Norman Gene Macdonald
October 17, 1959
Quebec City, Canada
|Died||September 14, 2021 (aged 61)|
Pasadena, California, U.S.
(m. 1988; sep. 1999)
|Notable works and roles|
Early in his career, he wrote for the sitcom Roseanne. In 1993, Macdonald was hired as a writer and cast member on Saturday Night Live (SNL), spending a total of five seasons on the show, which included anchoring the show's Weekend Update segment for three and a half seasons, during which time he also made guest appearances on shows such as The Drew Carey Show and NewsRadio. After leaving SNL, he wrote and starred in the 1998 film Dirty Work and headlined his own sitcom, The Norm Show, from 1999 to 2001.
In 2013, Macdonald started the video podcast chat show, Norm Macdonald Live, on which he interviewed comedians and other celebrities. In 2018, he released Norm Macdonald Has a Show, a Netflix talk show with a similar premise to his podcast. Throughout his career, he appeared in numerous movies and was a regular favorite comedian panelist of talk show hosts such as Conan O'Brien, David Letterman, Dennis Miller, and Howard Stern, with many considering him to be the ultimate late night comedy guest. He was also a voice actor, best known for providing voice roles in Mike Tyson Mysteries, The Orville, and the Dr. Dolittle films.
Macdonald was born on October 17, 1959, and raised in Quebec City. His parents, Ferne (née Mains) and Percy Lloyd Macdonald (1916–1990), were both teachers. They worked at CFB Valcartier, a military base north of Quebec City. Macdonald's father died in 1990 of heart disease.
He had an older brother, Neil Macdonald, who is a journalist with CBC News (and is married to Joyce Napier, a journalist with CTV News), and a younger brother named Leslie. He attended Quebec High School and later Gloucester High School in Ottawa.
Macdonald's first performances in comedy were at stand-up clubs in Ottawa, regularly appearing on amateur nights at Yuk Yuk's in 1985. Following an appearance at the 1986 Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal, he was heralded by the Montreal Gazette as, "[o]ne of this country's hottest comics." By 1990, he would perform as a contestant on Star Search. He was hired as a writer for the Roseanne television sitcom for the 1992–93 season before quitting to join Saturday Night Live.
Macdonald joined the cast of NBC's Saturday Night Live (SNL) television program in 1993, where he performed impressions of Larry King, Burt Reynolds, David Letterman, Quentin Tarantino, Charles Kuralt, and Bob Dole, among others. The following year during the show's twentieth season, Macdonald anchored the segment Weekend Update. Current Weekend Update anchor and writer Colin Jost named Macdonald as a primary influence on Jost's own work behind the Update desk, explaining that Macdonald's tone was one that he grew up with in high school.
Macdonald's version of Weekend Update often included references to prison rape, crack whores, and the Germans' love of Baywatch star David Hasselhoff. He would occasionally deliver a piece of news, then take out his personal compact tape recorder and leave a "note to self" relevant to what he just discussed. He commonly used Frank Stallone as a non-sequitur punchline.
After the announcement that Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley planned to divorce, Macdonald joked about their irreconcilable differences on Weekend Update. "According to friends, the two were never a good match. She's more of a stay-at-home type, and he's more of a homosexual pedophile." He followed this up a few episodes later with a report about the singer's collapse and hospitalization. Referring to a report of how Jackson had decorated his hospital room with giant photographs of Shirley Temple, Norm stated, "In case viewers are confused, we'd like to remind you that Michael Jackson is in fact a homosexual pedophile."
In early 1998, Don Ohlmeyer, president of NBC's West Coast division, had Macdonald removed as Weekend Update anchor, citing a decline in ratings and a drop-off in quality. Macdonald was replaced by Colin Quinn at the Weekend Update desk beginning on the January 10, 1998, episode.
Macdonald believed at the time that the true reason for his dismissal was his series of O. J. Simpson jokes during and after the trial, frequently calling him a murderer; Ohlmeyer was a good friend of Simpson and supported him during the proceedings. After being removed from the role, Macdonald went on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman and Howard Stern's syndicated radio show. In both appearances, he accused Ohlmeyer of firing him for making jokes about Simpson. The jokes were written primarily by Macdonald and longtime SNL writer Jim Downey, who was fired from SNL at the same time. Downey pointed out in an interview that Ohlmeyer threw a party for the jurors who acquitted Simpson.
Ohlmeyer claimed that Macdonald was mistaken, pointing out that he had not censored Jay Leno's many jokes about Simpson on The Tonight Show. Ohlmeyer stated that he was concerned that ratings research showed people turning away from the program during Macdonald's segment; likewise, network insiders told the New York Daily News that Ohlmeyer and other executives had tried several times to get Macdonald to try a different approach on Update.
