The Untold Truth Of Norm Macdonald

Comic legend Norm Macdonald died of cancer on September 14, 2021, per Deadline. His friend and producing partner, Lori Jo Hoekstra, said of the comedian, "Norm was a pure comic" and "will be missed terribly." Macdonald was born in Quebec City and crafted his signature style in Canadian comedy clubs before moving to the United States.

He is most known for his time on "Saturday Night Live," particularly on the show's "Weekend Update" segment, and will be remembered for his deadpan humor, quick wit, and late night television appearances.

Dubbed "Comedy Royalty" by The New York Times, Macdonald started entertaining as a stand-up comedian and eventually found his way to the silver screen. After a decades-long career and dozens of interviews, Macdonald has left the world with tons of comedic material and hilarious bits. There are other details about the comedian, though, that aren't as well-known, like his break into comedy and the struggles he faced in his personal life. Here's the untold truth of Norm Macdonald.

Norm Macdonald's poor performance on Star Search started his career

Before "American Idol" and "America's Got Talent," contestants of all backgrounds were competing on "Star Search" in hopes of being catapulted into fame. Notable contestants are Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Norm Macdonald.

Other comedians have been discovered through the famed television show, too, like Drew Carey and Kevin James. Macdonald was invited to perform stand-up comedy on a special version of the show, "International Star Search." His performance, unlike the others, was less than stellar. By way of his novel-esque memoir, "Based on a True Story," Macdonald recounted his experience competing on the talent competition, sharing that nobody in the audience, including host Ed McMahon, laughed. 

"It was horrible," Macdonald said of "Star Search" on the "Late Show with David Letterman." "I got the lowest score, like, ever." Despite possibly receiving the poorest score in the show's history, Macdonald managed to have a successful career in comedy afterward, going on to star in "Saturday Night Live," other television shows, and movies.

Norm Macdonald brought a totally new style to Weekend Update

"Weekend Update," a news segment on "Saturday Night Live," is almost as famous as the show it belongs to, as are many of its anchors. Norm Macdonald is part of a short list of elite comedians who've anchored the segment, many of whom went on to have incredibly successful careers, like Chevy Chase, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler.

What set Macdonald apart from his predecessors was the fresh style he brought to the "Update" desk, a distinctive deadpan accompanied by a grin and often a follow-up comment or two.

Time regarded Macdonald as a man who "thrived on the edge of convention and in moments of silence and discomfort; through his unique approach, he weaved the dumbest punchlines into comedic masterclasses." But in an interview with The New York Times Magazine, when describing himself as a comic, Macdonald said, "In my mind, I'm just a stand-up." He continued, "But other people don't think that. They go, oh, the guy from 'S.N.L.' is doing stand-up now."

His first Hollywood gig was writing for Roseanne

Norm Macdonald, like many comedians, began his Hollywood career as a writer. After moving to Los Angeles, the comic learned that actor, comedian, and talk show host, Dennis Miller, enjoyed a joke he had made. Macdonald contacted Miller, who invited him to submit talk show material. He wrote for Miller's show, and after Roseanne Barr saw Macdonald performing stand-up, he was offered a job writing for her popular sitcom, "Roseanne" (via The New York Times Magazine). 

He worked on the show for a year before leaving to lend his talent to "Saturday Night Live." "One of the easiest things I've ever done was hire my bud #NormMacdonald to write the Roseanne show in 1992. Harder was letting him out of his contract in 1993 so he could take his dream job on SNL," tweeted Tom Arnold, known for his role on "Roseanne."

Macdonald remained friends with Roseanne Barr up until his death. He recorded a phone conversation between the two comedians in April 2020 while both were quarantining amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Two years prior, he defended Barr amidst controversy that ended in the cancellation of the "Roseanne" reboot. He later went on to apologize for his statement via Twitter.

Norm Macdonald had an ongoing feud with an NBC executive

Norm Macdonald anchored "Weekend Update" for a few years. In one of those years, 1995, a particularly interesting and high-profile event occurred: the murder trial of O.J. Simpson. Macdonald made it clear he believed Simpson was guilty, and famously opened his "Weekend Update" segment after the verdict was announced with the line, "Well, it is finally official: murder is legal in the state of California."

