A stone-faced Tracy Morgan delivered a personal apology Tuesday to audience members in Tennessee who were offended by his anti-gay remarks during a stand-up routine earlier this month.
The comedian and actor returned to Nashville to meet with gay rights advocates and attendees of the show, including the man whose Facebook post to 1,500 friends first brought attention to the comedian's comments. After the meeting, Morgan held a news conference at the Nashville Convention Center.
"I don't have a hateful bone in my body," Morgan told reporters. "I don't believe that people should be bullied or just made to feel bad about who they are. I totally feel that in my heart."
After about 5 minutes of prepared remarks, Morgan hugged the Facebook commenter, Kevin Rogers, before leaving the room. The "30 Rock" star didn't take questions.
It was Morgan's second public apology since his June 3 show at The Ryman Auditorium. He met with homeless lesbian and gay youth Friday in New York City, and agreed to the Nashville meeting at the request of Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation President Jarrett Barrios.
Rogers said he got the feeling Morgan was sincere in his apology.
"Our discussion was a lot of just his genuineness at being sorry for what he said," said Rogers, a 36-year-old photographer. "He never meant to hurt anybody. He never realized as a comedian that he had such reach as he did to people. He just thought he was just some guy up there speaking and he never meant to hurt anyone."
The former "Saturday Night Live" cast member is known for an outrageous, unpredictable comedy style where few subjects are taboo. He's tackled homosexual themes and characters before with little outcry. But even Morgan admits he went too far during his show at the Ryman, a hallowed music venue that rarely hosts comedy.
The 42-year-old comic said during his set that if his son were gay, he would "pull out a knife and stab" him, among other anti-gay statements.
"A large majority of the audience did laugh and kind of cheer," Rogers said. "I'm not sure how much of that was nervous laughter and how much was in genuine support of the words. I know at the time, to me and my partner, we felt that there was genuine support of those words."
Before the news conference, Morgan told gay advocates and some people who had attended the show that he'd even had members of his own family rebuke him for his comments, said Herndon Graddick, senior director of programs for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Morgan told them that he often improvises his stand-up routine and was following a riff he thought would be funny, eventually crossing over a line and going too far. He said he has an opportunity to change his message on stage and relayed a story about how Richard Pryor stopped his liberal use of a racial epithet after a trip to Africa.
"So now at this point in my life is an opportunity to make a difference," said Morgan, who wore a purple striped shirt, droopy designer jeans and a silver medallion on a necklace. "I don't really see gay or straight. I see human beings now. "