'Scandal' actor Joe Morton returns to stage, playing comedian Dick Gregory

NEW YORK (WABC) -- He won an Emmy for his work playing Olivia Pope's father, but actor Joe Morton has a career that spans far beyond his time on "Scandal".

Right now he's back on stage in a new play.

Rarely have I met an actor so completely different than the character he plays.

In person, Joe Morton is a lot more approachable and more thoughtful than his persona on 'Scandal' would suggest.

Olivia Pope doesn't always obey her father, but fans of 'Scandal' have learned to pay especially close attention whenever Rowan Pope is on-screen.

This part has earned Joe Morton an Emmy award, but he's been on TV for more than 45 years and has been performing on stage even longer, having started at Hofstra on Long Island in the 1960's.

"I was one of maybe two black students in the drama department, so a lot of what I was getting, on top of the fact I was a fledgling actor and still struggling to find out what kind of actor I could be, I was also told 'well you can't play this role because you're black,'" said Morton.

All of which makes him perfect to play comedian Dick Gregory.

"He started off as someone who was doing it as a comedian: sort of talking about race, he was the first one to do that, to talk about politics and racial problems at the same time and that graduated to complete 24 hour activism," said Morton.

His tongue was his "switchblade", the comic liked to say, adding his humor was his "sword".

"It's on two levels: one is extremely entertaining, and the other side is extremely political so he's trying to meld those two things together as a performer," Morton said.

Gregory's words are interesting enough, but what makes the Off-Broadway show "Turn Me Loose" so fascinating is, the arc of his life from poverty in the Deep South to finding success on his own terms.

"And at the end of the play Dick actually says you must do as much service for humanity as possible, which means you don't have to do a big thing you can just do a little thing," said Morton. "If we all did something small, that would total itself up to being something large."

Dick Gregory was "the first and he was the best", that's how Richard Pryor described the performer, who is still active at the age of 83, still making as many as 200 appearances every year.

The play about him called "Turn Me Loose" is Off-Broadway but better than almost anything else you can see in any theater right now.

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