I'M BEGINNING to feel sorry for Tracy Morgan.

It can't be easy to breathe when your foot's that far down your throat.

Plus, there's the "30 Rock" star's LGBT apology tour, which hit a snag this weekend, when, according to the New York Times, he told an audience at a Times Square comedy club: "Don't ever mess with women who have retarded kids," because, he added, "Them young retarded males is strong. They're strong like chimps."

Morgan's at least partly right.

He shouldn't mess with us. Some of us might review TV shows for a living.

But while my younger son, a high school graduate with Down syndrome and a serious weightlifting habit, actually is pretty strong, Morgan has nothing to fear from him. He should worry instead about fending off attacks from people who'll be almost as upset by his use of the word "retarded" as by his likening developmentally disabled human beings to chimps.

I'm not thrilled myself, but given what we already know about the all-too-random thoughts rattling around Morgan's head, I can't say I'm surprised, either.

Did anyone think someone who'd say he'd stab his own son to death for effeminate behavior - as Morgan is reported to have said during a Nashville, Tenn., appearance June 3 - would pass up an opportunity to show how un-PC he is by playing the IQ card?

Honestly, the only thing that shocks me (besides the fact that people are still paying money for Morgan's ramblings) is that he said "retarded" and not "retard."

The R-word - currently the focus of a clever campaign, "Spread the Word to End the Word," at www.r-word.org - pops up on cable TV surprisingly often, usually to signal that the person speaking is much too genuine an individual to worry about who'll be offended if he (yeah, it's generally a he) uses it.

In fact, it's one of the many reasons I've never been able to buy David Duchovny's depiction of a Serious Writer on Showtime's "Californication." Serious Writers have better words at their disposal, but it's a go-to word for this one.

And, no, I don't like it.

In real life, where I know of only one instance for sure in which my son ever heard it used about him - by an unhappy client at a food cupboard where he's been a volunteer since he was a kid - I come across it most often among people his age or a little bit older.

And they're almost always referring to themselves.

For the generation or two that's grown up going to school and church and camp with people with all kinds of disabilities, the word seems to have been repurposed in a way I couldn't have imagined when I was a kid, when the choice about whether to use it seemed to have more to do with class than kindness.

I still don't like hearing it, but like my son, I don't really think of it as having much to do with him.

Morgan, who at 42 is old enough to know better but clearly doesn't, appears to face challenges of his own.

The classy thing, even the kind thing, would be for the people who put him on television - and who, thanks to the genius of Upper Darby's Tina Fey, actually found a way to make him funny - to insist he get some help.

Even if it's only writing, so he can stop working without a net.

Because Morgan's standup show really can't go on like this.

Not just because "30 Rock," which already struggles for its few million viewers a week, doesn't need to alienate any more of them.

But because when someone has a problem understanding, yelling at him isn't going to make it better. *

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