Macdonald remained on SNL as a cast member, but disliked performing in regular sketches. On February 28, 1998, in one of his last appearances on SNL, he played the host of a fictitious TV show called Who's More Grizzled? who asked questions from "mountain men," played by that night's host Garth Brooks and special guest Robert Duvall. In the sketch, Brooks' character says to Macdonald's character, "I don't much care for you," to which Macdonald replies, "A lot of people don't." Macdonald was dismissed shortly thereafter.
Matters intensified when Ohlmeyer prevented NBC from airing advertisements from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for Macdonald's new film, Dirty Work, out of retaliation for what he saw as disparaging SNL and NBC with Letterman and Stern. Robert Wright, Ohlmeyer's boss, later overturned the decision not to show ads for the movie on NBC but did leave in place the ban on playing it during SNL. Macdonald continued to insist that he did not personally dislike Ohlmeyer but that Ohlmeyer hated him.
Macdonald complained about NBC's advertising removal for his film to the New York Daily News, calling Ohlmeyer "a liar and a thug." He said he never badmouthed SNL or Michaels, who he said always supported him. Macdonald pointed out that he had only taken issue with Ohlmeyer, whereas the people taking shots at NBC and SNL were Letterman, who wanted Macdonald to come to CBS, and Stern, who wanted him to join his show opposite SNL. Macdonald also asserted that Ohlmeyer's influence had caused his promotional appearances for his film to be cancelled on WNBC's Today in New York, NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and the syndicated Access Hollywood (a joint venture between 20th Century Television and NBC). The shows that Macdonald named denied being influenced by Ohlmeyer. Macdonald said Ohlmeyer was "about a thousand times more powerful than I am. It's difficult for anybody to take my side in this. This guy should get a life, man."
Members of the media found irony in the situation as Dirty Work was promoted as a "revenge comedy." When an interviewer pointed this out Macdonald said "It would be good revenge if everybody went and saw this movie if they want to get revenge against Don Ohlmeyer for trying to ban my ads." In a Late Show with David Letterman interview, Macdonald said that after being dismissed from anchoring Weekend Update and leaving SNL, he could not "do anything else on any competing show."
In later years, Macdonald came to the conclusion that Ohlmeyer had not removed him from Update for his Simpson material; rather, he felt he had been removed because he was seen as insubordinate: "I think the whole show was tired of me not taking marching orders. Lorne would hint at things.... I'd do Michael Jackson jokes. And Lorne would say, 'do you really want a lawsuit from Michael Jackson?' And I'd say, 'Cool! That'd be fuckin' cool, Michael Jackson suing me!'" Elsewhere Macdonald would concede, "In all fairness to him, my Update was not an audience pleasing, warm kind of thing. I did jokes that I knew weren't going to get bigger reactions. So I saw [Ohlmeyer's] point. Why would you want some dude who's not trying to please the audience?"
Macdonald returned to Saturday Night Live to host the October 23, 1999, show. In his opening monologue, he expressed resentment at being fired from Weekend Update, then concluded that the only reason he was asked to host was because "the show has gotten really bad" since he left, echoing a perennial criticism of the show.
Soon after leaving Saturday Night Live, Macdonald co-wrote and starred in the "revenge comedy" Dirty Work (1998), directed by Bob Saget, co-starring Artie Lange, and featuring Chris Farley in his last movie; the film was dedicated to his memory. Later that year, Macdonald voiced the character of Lucky the Dog in the Eddie Murphy adaptation of Dr. Dolittle. He reprised the role in both Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001) and Dr. Dolittle 3 (2006).
In 1999, Macdonald starred in the sitcom The Norm Show (later renamed Norm), co-starring Laurie Metcalf, Artie Lange, and Ian Gomez. It ran for three seasons on ABC. Earlier in 1999, he made a cameo appearance in the Andy Kaufman biographical drama Man on the Moon, directed by Milos Forman. When Michael Richards refused to portray himself in the scene reenacting the famous Fridays incident in which Kaufman threw water in his face, Macdonald stepped in to play Richards, although he was not referred to by name. Macdonald also appeared in Forman's previous film, The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), as a reporter summoned to Flynt's mansion regarding secret tapes involving automaker John DeLorean.
