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Norm Macdonald: An Appreciation

Norm Macdonald: An Appreciation

Norm Macdonald’s memoir, Based on a True Story, went on sale this week, and his video podcast, which hadn’t had a new episode in over two years, finally returned last week. So, with Norm stepping back into the spotlight, let’s reflect on the career of the funniest problem gambler to ever host SNL’s Weekend Update.

Saturday Night Live | “Rockers to Help Explain Whitewater” | 1994

Norm’s tenure on SNL is best known for his run as the host of Weekend Update and his unjust firing. However, this ensemble sketch is really representative of Norm’s brilliance when he wasn’t cracking wise about David Hasselhoff, OJ Simpson, and Frank Stallone behind the Update desk.

To many viewers, Norm’s contributions in this one will likely go unnoticed, but upon further review, his unwillingness to commit to his role as Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers and his shit-eating grin during the whole thing show the true genius of Norm. He is not even trying, and because of this, he is the best part of a sketch bursting with talent.

The whole sketch is timely again with Hillary Clinton running to be POTUS, but at least skip to the 3:00 mark and check out Norm as Flea and then stick around for Rob Schneider as KD Lang.

Saturday Night Live | “Stallone Can’t Save Everything” | 1997

Norm plays a driver in a fatal car accident who uses his final moments to berate Sylvester Stallone, who is trying to rescue him, for some of his worst movies.

Over The Top! I mean, you had to arm wrestle a guy for the custody of your son, for God’s sake.”

Norm Hosts the ESPYs | 1998

This opening monologue from the 1998 ESPYs, an event which took place shortly after NBC exec Don Ohlmeyer fired Macdonald from his gig as the anchor of Weekend Update on SNL, is a perfect example of Norm’s voice.

Norm recreating Yankees fans’ heckling of Japanese pitcher and major-flop Hideki Irabu by saying, “You should go back to Japan, you dirty foreigner,” is clearly a Norm joke. As is his recollection of a fictional chat with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in which Macdonald claims Jones said, “We have to get back to what made us a championship team: strippers and crack.” 

The real beauty of this performance though is an OJ Simpson joke at the end, which is not only perfect end punctuation for the monologue, but also a swipe at OJ’s old golf buddy Ohlmeyer, who many believe fired Macdonald for taking too many shots at Simpson.

Norm’s Appearances on Conan | 1990s-Present

When Norm is on Conan, it usually ends with Conan calling Norm a horse’s ass. That’s because Norm’s typical Conan bit is to recycle an ancient joke and tell it in the most drawn-out manner possible. If you don’t “get it,” you think Norm is a hack. If you are in on it, you love him even more each time he dusts off a long-forgotten joke.

There are many clips of Norm on Late Night, The Tonight Show, or Conan to choose from, but this rambling yarn about sidekick Andy Richter’s experience in an ol’ mining town in Georgia is a good litmus test if Macdonald’s humor is for you or not.

Norm at the Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget | 2008

Much like with the Conan appearances referenced above, Norm decided to dust off some jokes—and the layer of dust must’ve been pretty thick—for the 2008 roast of Bob Saget.

Here, Norm’s masterful delivery is on display as he shows he can make just about anything funny. More importantly, Norm’s dissection of the roast format here is pure brilliance. In a setting where being offensive and vulgar is a shortcut to laughs, Norm’s set, which is purposely anything but shocking, stole the show.

Norm Macdonald Live | Super Dave Osborne | 2013

Norm Macdonald’s video podcast, which ran for 25 episodes from 2013-14 and recently returned for a third season, is Norm at his best. He is hilarious, even though he doesn’t seem to give a single shit about anything. Norm will fully commit to a bit, which is evident in the clip from the Bob Saget roast clip above, but he also can be as apathetic as they come. The first two seasons of this podcast show him brilliantly giving minimal effort, while still being one of the funniest humans on the planet, and the first episode of season three is more of the same.

This premiere episode of the first season encapsulates the show perfectly. Norm doesn’t fully commit to the idea of hosting a podcast in this episode, or any of those that follow it, but as is seen in “Rockers to Help Explain Whitewater” above, Norm doesn’t have to try. 

YouTube Big Live Comedy Show | Co-host of Red Carpet Coverage | 2013

Poor Jenny Slate. Her attempts to actually perform her job as a co-host of the red carpet of this YouTube comedy event were futile. Norm Macdonald is a force of nature.

Fitted in sweatpants and a hoodie, Norm simultaneously delights and infuriates. Moments like when he starts an interview with The Lonely Island guys by referring to them as “Samberg and the other couple of fellows” make this highlight video from a red carpet show that nobody watched from an event that nobody watched worth your time.

The Late Show with David Letterman | Norm’s Final Appearance | 2015

Norm is not everyone’s cup of tea. If you don’t care for him, that is fair. But, before you dump on the guy, watch his final set on The Late Show with David Letterman.

After a killer set, Macdonald pivots at the 6:40 mark and starts a tribute to Letterman. He gets emotional as he tells a story of seeing Letterman perform in Toronto many years before and tells—in a perfect recreation of Letterman’s delivery—an especially memorable joke from Letterman’s act from that performance.

This touching moment paired with Macdonald’s very thoughtful feedback to contestants on Last Comic Standing, on which Macdonald acted as a judge later in 2015, show he is more than just a smug wiseass. He is a thoughtful guy with a razor-sharp wit and a true love for comedy.

Go down a Norm wormhole. Watch all the episodes of his brilliant podcast, revisit his many appearances on Howard Stern, and check him out on Dennis Miller’s old HBO show.

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