Don Ohlmeyer, an executive at NBC, the network that airs "Saturday Night Live," was a friend of Simpson's, supporting him throughout the trial and surrounding his acquittal. Many suspected that this friendship was the reason Ohlmeyer fired Macdonald, but Ohlmeyer refuted those claims, as reported by The New York Times, maintaining that the firing was due to low ratings "and a drop-off in quality." 

In a "Late Show with David Letterman" appearance, Macdonald revealed that he called Ohlmeyer, who supposedly gave this reason for firing the "Update" anchor: "Oh, you're not funny." This feud continued into Macdonald's movie career when, at Ohlmeyer's behest, NBC stopped promoting his film, "Dirty Work" (via The New York Times).

Norm Macdonald had a talent for celebrity impersonations

After he was fired from the "Weekend Update" desk, Norm Macdonald remained part of the cast and continued performing in different sketches, but it was to his dismay. "Other than doing 'Update,' I do sketches, but I stink in those," Macdonald told Letterman.

Despite his feelings toward his other sketches, Macdonald delivered some iconic performances that are still lauded to this day. His work in "Celebrity Jeopardy!: French Stewart, Burt Reynolds, & Sean Connery" and "The Real World With Bob Dole" were included in Variety's list of "Norm Macdonald's Funniest Moments."

Macdonald hilariously impersonated Bob Dole in the "Real World" sketch and reprised his impression of Burt Reynolds for multiple installments of "Celebrity Jeopardy!" alongside Will Ferrell as Alex Trebek. Macdonald's impression of Dole was so funny, even the Senator himself was a fan, proving so with a tweet to honor the late star. "*Bob Dole* will miss Norm Macdonald," he wrote.

Mocking celebrities on Saturday Night Live was part of the job for Norm Macdonald

Norm Macdonald was never shy in sharing his opinions at the "Weekend Update" desk, making specific stars regular targets of his sharp jabs. O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson were two celebrities who were never safe from Macdonald's punchlines. The comic tirelessly reported on the former football player during his murder trial, and ridiculed the singer often, particularly for allegations of sexual abuse.

Macdonald's jokes were questioned by many, including his "Saturday Night Live" boss, Lorne Michaels. Macdonald welcomed the controversy, though. On the "WTF with Marc Maron" podcast, Macdonald spoke candidly about his time on this show. "Lorne hints at things, like he would go, 'I don't know if you really ... you want a lawsuit by Michael Jackson?' And I'd go, 'That's cool! ... That'd be f*ckin' cool, Michael Jackson suing me,'" the comic recalled.

Simpson and Jackson weren't the only celebrities Macdonald criticized with his sharp tongue. Frank Stallone was often mocked by Macdonald, and the comic's roast of friend Bob Saget is widely regarded as some of his best work.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

He wished he could have spent more of his career in Canada

Like his "Saturday Night Live" boss, Lorne Michaels, Norm Macdonald is originally from Canada. He started his career in stand-up in Montreal, remained a Canadian citizen, and renewed his green card to live and work in the United States.

Macdonald wished he could have been in Canada for more of his early career, but he knew that wasn't the best place for him. Speaking on the Canadian show business scene, Macdonald told Guy Macpherson, "There wasn't that opportunity when I was there. ... But [the country] was great with stand-up. " Macdonald found that the entertainment industry in the United States was "using stand-up as, like, a springboard to something else that they're generally not as good at."

Despite his enormous success, Macdonald cited moving to the United States as the "most irrational" thing he's ever done. He told the Chicago Tribune, "I had a good job in Canada, working in a logging camp. Show business is better."

The late night show Norm Macdonald really wanted to host

Norm Macdonald was a staple on late night television, often visiting hosts like David Letterman and Conan O'Brien to share a story or tell minutes-long jokes. Both hosts visited with the comic so often that they developed personal relationships with him, and, like many other comedians, O'Brien and Letterman took to Twitter to mourn the late legend.

Given his frequency on late night, and his experience hosting on television behind the "Weekend Update" desk, it's no surprise that Macdonald was interested in taking over Craig Ferguson's job as host of "The Late Late Show" on CBS. "I know you're supposed to be coy and say 'If nominated I will not run,' but it would be so cool to get that job," he told The Buffalo News amidst a charge on Twitter led by fans supporting Macdonald.

Macdonald joined the online campaign by retweeting posts, but he was never hired. The gig was given to James Corden, who's been hosting the late night show since Ferguson's departure.