In 2000, Macdonald played the starring role for the second time in a motion picture alongside Dave Chappelle, Screwed, which fared poorly at the box office. He continued to make appearances on television shows and in films. Also in 2000, Macdonald made his first appearance on Family Guy, as the voice of Death. That role was later recast to Adam Carolla. On November 12, 2000, he appeared on the Celebrity Edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, winning $500,000 for Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Charity Camp.
In 2003, Macdonald played the title character in the Fox sitcom A Minute with Stan Hooper, which was cancelled after six episodes. In 2005, Macdonald signed a deal with Comedy Central to create the sketch comedy Back to Norm, which debuted that May. The pilot, whose cold opening parodied the suicide of Budd Dwyer, starred Rob Schneider and never turned into a series. Later in 2005, Macdonald voiced a genie named Norm on two episodes of the cartoon series The Fairly OddParents, but could not return for the third episode, "Fairy Idol", owing to a scheduling conflict.[better source needed]
In 2006, Macdonald again performed as a voice actor, this time in a series of commercials for the Canadian mobile-services provider Bell Mobility, as the voice of Frank the Beaver. The campaign was extended through 2008 to promote offerings from other Bell Canada divisions such as the Internet provider Bell Sympatico and the satellite service Bell Satellite TV. In September 2006, Macdonald's sketch comedy album Ridiculous was released by Comedy Central Records. It features appearances by Will Ferrell, Jon Lovitz, Tim Meadows, Molly Shannon, and Artie Lange. On the comedy website Super Deluxe, he created an animated series entitled The Fake News. Macdonald filled in during Dennis Miller's weekly "Miller Time" segment on O'Reilly Factor, and guest-hosted Miller's radio show, on which he was briefly a weekly contributor.
Macdonald was a guest character on My Name Is Earl in the episode "Two Balls, Two Strikes" (2007) as Lil Chubby, the son of "Chubby" (played by Burt Reynolds), similar to Macdonald's portrayals of Reynolds on SNL. On June 19, 2008, Macdonald was a celebrity panellist on two episodes of a revived version of the game show Match Game. On August 17, 2008, Macdonald was a participant in the Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget, performing intentionally cheesy and G-rated material that contrasted greatly with the raunchy performances of the other roasters. In AT&T commercials around Christmas 2007 and 2008, Macdonald voiced a gingerbread boy in a commercial for AT&T's GoPhone.
In 2009, Macdonald and Sam Simon pitched a fake reality show to FX called The Norm Macdonald Reality Show where Macdonald would play a fictional, down-on-his-luck version of himself. The show was picked up and Garry Shandling was added to the cast, but it was cancelled halfway through filming. On the May 16, 2009, episode of Saturday Night Live, Macdonald reappeared as Burt Reynolds on Celebrity Jeopardy!, and in another sketch. On May 31, 2009, he appeared on Million Dollar Password.
Macdonald became a frequent guest on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien during its 2009 and 2010 run. He made frequent appearances on the Internet talk show Tom Green's House Tonight, and on May 20, 2010, was guest host.
In September 2010, Macdonald was developing a series for Comedy Central that he described as a sports version of The Daily Show. Sports Show with Norm Macdonald premiered April 12, 2011. Nine ordered episodes were broadcast. Macdonald's first stand-up special, Me Doing Stand-Up, aired on Comedy Central on March 26, 2011. On February 26, 2011, he became a commentator and co-host (with Kara Scott) of the seventh season of the TV series High Stakes Poker on Game Show Network.
Early in 2012, it was reported that Macdonald was developing a talk show for TBS titled Norm Macdonald is Trending, which would see Macdonald and a team of correspondents covering headlines from pop culture and social media. Clips for the unaired pilot published by The Washington Post resemble a sketch comedy show in the vein of Back to Norm.
In June 2012, he became the spokesperson for Safe Auto Insurance Company. Along with television and radio commercials, web banners, and outdoor boards, the effort included a series of made-for-web videos. As part of the campaign, the state minimum auto insurance company introduced a new tagline, "Drive Safe, Spend Less."
In 2013, Macdonald premiered his new podcast, called Norm Macdonald Live, co-hosted by Adam Eget, streaming live weekly on Video Podcast Network, and posted later on YouTube. It received positive notices from USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, and the "America's Comedy" website, while the Independent Film Channel stated that while Macdonald remained "a comedy force to be reckoned with", and "did not quite disappoint," the show was "a bit rough around the edges." The second season of Norm Macdonald Live began in May 2014 and the third began in September 2016.
