On Thursday, May 26th, history was made in the Ziegfeld ballroom at 6 PM as 53-year-old comedian Tracy Morgan became the ninth winner of the Friars Entertainment Icon Award and the first African American to receive this honor. 500 people attended the sold-out dinner with a table of 10 costing $20,000, and more than half a million raised-with much of the money donated to the Stand up to Cancer charity.
Morgan’s prolific career includes 8 seasons on Saturday Night Live, 7 seasons on Tina Fey’s 30 Rock while currently starring in The Last O.G. In 2014, Morgan suffered a life-changing incident when a speeding Wal-Mart truck crushed his limousine on the New Jersey Turnpike, killing his best friend and leaving him with a traumatic brain injury and broken bones. Despite Morgan’s fragility, he was in great spirits as he chaperoned his 8-year-old daughter Maven and 30-year-old son Tracy Morgan Jr. around the ballroom.
Founded in 1904, the Friars Club was one of the first private clubs before Zero Bond or Casa Cipriani. It became famous for its risque roasts and illustrious alumni, including Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, Jerry Lewis, and Don Rickles. Struggling to regain its financial footing, it has been reinvigorated by superstar criminal lawyer Arthur Aidala – the new “dean” after the passing of Larry King.
Aidala has more than 25 years of legal experience, and his varied client base ranges from Rudy Giuliani to Harvey Weinstein. He is also a legal analyst for the Fox News Channel and has appeared on Page Six dozens of times as one of the reigning social figures in New York City.
His ability to attract the glitterati was evident as “The Who’s Who of New York” joined on the Thursday of Memorial Day weekend to fraternize with Rudy Giuliani, Jeanine Pirro, Ferdinand Prinz von Anhalt, Carol Alt, Mike Tadross, philanthropists Jean Shafiroff, Linda Greenwald and Janna Bullock, gossip legends Couri Hay and Richard Johnson, Tom Murro, Geraldo Rivera, Paul Shaffer, Eric Adams, Anthony Weiner, Bill de Blasio, Alan Dershowitz, Frank Carone, N.J. Burkett, Hank Lane, and Marc Stevens.
Hank Lane provided the music, and as one of the most revered 40-year-old entertainment companies in the world, guests were hovering around founders Hank Lane and Marc Stevens to book their next party – yes, there is actually a man named Hank Lane. Even a host of gorgeous Knick players, including Allan Houston, Obi Toppin, and Immanuel Quickley, paid tribute to Morgan, who can frequently be seen courtside at Madison Square Garden.
As a native New Yorker, Arthur Aidala began the evening by noting that America is not America without New York. His good friend Geraldo Rivera said, “New York is not New York without the Friars Club.” Aidala introduced Mayor Eric Adams, saying that Adams is exactly what New York needs now. Adams is ubiquitous on the New York social circuit, appearing at the Ralph Lauren and Balenciaga fashion shows, the Costume Institute Gala, the New York City Ballet gala, the Robin Hood benefit, and the list goes on.
Adams noted that it was tough to laugh with all the shootings, but New York had to look itself in the face and know who we are. Adams claimed that New York was coming back bigger and better than ever and that after inhabitants got tired of the sun in Miami, they should get their asses back to the City. He also heralded Tracy Morgan for his resilience and presented him with a Mayor’s Proclamation Award on behalf of the 8.8 million people of New York.
There were so many tributes to Morgan, including Chris Kattan, who had the audience in stitches as he joked that he and Tracy grew up in the Brooklyn projects together. He wasn’t sure if Morgan liked him since he never tried to impregnate him during his time on Saturday Night Live-quipping “I even created the character Mango so he would fuck me.”
Sherri Shepherd similarly wowed the audience with her bawdy humor claiming they took attendee Anthony Weiner’s phone since the Friars had a no sexting policy and remarking Allan Houston should be in the Smithsonian for being one of the only black men to stay married to an African American woman since 1996.
However, there was no doubt the night was Tracy Morgan’s as he said he was honored that “some old white dudes picked a negro” like him and that finally, they had chosen a man with a bigger dick than Milton Berle. Tracy was hoping it wasn’t a prank because then he would have to “Will Smith the shit out of his agent.” He also said he was getting a divorce since his wife took the social distancing thing of Covid too far. His no holds barred comedy includes thanking Ben Vereen “the O.G. (original gangster) of getting hit by trucks” (Vereen was also in a horrific car accident).
On a more serious note, Morgan concluded by paying homage to his family and saying if you fall down seven times, get up eight. He thanked his older brother for replacing his absentee father and encouraging him to use his brain instead of guns. Upon receiving a well-deserved standing ovation, the impeccable evening culminated with a spectacular performance by Ceelo Green, who had the crazed audience chanting his name.
Ceelo apologized for not wearing a tuxedo with the quip “there was no Men’s Wearhouse around” and then sang epic hits “Forget You” and “Crazy. “The evening concluded with an after-party at the Friars Club at 57 East 55th Street as guests were loath to conclude one of the great New York evenings of the year.