While MacDonald never became a big movie or tv star, he was always respected for how he performed comedy.
Comedy loses one of its best
By Craig Allan, Business Manager
On Tuesday, September 14, Norm MacDonald, the Canadian-born comedian who entertained audiences for decades with his unique delivery and daring style, died from a nine-year private battle with cancer. MacDonald may seem like just another comedian in the fray of funny voices, but he was not the regular stage comedian. MacDonald was a comedian like no other. Macdonald was willing to make jokes that no one else could tell or pull off and bring the house down with them.
Born in Quebec City, MacDonald would hone his skills in comedy clubs across Canada. He would later move to the States and get a job writing for shows like Rosanne and The Dennis Miller Show. In 1993, MacDonald would go on to join the popular sketch show Saturday Night Live (SNL) and in 1994, and would helm the desk of the show’s popular “Weekend Update” segment.
It was on “Weekend Update” where MacDonald took off. His style of delivery, use of a tape recorder as a prop, and willingness to go for jokes that might even offend someone made him incredibly popular on the show, with former cast member and “Update” host in the 1970s, Chevy Chase, claiming that MacDonald was the best person to man the update desk—after Chase himself of course.
MacDonald’s willingness to go for risqué humour, while loved by some, is what may have led to his firing from the “Update” desk. One of MacDonald’s frequent targets was OJ Simpson, who was acquitted of murdering his wife and another man in 1995. Simpson was friends with the NBC’s (the broadcasters of SNL) West Coast division boss Don Ohlmeyer, who removed MacDonald from the ”Update” desk in 1998 in what many felt was retaliation for MacDonald’s continued bashing of Simpson.
MacDonald would leave SNL after the incident. While MacDonald never became a big movie or tv star, he was always respected for how he performed comedy. This can be seen by his many appearances on late-night talk shows. MacDonald was often a favourite guest on talk shows like The Late Show with David Letterman, and the various incarnations of Conan O’Brien’s shows.
In a podcast celebrating MacDonald’s life, O’Brien said that MacDonald was his best guest, stating that whenever MacDonald came on, O’Brien always wanted more of him. “I was greedy. I always wanted more Norm”. It was on O’Brien’s shows that MacDonald achieved some of his biggest accolades. One of which includes a 1997 appearance where he mocks his fellow guest, Courtney Thorne-Smith’s, upcoming movie with Carrot Top by saying that a movie with Carrot Top should be called Box Office Poison, and when challenged to make a joke about the movies real title, Chairman of the Board, by O’Brien, MacDonald instantly responded “I bet ‘board’ is spelt ‘B-O-R-E-D’.” Another came during O’Brien’s Tonight Show run, where MacDonald tells a joke about a moth where the punchline is “because the light was on,” but to get there goes on a long-winded story that O’Brien said broke every rule in the comedy book due to its length, yet was still funny.
MacDonald’s death brought out an unprecedented amount of love from the comedy community, with many sharing his jokes and talk show appearances being shared all over the internet. He was honoured on stage at the following week’s Emmy Awards by SNL boss Lorne Michaels and late-night host John Oliver. There was even a billboard memorial commissioned for him in Abbotsford last week.
MacDonald may not be considered part of the pantheon of comedic greats like Don Rickles or Richard Pryor, but he does deserve special recognition. He was a fearless comedian, always willing to go for the joke. On a personal note, MacDonald was a big comedic influence for me. His biggest influence on me was his willingness to deliver a joke that may not be funny. On the billboard dedicated to him, a quote from him reads: “Comedy is surprises. So if you’re intending to make somebody laugh and they don’t laugh, that’s funny;” advice I am going to take with me when I perform comedy, should this pandemic ever come to an end. Go for the joke, even if no one is going to laugh.
With clips of his stand-up and talk show appearances on YouTube, hopefully, future generations will find MacDonald and realize what a great comedian he was. Maybe he might influence future comedians or comedy enthusiasts like myself. Either way, in the end, MacDonald served a youthful porpoise.