In 2014, Macdonald unsuccessfully campaigned on Twitter to be named the new host of The Late Late Show after then-host Craig Ferguson announced he would be leaving. On May 15, 2015, Macdonald was the final stand-up act on the Late Show with David Letterman: during his set, which ended with him breaking into tears as he told Letterman that he truly loved him, Macdonald included a joke Letterman had told the first time Macdonald had ever seen him, during a 1970s appearance on the Canadian talk show 90 Minutes Live, where a 13-year-old Macdonald had been in the studio audience. Also in 2015, Macdonald was a judge for the ninth season of NBC's Last Comic Standing, joining the previous season's judges, Roseanne Barr and Keenan Ivory Wayans and replacing fellow Canadian Russell Peters from 2014.
In August 2015, he succeeded Darrell Hammond as Colonel Sanders in TV commercials for the KFC chain of fast food restaurants. Macdonald was replaced by Jim Gaffigan in the role by February 2016.
In September 2016, Macdonald's semi-fictional memoir Based on a True Story was published by Random House imprint Spiegel & Grau. It debuted at number 15 on the New York Times Best Sellers list for hardcover nonfiction, and made number 6 on the Best Sellers list for humour.
Starting in May 2017, Macdonald started to move his comedy to a more reserved, deadpan style. On stage he has claimed to have "no opinions" and the minimalist delivery has been described by The A.V. Club as "reduc[ing] gesture and verbiage down to an absurd minimum."
In September 2018, Macdonald sparked controversy after the publication of an interview in which he appeared to criticize aspects of the #MeToo movement and defend friends and fellow comedians Louis C.K. and Roseanne Barr. Macdonald's scheduled appearance on NBC's Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon was subsequently cancelled.
Speaking about Canada's homegrown comedy industry, Macdonald reflected that he would have liked there to have been more opportunity for him to stay in the country early in his career, stating:
Now I know there's more of, like, an industry there. Like I was happy that Brent Butt got Corner Gas. Because he's a really funny guy. But there wasn't that opportunity when I was there. I remember Mike MacDonald had one short-lived series, but that was about it. Otherwise, there was nothing to do. But it was great with standup. It was way, way better with standup than in the States. Like, I think the standups are generally much better in Canada. Because, like, when I was in Canada, none of us had any ambition to do movies or TV because there were no movies or television. So it was all standup and we just assumed we'd be standups for our whole lives and that was what was fun. And then when I came to the States, I realized, whoa, they don't take their standup very seriously here because they're just trying to do something other than standup and using standup as, like, a springboard to something else that they're generally not as good at.
Reflecting on the state of modern comedy, Macdonald bemoaned the influx of dramatic actors into comedy and comedians into dramatic acting:
What young, handsome person is funny? I remember on Saturday Night Live hosts would come in. You know, like handsome hosts. They'd be dramatic actors generally. And the publicist would always be like, "This is a big chance for this guy because he's really a funny guy and people don't know it. He's hilarious!" And then he'd just suck, you know?… I always liked Steve Martin when he was crazy. Because dramatic actors know how to be likeable and stuff. To me, if you've got a guy like Steve Martin or Jim Carrey or something, who are unbelievably funny, I don't know why they'd want to be dramatic actors when they have no chance. They're completely outclassed by actual dramatic actors. How many funny comedy actors are there? There's like a million great dramatic actors. I don't know why they'd want to switch. I guess to get respect or something, I don't know.
Macdonald said his past gambling addiction had been initiated by a six-figure win at a craps table in Atlantic City. In an appearance on the WTF with Marc Maron podcast in 2011, Macdonald revealed that he lost all of his money gambling three times, and the largest amount he lost at once was $400,000. As a poker player, his best live result was cashing for $20,915 in the $1,000 Bellagio Weekly Tournament, in July 2006. In the 2007 World Series of Poker, he came in 20th place out of 827 entrants in the $3,000 No-Limit Texas Hold 'em event, winning $14,608. He also frequently played live cash games as well as online poker. Macdonald stated in a 2018 interview that, prior to the ruling in United States v. Scheinberg, he would play up to 20 online limit hold'em games at once. "Since they went offline, it kind of saved my life. Because I was just grinding out and couldn't even sleep."
