Long before he scored his big break as one of the original Not Ready for Primetime Players on “Saturday Night Live,” Garrett Morris, a New Orleans native, was treading the boards in New York. He racked up mentions in Variety throughout the ’60s, but his first was for the recording of a musical called “The Bible Salesman.” Now, at 78, he’s a regular on CBS’ “2 Broke Girls.”
What do you remember about “The Bible Salesman”?
It was the first official Off Broadway show I did with Rosetta (LeNoire) way back when. A very talented composer by the name of Jay Thompson had written this piece, and it was marvelous to work with Rosetta, a great lady and great performer. At a certain time, she was the only black lady on Broadway.
What were your career ambitions?
My degree officially is in music, with a minor in composition but I always wanted to be an actor, writer, singer and composer. At the time I was doing “The Bible Salesman,” I also was working for Harry Belafonte. I worked about six months of the year with Harry. Then I would do Off Broadway shows.
Do you have a copy of the album?
I don’t know what happened to that LP. I oughta sue somebody, because I never got a dime. Let it be known if that sold anywhere, I’m owed some money. I gotta pay the rent; I’ve got an apartment up 156th St.
Were you aware of Variety in those days?
We were striking all the time, and Variety was the news. You may not know, but at the time Actors Equity, AGMA and AFTRA were not officially desegregated. They did have a couple of black members, but we had to march for several years, with Variety helping us out with stuff they printed in the newspaper that helped desegregate. Valerie Harper, who really helped at that time trying to get the unions to come to their senses, was just one of our guest stars (on “2 Broke Girls”).
How did you go from theater to “Saturday Night Live”?
I had done about 30 Off Broadway shows and about five on Broadway by the time I was “discovered.” I was a licensed school teacher and taught music appreciation in New York City and at the Comstock correctional facility for two years.
And how did “SNL” change things for you?
The main difference is I was able to pay my rent on a regular basis. I was already known on the East Coast by a lot of people, but I was not known nationally. I have Lorne (Michaels) to thank for that.
Do you ever reflect on your early days with “2 Broke Girls” co-stars?
I tell them the truth. They were born when I was joining AARP. Can you imagine that? These ladies are now multimillionaires, standing on two feet, doing the best work on TV. The only person who wasn’t born after I joined AARP is the forever funny and beautiful and sexy Jennifer Coolidge. But Michael Patrick King has gotten us together and I love the group; I love working with them.