The owner of Yuk Yuk, where Norm Macdonald got his start, says the late comedian had three qualities that made him successful in his craft.
“He was smart, honest and biting. Three great things you want to see in a comedian,” Mark Breslin, CEO and founder of Yuk Yuk’s standup comedy clubs, said Tuesday, recalling the career of Norm Macdonald, Canada, who died of cancer nine years later.
He was 61 years old. His family said Norm died peacefully at a hospital in Pasadena, Calif., on Tuesday from acute leukemia, an illness he was very private about.
“He was also a friend. We were friends. I lost a friend today,” Breslin said of McDonald’s passing.
The former “Saturday Night Live” cast member, actor and voice-over personality known for his deadpan style, where he often joked, even when no one else was laughing, was born in Quebec City.
His niece, Andrea Macdonald, a team editor at Starr’s production desk, remembers the man she affectionately called “Uncle Norm.”
Once she came to visit him in Toronto in the 1980s, when she was about 4 or 5 years old (she stayed here overnight during a trip from London Onts to the family farm in Ottawa) to see her a movie. Took “The Never Ending Story.” A scene scared him and he had to run away from the theatre.
“He was there comforting me, but kinda laughed with me,” she says, recalling the moment. “He liked to tease me in a friendly way.”
She remembers him as a “fun” uncle.
“He was a big part of my life growing up. He was around a lot,” says his niece.
Norm grew up alongside his older brother Neil, a veteran CBC television journalist, and his youngest brother, Leslie. The brothers previously lived at Camp Wellcartier Canadian Forces Army Base in Quebec City, where their father was a principal and mother was a teacher. He spent about 17 years there.
According to family lore, Norm and his brothers used to reprimand each other, imitating the local people in the area.
“It was here that he got the art of imitating people,” says his niece.
The family owned a farm in the Ottawa Valley area and Norm sometimes got a close eye from his father when Norm imitated visitors to the property.
“Grandpa obviously didn’t appreciate it,” Macdonald’s niece says with a laugh.
As his success as an entertainer progressed, the family rejoiced with the comedian. Macdonald arranged for his niece to be in the front row of the studio for the season premiere of “Saturday Night Live” in 1995.
“He was such a big part of everyone’s life. Everyone was very proud of him,” says his niece.
“He was a very private but emotional person. He always tried his best to take care of all of us,” she said.
Macdonald got his big break working on the open mic comedy scene in Ottawa and Toronto, then later moved to Los Angeles and flew to the US – his first as one of the cast members on ‘SNL’ in the mid-1990s. The main attractions, including one. The duration of the show where he hosted the popular Weekend Update segment, a satirical take on the weekly news stories.
He was known for assassin raids, which included a gum-chomping Burt Reynolds and former Republican presidential candidate and US Senator Bob Dole.
Comics in both the US and Canada mourned Macdonald’s death on social media and elsewhere.
Well-known Canadian actor and comedian Seth Rogan said: “I was a big fan of Norm MacDonald and when I first started acting I essentially broke his delivery. I especially loved him on talk shows. Stay tuned to see. He was the funniest guest ever. We lost a comedy legend today. One of the all-time greats. Tear down.”
Breslin recalls the days when Macdonald first began wall slicing as a shy amateur in the mid-1980s at Yuk Yuk in Ottawa and Toronto.
“Most comedians suck when they first start out, and stink for a while before they’re good. Norm shows up for amateur night in Ottawa and he’s absolutely brilliant in five minutes. There my manager told me Told that Norm thought he bombed. (The manager) ran after him and told him, ‘You have to come back.’ He came back the next night and killed again,” Breslin recalls.
In fact, Macdonald was so good, he was dropped from the amateur roster in Ottawa in three weeks, which Breslin believes is a record for his club.
“When he came to Toronto (as a headliner) I expected someone great, and I got it,” Breslin says. Macdonald spent about two or three years honing his routine on Richmond St., in Toronto’s Yuk Yuk, Breslin says.
Deborah Knight, a McDonald’s publicist at this time in Toronto, recalls her dry wit.
“He said ‘Oh, I have to perform for you too?’ He was very funny. It was a fatalistic way of thinking of a preacher,” she recalls.
“He had observational humor that ripped you off because he really said it. He had quick, off-the-cuff comments that made you feel comfortable even when he was making fun of you,” Knight said. Recalls one customer, who was “very fun working.
“He was humble and a riot to be around. He always had a quip to crack you up,” Knight recalls.
Breslin remembers spending time with Macdonald in Aspen, Colo., during the September 11 attacks. Macdonald appeared at a comedy festival in town.
“He made a set as spectacular as I have ever seen. His entire 45 minutes were on a single theme—fear. Fear of politics, fear about his body and his mortality,” Breslin says, recalling the edgy bit. Happened.
During his tenure on Weekend Update, McDonald dropped lines that were too cutting and close to the line. After OJ Simpson was acquitted, Macdonald famously said, “Well it’s official. Murder is legal in the state of California.”
A short time later he lost his Weekend Update gig and was let go of “SNL” entirely. Some blame NBC executive Don Olmeyer for Macdonald’s fate on the show, who was friends with OJ Simpson.
“What you want from a comic is honesty because you can’t get it from anyone else,” Breslin says of the controversy.
Maybe it’s a sign of irony that one of McDonald’s Most Famous Standup Routines was about his uncle’s treatment for cancer, and his sharp wit was a sign that he shrugged off cancer clichés as a fight, or the notion of “losing” the disease.
Todd Van Allen, a standup comic and voice actor in Ottawa, was around for McDonald’s early open mic days. Back then, as always, MacDonald’s material was “dry, funny, well-thought-out” and often silly, Van Allen says.
“His delivery, his word choice. It was always succinct and in his own style. We’re never going to hear someone do the same thing again, which makes his passing so sad.”