for really dramatic, ridiculous, loopy effect, make like Russell Crowe's Maximus Decimus Meridius. . . "I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next."
Whatever. Wouldn't matter. They'd cheer anyway. Back after six years (He last hosted in 2009), and back more than a year after a tragic accident on the New Jersey Turnpike that claimed a friend, and nearly Morgan as well, he was there, and that was good enough.
But after a cold open that played off last week's Democratic debate, with a cameo by Larry David (as Bernie Sanders) who last had a regular gig at "Saturday Night Live" in the mid '80s (as a writer) and Alec Baldwin (who last had a regular gig, well, he's never really left), and with cameos by Jack McBrayer, and Tina Fey, and Jane Krakowski, each reprising their glorious characters from "30 Rock," some viewers may have forgotten who they were supposed to cheer Saturday night.
As a reminder, that would be Tracy Morgan.
Saturday was, in fact, a celebration of Tracy Morgan, almost by way of celebrating those who were part of his greatest triumphs -- notably Fey, who brought back Liz Lemon in a funny "30 Rock" skit embedded within Morgan's opening remarks.
Of those remarks, which were brief, he said, referring to himself: "Does he have a hundred percent mental capacity?”
"I never did."
Funny. Also a bitter, sharp reminder -- as if anyone needed one -- that Morgan suffered grievous injuries in the crash more than a year ago, returning from a show in Delaware. His friend, James McNair, was killed. Morgan was in a coma for weeks. He recovered, married Megan Wollover last August, and even appeared at the Emmys on Sept. 20 to present the award for best drama. (Morgan did bring down the house then, upstaging by default the winner, "Game of Thrones.") He was fine then, and was fine Saturday night.
That question about “mental capacity’ -- the running joke of the promos leading up to Saturday’s show -- was just a joke after all.
Besides the brief opening remarks, Morgan appeared in every skit, or revisited every one from the past: Brian Fellow, Woodrow (last seen with Britney Spears a dozen or so years ago)," "Family Feud," and also, Bernard the Clock maker in one of those elaborate "SNL" skits that force viewers to think about when (or if) they are supposed to laugh.
Of course, there was “Astronaut Jones.” Also, a skit in which he and Taran Killam, with Sasheer Zamata, go face to face in a dance off, followed by an amusing bit with Kenan Thompson ("Yo, Where Jackie Chan Right Now?")
As usual with any "SNL," there were some good moments, some shrugs. All in all, an average edition.
But it was a brave one. Morgan almost died from injuries he suffered in the June 2014 crash. He was one of the most important cast members in one of the most important shows in TV history, and also someone who went on to star in one of the greatest comedies in TV history.
He came back Saturday, and some friends rallied in support. Good for them, and good for him.
Meanwhile, the best, or at least most poignant, moment was saved for last: “Lorne Michaels, I love you, like I love my daddy.”