Whether it’s escaped mental patients, zombie outbreaks, or demonic dolls, host of the SyFy hidden camera reality show Scare Tactics Tracy Morgan finds it all hilarious. During my interview with him and executive producer Scott Hallock, we discussed why watching someone who is terrified out of their mind makes for good comedy. Season 5 of Scare Tactics began Oct. 10 and can be seen on SyFy Mondays at 8 p.m.
Tracy, out of all the episodes of Scare Tactics you’ve done in the past two seasons, which one do you think would have scared you the most and why?
Tracy Morgan: Oh, dude. I can’t think. I don’t want to single one out. They’re all hilarious. They’re all scary. It’s great shock value but I don’t think I could just pick one out and say this one scared me the most because they’re all great. But one comes to mind and that’s the devil baby. The first season I did when a baby comes out. It was just hilarious. And the one with the little rat boy and the guy just was so afraid. It was just funny. I just thought it was hilarious that people were so afraid of it.
Scott, I’m wondering in some of the pranks it seems like you could have pushed the envelope even more by allowing the prank to continue longer. Sometimes it seems like you stop it before things get out of hand. Is that a conscious decision producers make or is it because of time constraints?
Scott Hallock: It’s a little bit of both. All these bits are meant to play out. We have four bits in an episode and most of them are like 4½-minute vignettes, 4½-minute scenes. And we definitely want to make sure that it’s an enjoyable thrill ride for everybody. So, definitely, when we get to the point where someone’s at their most scared, we’re pretty much at the reveal. We don’t want to keep someone scared out of their mind for a long, long period of time. When we get someone at their most scared we call it inflating the balloon. You've inflated the balloon to its bursting point and that’s when you want to burst the balloon and say you’re on Scare Tactics because that’s when you’re going to get the big reaction of, “Oh my god, I can’t believe it!” So, that’s why we do that. You really want that person to have a good time in the end and so that’s the point when you want to reveal. I don’t know that you get anything more out of the bit by keeping it going when the person’s so scared. I think if you did keep it going when someone was truly scared people would start to turn off to it a little bit. It would start to seem a little bit too mean and not enjoyable. So I think it’s fun watching people get right up to that moment and then at that moment you tell them it’s all a joke. You’re OK! You’re on Scare Tactics. Then everyone can kind of enjoy [it]. Then you like to see that person bounce back and say, "Oh my god, that was so much fun! I can’t believe my friend set me up! Let’s do it again!" One of the biggest sources of new victims for the show is past victims. People, after they’ve been on the show, come to us and basically say, "I've got five friends I want to setup. Here are their names and phone numbers." That’s how we get a lot of our new people on the show.
Tracy, what do you think the link is to comedy and fear? Why is it so funny to watch somebody get scared?
TM: I think it’s because it’s not happening to us. I think we laugh because it’s not happening to us. I mean, being frightened - when someone else is being frightened - it’s funny to us because we’re not the ones being frightened. [It's] sort of like voyeurism. If you see someone slip on some ice, you will crack up because you’re not the one slipping on ice.
Scott, when you’re brainstorming for ideas, have there ever been pranks you would have liked to have done on the show but maybe for certain situations or reasons you didn’t do them; maybe because they were a little too mean-spirited or something like that?
SH: Oh yes, I mean, we always edit ourselves and certainly if something seems like, "Umm, no, that goes a little bit too far" or "that doesn’t seem like fun" or "that’s not in the spirit of the show," we’ll certainly throw those out. Again, it’s supposed to be a thrill ride. It’s supposed to be a roller coaster. At the end people are supposed to get off and say that was a good time. All the writers and producers are pretty much on the same page of what makes a good scare bit. So, everyone knows what kinds of bits to pitch and what makes a good Scare Tactics bit. Everyone knows what kind of bits not to pitch and what kind of bits are too mean and what wouldn’t make a good scare bit.
Tracy, how do you think Tracy Jordan (Morgan’s character on 30 Rock) would react if Jack (Alec Baldwin’s character on 30 Rock) set him up on Scare Tactics?
TM: Oh, I have no idea what Tracy Jordan would do. I mean, that’s a character. That’s an image on TV. I could tell you what Tracy Morgan would do but I don’t know what Tracy Jordan would do.