As far as clever film titles go, “Death at a Funeral” takes the cake. So it’s only natural that the film’s creative forces include some of the most popular comedians in America: Chris Rock and Tracy Morgan. Though their careers have certainly crossed before (Morgan had minor roles alongside Rock in 2005’s “The Longest Yard,” and in Rock’s directorial debut, 2003’s “Head of State”), “Death at a Funeral” marks their first pairing since Morgan’s career took off with the popularity of “30 Rock.”
Both Rock and Morgan are alums of “Saturday Night Live.” Rock appeared on the show from 1990 to 1993 and Morgan portrayed characters like Dominican Lou and Brian Fellow on an eight-year stint from 1996 to 2003. Though their tenures didn’t overlap, the two share a deep, familial bond.
“I trust Tracy, because Tracy has the Jedi training of SNL,” said Rock in a conference call interview. “There’s only a few, especially a few of us black men that have gone through this Jedi training and survived it. So we are brothers. We are frat brothers.”
“That’s my alumni right there,” Morgan added, in reference to Rock. “That’s my alumni. He left the door open for me and Martin (Lawrence) left the door open for me, so I’m doing it for the younger stand-ups behind me.”
Morgan certainly appreciates his close friendship with Rock.
“When somebody like Chris asks you to be a part of something like this, that right there is confidence,” Morgan said. “That’s saying he has confidence in you to get the job done. I appreciate that, man. That’s cool stuff. I know gazillion comedians that have never been in this position.”
Rock and Morgan’s “Death at a Funeral” is actually a reworking of the 2007 British film of the same name. But anyone who’s seen episodes of both the British and American versions of “The Office” knows there is a stark difference between the two countries sense of humor.
“The British are very mannered. They’re very polite with their comedy,” Rock explained. “And this one — it’s not even a remake, it’s a remix. It’s a Timbaland remix. It’s a lot more blunt and a lot more — maybe a little bit more over the top in places, so it’s a funkier version. It’s like Aretha Franklin singing a Beatles song.”
“We did the movie … but we wanted to add our flavor to it,” Morgan said. “We wanted to complement — I wanted to complement the role that I saw. And when I saw the cast at Screen Gems that Chris and everybody had assembled, I was like, ‘this is going to be the bomb, baby.’ ”
The cast of “Death at a Funeral” is certainly the bomb. The film also stars Martin Lawrence (“Big Momma’s House”), Danny Glover (“Lethal Weapon”), James Marsden (“X-Men”), Luke Wilson (“Idiocracy”) and Zoe Saldana (“Avatar”).
Though the cast is primarily black, Rock wouldn’t label “Death at a Funeral” as a film just for black audiences.
“This is an American audience movie,” Rock said. “This is not ‘Soul Plane.’ This is for everybody. Me and Tracy are two guys that have worked for mass audiences for more than a decade. So I think the audience for this movie is a pretty big audience.”
One of the most prominent links between the two versions of “Death at a Funeral” is actor Peter Dinklage, who plays the same role in both films: the deceased patriarch’s secret lover. When asked about working with Dinklage, who also guest-starred on “30 Rock,” Morgan began one of his trademark illogical-yet-wildly-hilarious tangents.
“He’s the coolest dude in the world, man,” Morgan exclaimed. “That’s my bro, man. He’s my bro, bro. He got my sister pregnant years ago, so I go back like spinal cords and car seats. He got my sister pregnant.”
“And he’s a fine actor and he pays his child support,” Rock ribbed.
“Yes,” Morgan continued, refusing to let the joke die. “He comes around and sees the kids before the first day of school. He gets them and lets them play on the jungle gym and stuff.”
When asked about his ideal movie role, Morgan offered yet another one of his uproarious quotes.
“I’ll play the role of Tiger Woods or something, I don’t know,” Morgan said. “I want to play the role, (so) I’m going to do the biography of Manaconda.”
Yet, behind all of its hilarity and shenanigans, like any good movie, “Death at a Funeral” offers audiences a poignant message.
“Family keeps you honest and it keeps you grounded,” Morgan said. “It’s unfortunate that we all have to come together sometimes because somebody died. But it’s funny on top of that; the overlay on top of that is funny.”
“Death at a Funeral” opens nationwide on Friday.