The comedy world lost a great this week when Norm Macdonald died. The former Saturday Night Live star spent decades making people laugh doing standup comedy, anchoring Weekend Update, starring in Dirty Work, and hosting podcasts. For the past nine years, Macdonald had privately battling cancer; his diagnosis was only revealed after his passing. He was only 61 years old.
Macdonald left behind a massive body of work and fortunately, much of it is available online. If you’re in the mood, you can literally watch hours of Norm Macdonald clips on YouTube; Comedy routines, talk show appearances, podcasts, old SNL highlights, and on and on and on. If you want to know where to start, he is a brief list of some of his all-time greatest TV moments. There are so many more where these came from.
Norm and Courtney Thorne-Smith on Late Night
Norm’s appearances as a guest on Late Night With Conan O’Brien (and later The Tonight Show and Conan) are rightfully legendary. But as funny as Norm was as a Conan guest, he might have been even funnier as the guy sitting next to another guest, cracking jokes about whatever they were there to promote.
The best example — and really one of the funniest moments on any talk show during the 1990s, came when Norm relentlessly mocked the very idea of Carrot Top making a movie in an appearance with Courtney Thorne-Smith, who played Mr. Top’s love interested in his film. Norm proposed a title for the film (“If it’s got Carrot Top in it, you know what a good name would be? “Box Office Poison”!) When Thorne-Smith replied with the film’s actual title, Norm somehow had an even better line waiting for that. His timing was just incredible.
Burt Reynolds on Celebrity Jeopardy
From the sketch’s earliest days, Burt Reynolds’ gum chewing, bolo-wearing Burt Reynolds was a staple of SNL’s beloved “Celebrity Jeopardy!” Norm wasn’t exactly a mimic; no one would ever mistake his Burt for the real thing. But his vibe of IDGAF played perfectly off of Will Ferrell’s uptight Alex Trebek. Give them an oversized cowboy hat, and the two could make magic together.
“Well it is finally official: Murder ... is legal in the state of California.” That was how Norm kicked off the first Weekend Update segment after the verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial. Throughout the very public trial, Macdonald’s jokes about O.J. (and his apparent guilt) were a constant on SNL. For years, Macdonald claimed he was fired by NBC for his O.J. jokes; executive Don Ohlmeyer was a friend of O.J.’s. Ohlmeyer insisted that wasn’t true, and later in life, Macdonald accepted that perhaps he was fired for being generally insubordinate and choosing edgy, button-pushing jokes over more crowd-pleasing humor. Either way, you could believe someone could get fired for some of these jokes. They are brutal.
Norm As Larry King on Larry King Live
One of Norm’s funniest recurring sketches on Saturday Night Live was “Larry King’s News & Views,” where Macdonald would dress up like the venerable CNN anchor and spurt random bits of inane “wisdom.” (A sample: “Here’s my two cents, gang: If you only see one film the rest of your life, it should be Dante’s Peak!”) Right as Macdonald left SNL, he actually appeared on Larry King Live as Larry King and interviewed “himself.” The results were truly incredible, as when he asked King (as King) “What’s the key to being a good interview?” and King responded “The key is to be a good listener,” and Norm — without missing a beat — shot back “What was that?”
Despite his decades-long career in standup, Norm didn’t release his first comedy special until 2011. When he did, it included an epic monologue about watching the news that somehow mutates into a joke about a woman named Janice, and then about the best practices for digging shallow graves in the woods. Nobody could tell a long, rambling joke quite like Norm Macdonald.