TORONTO — Norm MacDonald, whose dry, caustic wit led him to “Saturday Night Live” fame from Canadian comedy clubs, was lived by a “purist” comedic philosophy that won him the acclaim of his famous contemporaries, even though it He polarizes the audience, says his brother.
Neil Macdonald said that satirical standup lives by the adage that comedy should always surprise and never stray, preferring that a joke should be mixed with booze for cheap laughs. Macdonald was devoted to the craft of comedy, he said, and never desired to transition from the stage to the big screen.
“If you talk to his friends like Adam Sandler, David Spade or Tim Meadows — the people he came with on ‘SNL’ — they would all agree that Norm was the purest of them all,” Neil said by phone from Los Angeles. But said. . “She was the comic of the comic.”
McDonald died Tuesday in Los Angeles from leukemia, Neil said. While his diagnosis was never made public, Macdonald had been battling cancer for a “long time”, and his condition turned worst last month, he said.
The Quebec City-raised standup was best known for his stints on “Saturday Night Live” from 1993 to 1998, where he headed the “Weekend Update” desk and played “Jeopardy!”
News of McDonald’s death sparked a wave of mourning on social media, with Steve Martin, David Letterman, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Jon Stewart and Bob Saget paying tribute to the comedy legend.
Macdonald did much to keep his illness a secret from everyone but his family, as he didn’t want it to affect his comedy, his brother said.
Neal, a former CBC journalist, thought McDonald would make fun of the crazy clichés that pervaded the coverage of his death.
“It’s almost ironic to sit here and watch the stories about Norm’s daring ‘battle’ with cancer,” he said. “They actually did a little bit on stage about how stupid this is. What’s the fight? It’s your own body. Is it a win or lose?”
Born in Quebec City, Macdonald showed an inclination for comedy from an early age, Neil said, remembering his brother using a hammer-to-microphone while telling jokes as a child.
One night, Neil said, MacDonald decided “with a guts” to try his hand at performing in front of a real audience at an Ottawa nightclub.
Mark Breslin, co-founder of Yuk Yuk, said McDonald’s made a huge impression on the audience.
“He combined a laconic delivery and a deadpan look, and yet he had such a great sparkle in his blue eyes to tell you everything was a joke,” said longtime friend Breslin.
“And it was a really powerful combination of all those things.”
Breslin said that it wasn’t long before his talent made him a name on the Canadian comedy circuit.
Macdonald landed a gig as a writer on “Roseanne” in 1992.
He was cast the following year by “Saturday Night Live”, becoming the face of “Weekend Update”, where he made fun of current events from behind the news desk.
The role featured countless sharp-edged punchlines, but eventually led to his downfall from “SNL”.
Macdonald’s sense of humor was divisive and some thought it was too prickly.
Don Olmeier, then president of NBC’s West Coast division, pulled the comic from “Weekend Update” in the middle of the 1997–1998 season, replacing it with Colin Quinn, citing poor ratings.
However, Macdonald testified that he believed his dismissal was because he refused to stand by controversial jokes about OJ Simpson, who was on trial for the murder of his ex-wife.
After leaving “SNL” that year, Macdonald created “The Norm Show” for ABC where he played a hockey player banned from the National Hockey League for tax evasion. The show ran from 1999 to 2001.
He became a favorite guest on late-night talk shows, and appeared in several films with fellow “SNL” alum, including several with his friend Adam Sandler, parts in “Billy Madison” and Rob Schneider. “Animal.”
He also led the 1998 Hollywood comedy “Dirty Work” directed by Bob Saget, where he played one of two friends who start a revenge business. The film was a box-office flop, but gained a cult following after its release on home video.
Later in his career, he would host his Netflix talk show “Norm MacDonald Has a Show” and voice the character of Dove on “Mike Tyson Mysteries”.
Over the years, Macdonald garnered a devoted following among comedy fans for his ribald rejection of the rote “setup, punchline” standup.
He came to like the sound of the crowd’s silence as it opened up a joke to an antagonistic ending, such as the infamous “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” story about a moth.
“Some people got it and some people didn’t,” said Neil MacDonald. “And the people who received him were fanatical about him.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 14, 2021.