Macdonald died from acute leukemia at a hospital in Pasadena, California, on September 14, 2021, at the age of 61. He had been diagnosed nine years prior, though he disclosed his diagnosis to only a few close friends and family members, fearing that revealing his condition to the public would "affect the way he was perceived", according to his brother Neil. Many comedians, including Conan O'Brien, Adam Sandler, and Jim Carrey, expressed their sorrow over social-media channels. Following Macdonald's death, several commentators noted Macdonald's Christian faith and considered its possible influence on his work.
|2011||Me Doing Stand-Up||stand-up special|
|2017||Hitler's Dog, Gossip & Trickery||stand-up special|
|1999–2001||The Norm Show||3 seasons, 54 episodes, with Bruce Helford|
|2003||A Minute with Stan Hooper||1 season, 7 episodes, with Barry Kemp|
|2016||Based on a True Story: Not a Memoir||non-fiction|
|2011||Sports Show with Norm Macdonald||9 episodes, with Mike Gibbons, Lori Jo Hoekstra, and Daniel Kellison|
|2013–2017||Norm Macdonald Live||3 seasons, 36 episodes|
|2018||Norm Macdonald Has a Show||10 episodes|
|2020||Quarantined||5 episodes (final appearance)|
|1996||The People vs. Larry Flynt||Network Reporter|
|1998||Dirty Work||Mitch Weaver||Also writer|
|1999||Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo||Bartender||Uncredited cameo|
|Man on the Moon||Michael Richards|
|2001||The Animal||Mob Member||Cameo|
|Dr. Dolittle 2||Lucky||Voice|
|2005||Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo||Earl McManus||Uncredited cameo|
|2006||Farce of the Penguins||Join Twosomes Penguin||Voice|
|Dr. Dolittle 3||Lucky||Voice|
|2007||Senior Skip Day||Mr. Rigetti|
|Christmas Is Here Again||Buster the Fox||Voice|
|2008||Dr. Dolittle: Tail to the Chief||Lucky||Voice (uncredited)|
|The Flight Before Christmas||Julius||Voice|
|Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts||Lucky||Voice|
|Hollywood & Wine||Sid Blaustein|
|2011||Jack & Jill||Funbucket||Cameo|
|2012||The Adventures of Panda Warrior||King Leo||Voice|
|2014||The 7th Dwarf||Burner the Dragon||Voice|
|2015||The Ridiculous Six||Nugget Customer||Cameo|
|1990||Star Search||Himself||Stand-up comedy competitor|
|1991||One Night Stand||Himself||Stand-up special|
|1992||The Dennis Miller Show||Writer|
|1992–1993||Roseanne||Writer and story editor|
|1993||The Jackie Thomas Show||Jordan||Episode: "Strike"|
|1993–1999||Saturday Night Live||Various roles, Host||98 episodes; also writer|
|1995||The Larry Sanders Show||Himself||Episode: "Hank's Sex Tape"|
|1996, 2000||The Drew Carey Show||Simon Tate / Himself||2 episodes|
|1997||NewsRadio||Roger Edwards||Episode: "The Injury"|
|1999–2001||The Norm Show||Norm Henderson||54 episodes; also producer|
|2000, 2017||Family Guy||Death
Episode: "Death Is a Bitch"
Episode: "Don't Be a Dickens at Christmas"
|2003||A Minute with Stan Hooper||Stan Hooper||7 episodes; also executive producer|
|2004||Oliver Beene||Hobo Bob||Episode: "Girly Dad"|
|2005||The Fairly OddParents||Norm the Genie||Voice|
|Back to Norm||Various roles||Television special; also writer and producer|
|2007–2009||My Name Is Earl||Little Chubby||2 episodes|
|2008||The Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget||Himself||Television special|
|2010–2018||The Middle||Orville "Rusty" Heck||10 episodes|
|2011||High Stakes Poker||Himself (host)||Season 7|
|2014–2020||Mike Tyson Mysteries||Pigeon||Voice|
|2015||Real Rob||Himself||Episode: "The Penis Episode Part 1"|
|Last Comic Standing||Himself (judge)||8 episodes|
|2016||4th Canadian Screen Awards||Himself (host)||Television special|
|2016–2018||Skylanders Academy||Glumshanks||Voice |
|2017–present||The Orville||Yaphit (voice)||Recurring role|
I've known Norm for nearly 57 yearsAdditionally, per photo caption: "Norm Macdonald's first day of school in Valcartier, Que., circa 1964. Norm was five in this photo, and his brother Neil, on the right, was seven. ([photo courtesy of] Macdonald family)."
Macdonald, 56... [...] He tells everyone he was born in 1963, but he was really born in 1959.
You were born Oct. 17, 1959, but until recently told people 1963. Why?
Yeah, my brother is a news reporter. He lives in Washington now. I'm glad because he used to do war reporting.
Marital status: Married for eight years to Connie Macdonald. Children: Dylan, 5.
The cast is anonymous (tellingly, comedian Norm MacDonald, who I believe has voiced Lucky the Dog in all the Dolittle films, is unbilled here again...
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