Saturday Night Live Comedian Norm Macdonald Dies at 61

Norm Macdonald , the acerbic, sometimes controversial comedian familiar to millions of people as “Weekend Update” host on “Saturday Nigh...


Norm Macdonald, the acerbic, sometimes controversial comedian familiar to millions of people as “Weekend Update” host on “Saturday Night Live” from 1994 to 1998, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 61 years old.

His manager, Marc Gurvitz, confirmed the death. Lori Jo Hoekstra, his longtime production partner, told entertainment outlet Deadline that the cause was cancer, an issue he had faced for some time but had largely kept private.

Mr. Macdonald perfected his tongue-in-cheek style on the stand-up circuit, first in his native Canada and then in the United States. In 1990 he was doing his routine on “Late Night With David Letterman” and other shows. Then, in 1993, came his big breakthrough: an interview with Lorne Michaels, a fellow Canadian, for a job on “Saturday Night Live”.

“I knew that even though we were from the same nation, we were worlds apart,” Macdonald wrote in “Based on a True Story: Not a Memoir” (2016), a fictional work with biographical notes occasional. “He was a cosmopolitan from Toronto, socialite, the kind of guy who would be comfortable with the Queen of England herself. I was a chick, born on the barren, rocky ground of the Ottawa Valley, where the richest man in town was the barber.

Either way, he got the job and, the following year, he held the anchor position for the “weekend update” segment. In the skits, he imitated Burt Reynolds and Bob Dole and played other characters.

Mr Michaels, in a telephone interview on Tuesday, said Jim Downey, the show’s editor at the time, first drew his attention to Mr Macdonald.

“Jim just liked the intelligence behind the jokes,” he recalls.

And Mr. Michaels saw it too.

“There is something to his comedy – there is just a harshness,” he said. “Plus, he’s incredibly patient. He can wait ”, that is to say wait for a punchline.

That, Michaels said, made Mr. Macdonald stylistically different from other “weekend update” presenters.

“I think it took a while for the audience to get used to it,” Michaels said. “It wasn’t instantly a success. But he just grew on them.

In early 1998, however, Mr. Macdonald was kicked from the anchor chair, apparently at the behest of Don Ohlmeyer, president of NBC Entertainment, West Coast, who was reportedly annoyed by Mr. Macdonald’s incessant mockery of his friend OJ Simpson.

Mr. Macdonald stayed on for a few more episodes but did not return for the 1998-99 season. His post-“SNL” television projects were mixed.

“Norm” (originally called “The Norm Show”), a comedy about a former hockey player, aired from 1999-2001 on ABC. “Sports Show With Norm Macdonald”, on Comedy Central, only lasted a few months, in 2011.

“The dedicated fan will identify two role models in his television work,” Dan Brooks wrote in a 2018 article about him in the New York Times Magazine. “It’s invariably funny, and it’s invariably canceled.”

But Mr Macdonald said he didn’t see himself as a television artist first and continued to work as a comedian throughout his career.

“In my mind, I’m just a stand-up,” he told Mr. Brooks. “But the others don’t think so. They go, oh, the guy from ‘SNL’ is doing stand-up now.

Although known for “Weekend Update,” Mr. Macdonald didn’t do a lot of topical material in his own routines. He liked jokes that would still be funny years later.

One of his most famous is the one he told in “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien” in 2009, about a moth going to a podiatrist. After an installation that lasted a few minutes, during which the butterfly pours out various emotional disorders, the podiatrist asks the insect why he came to see a podiatrist rather than a psychiatrist. Mr. Macdonald’s punchline: “And then the moth said, ‘Because the light was on.’ “

Mr. Macdonald’s sense of humor got him into the hot water at times. In 2018, for example, he drew criticism for comments that appeared to defend comedian Louis CK, who had been accused of sexual misconduct, and Roseanne Barr, who was under fire for a racist post on Twitter. (Louis CK wrote the preface to Mr. Macdonald’s book in 2016, and Ms. Barr hired him as a screenwriter on her 1990s sitcom, “Roseanne.”) Apologizing for these comments, Mr. Macdonald did a remark that made fun of people with Down Syndrome.

Missteps aside, Mr. Macdonald was always good for an unpredictable few minutes, if not more, on a late-night talk show.

“I’ve been interviewing Norm for 18 years and he has consistently broken all the talk show rules,” Mr. O’Brien told The Times in 2011. “He tells anecdotes that are patently untrue. Her stories have always been repurposed farmer’s daughter routines that he swears have happened to him.

Mr O’Brien added: “When Norm comes out from behind the curtain, honestly I don’t know what’s going to happen, and that electric charge goes through the television.”

Norman Gene Macdonald was born on October 17, 1959 in Quebec, according to IMDB.

In 1998, his brother Neil told The Record of Ontario that Norm flirted with the newspaper industry when he was young, but deliberately missed an interview for a copyboy job because he was not. so serious about the profession.

“He once said he was interested in finding out the truth, but he hoped it would be within walking distance,” Neil Macdonald told the newspaper.

He also remembers finding his hyperventilating brother in the washroom at Yuk Yuk’s, an Ottawa comedy club, before taking the stage for his first standing concert. But he pulled himself together and, as the actors say, killed.

In 1984, Mr. Macdonald was gifted enough to spend four months opening act for comedian Sam Kinison.

He eventually made it to Los Angeles, and in 1992 he was hired as a writer on “The Dennis Miller Show” and then “Roseanne”.

“I never wanted fame at all, I just wanted to stand up,” he said. Recount The Ottawa Citizen in 2010. “I found out when I came to Los Angeles to do more stand-up comedies that people wanted me to do other things, which I really didn’t want.

“Stand-up,” he added, “is a weird kind of job where, if you’re good at it, they think you’ll be good at other areas of show business, which doesn’t. is generally not the case. “

Mr. Macdonald wrote the 1998 film “Dirty Work”, in which he starred with Don Rickles, Chevy Chase and others. Among his other credits was “Dr. Doolittle”, in which he provided the voice of a dog named Lucky.

His survivors include his mother, a son and two brothers, his manager said.

“He was an original,” Michaels said, “and he didn’t compromise in a business based on compromise – show business.”

Dave itzkoff contributed reports.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Saturday Night Live Comedian Norm Macdonald Dies at 61
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