Norm Macdonald's return to SNL was not well-received

It's not uncommon for former "Saturday Night Live" cast members to return to 30 Rock to host the sketch comedy series. Chevy Chase, Tina Fey, and even Eddie Murphy are among the alumni who've hosted after leaving. Shortly after his time as a cast member, Norm Macdonald followed suit.

In his true comedic fashion, Macdonald addressed the "Weekend Update" controversy and confessed he felt a little strange about the situation. "How did I suddenly get so g*ddamn funny?" he asked in his monologue, pointing out the irony of him being "funny enough" to host only a year and a half after being fired for not being funny. He went on to joke, "Then, it occurred to me: I haven't gotten funnier, the show has gotten really bad." The joke was met with laughter and some boos from the audience.

In the following week's episode, hosted by Dylan McDermott, Macdonald's name was mentioned in a skit. Chris Kattan, playing the character Mango, read a get-well letter signed by MacDonald. Kattan exclaimed, "Norm Macdonald, who is that?" Macdonald never hosted the show again.

How Norm Macdonald's legacy has inspired others

Norm Macdonald made a significant impact in the comedy world, inspiring many of today's most prominent comedians. Seth Rogen, in a tweet honoring the late star, said "I was a huge fan," and added, "I essentially ripped off his delivery when I first started acting."

Unsurprisingly, his impact resonated with comics who would later anchor "Weekend Update." Seth Meyers, former "Saturday Night Live" head writer and "Update" anchor, honored Macdonald's memory on his late night television show, "Late Night with Seth Meyers," and shared that a difficult part of hosting the news segment "was not telling every joke the way [he] thought Norm would tell it." When he shared this with the comic legend, Macdonald told Meyers, "My son was watching you on 'Update' and [he] said to me, 'You talk like Seth Meyers.'"

"Update" co-host Colin Jost was asked which former anchors influenced him in a TV Guide Magazine interview, and he said "Norm Macdonald — that was the sweet spot for me when I was in high school."

Norm Macdonald had a gambling addiction

Because of his career in Hollywood, it's reasonable to assume Norm Macdonald had a hefty bank account at the time of his death. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Macdonald was worth an estimated $2.5 million dollars.

Dying a multi-millionaire is nothing to scoff at, but Macdonald's net worth likely could have been much higher if it weren't for a gambling addiction, which he opened up about in an interview with The New York Times Magazine. "I did go broke, but I always had a job, so it was different," he said of his addiction. Macdonald often spent his time post-show gambling in Atlantic City, which he traveled to in a "studio-provided limo," in lieu of attending "Saturday Night Live" cast parties.

"Gambling's not about wasting money, it's about wasting time," Macdonald said in an interview. He did waste lots of money, though, telling Larry King he went broke twice.

Norm Macdonald seemed to be close to his son

Norm Macdonald didn't talk much about his personal life. He sometimes mentioned his wife, Connie, whom he was married to for a little over a decade. He more often mentioned his son, Dylan, whom he shared with Connie.

After he had officially parted ways with "Saturday Night Live," Macdonald moved from New York City to Los Angeles, and he told Rolling Stone he was excited to be closer to his son. Seth Meyers shared a story about Macdonald's early days as a father, saying when he was asked how fatherhood was, Macdonald responded, "It's going great. Still no abductions."

Macdonald seemingly had a close relationship with his son, and he often took to Twitter to comment on their shared interests, like B.J. Novak's writing and fellow "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Taran Killam, whom he met at the show's 40th anniversary episode. When Macdonald gave an interview with The New York Times Magazine in 2018, he and his son were living together in Los Angeles.

The exciting jobs Norm Macdonald had later in his career

Like many celebrities, Norm Macdonald dabbled in several different industries, especially later in his career. In 2018, with entrepreneur Vivek Jain, Macdonald co-created and launched a dating app called LOKO, where "the only way to communicate with people is with video," as reported by USA Today.

Macdonald also wrote a bestselling book, and he hosted a podcast called "Norm Macdonald Live." The star spent much of his career in more traditional ventures for a comedian, too, like in voiceover work, television shows, and, of course, stand-up comedy. Some of his notable work includes the "Dr. Dolittle" films, "The Fairly Odd Parents," "Last Comic Standing," and "The Norm Show."

No matter what facet of business he was participating in, Macdonald was doing what he loved most. "Making people laugh is a gift," he told The New York Times Magazine. Throughout his storied career, countless people across the world received Norm Macdonald's tremendous gift of laughter.