Norm Macdonald died today after a nine-year private battle with cancer. He was one of Saturday Night Live’s most prominent and popular cast members due to his laconic delivery of cutting and biting insights.
He was 61 years.
During her time with Macdonald, friend and producer Lori Jo Hoekstra alleged he had been battling cancer for over a decade but kept his illness a secret from friends and family.
“He was most proud of his comedy,” Hoekstra said. “He never wanted the diagnosis to affect the way the audience or any of his loved ones saw him. Norm was a pure comic. He once wrote that ‘a joke should catch someone by surprise, it should never pander.’ He certainly never pandered. Norm will be missed terribly.”
Norm Macdonald: A Photographic Career – Gallery
In November, Macdonald was set to appear at the New York Comedy Festival.
From 1993 to 1998, he was a member of the SNL cast, most notably anchoring the show’s “Weekend Update” segments for three seasons. Having pivoted from Chevy Chase’s slapstick approach to Colin Quinn’s more barbed political approach, Macdonald would become one of the most influential hosts of “Update.” He was remembered for his droll style and refusing to go easy on O.J. Simpson despite reported pressure from NBC executives.
Canadian comedian Macdonald, born in Quebec City on October 17, 1959, spent most of his time in comedy clubs. He developed his trademark deadpan style that would be an inspiration for a generation of comics. As a result of his appearance on Star Search in 1990, he got his first regular TV writing job on The Dennis Miller Show, hosted by the man who hosted “Weekend Update” from 1986 to 1991.
During the 1992-1993 season, Macdonald wrote for Roseanne Barr’s comedy Roseanne before obtaining the coveted job at NBC’s Saturday Night Live.
Among his most popular SNL impressions was a gum-chomping version of Burt Reynolds, replete with a lovely smile, bolo tie, and wiseguy attitude, which frequently clashed with Will Ferrell’s Alex Trebek. However, if his Reynolds portrayal was his best, his other impressions were nearly as good: Macdonald’s cast comprised Andy Rooney, Clint Eastwood, David Letterman, Larry King, Quentin Tarantino, Mr. Bean, and Rod Serling, to name a few.
Macdonald’s departure from the show was contentious in and of itself, and his removal was frequently ascribed to his continuous portrayal of Simpson as a murderer, despite the displeasure of Don Ohlmeyer, president of NBC’s West Coast division and a friend of the former football star. Later, Macdonald told The New York Times that he was fired because he did “experimental stuff, nonsequiturs” on “Update” and that “Ohlmeyer would watch Leno kill every night for 15 minutes.” Every joke elicited raucous laughter, and then I’d perform 10 minutes a week and occasionally fail to elicit laughter.”
After departing SNL in 1998, Macdonald starred in his comedy series, Norm, from 1999 to 2001, as a goofball former pro hockey player who gets found cheating on his taxes and forced to work as a social worker in New York City. Laurie Metcalf also appeared as a co-star. In 2018, he also did a one-season talker for Netflix called Norm Macdonald Has a Show. a Fox sitcom, A Minute with Stan Hooper, co-starred with Penelope Ann Miller and Fred Willard in 2003, and Sports Show with Norm Macdonald on Comedy Central in 2011 comprise some of his other roles.
A Comedy and Music Special he wrote for Amnesty International in 1992 received a CableACE Award nomination.
He also had recurring parts on Netflix’s Girl Boss and on ABC’s The Middle from 2010 to 2018, where he portrayed the rudderless Rusty Heck, quirky brother to Neil Flynn’s Mike Heck. In addition, he has appeared as a guest on My Name Is Earl, Real Rob, NewsRadio, The Drew Carey Show, The Larry Sanders Show, and in animation productions such as Mike Tyson Mysteries, The Orville, Dr. Dolittle, Fairly OddParents, Skylanders Academy, and others.
He was selected to Comedy Central’s list of the 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time in 2004.
His outlandish approach to humor even extended to TV commercials: in 2016, he starred in a short-lived series of adverts for KFC as Colonel Sanders, which polarized audiences with their absurdity. He also hosted the YouTube podcast Norm Macdonald Live.
Over the years, he appeared on multiple late-night shows, including Late Night with David Letterman and Conan, establishing himself as a revered “comedian’s comedian” who often left Letterman, O’Brien, and anybody within earshot in stitches. In one memorable 2014 appearance on Conan, Macdonald reduced O’Brien and Richter to tears of laughter and frustration, which O’Brien’s Team Coco later posted on YouTube under the title “Norm Macdonald Tells the Most Convoluted Joke Ever,” with a rambling, shaggy-dog tale about Quebec, beluga whales, baby dolphins, and an outrageous pun that prompts O’Brien to admit, “I love you, I really do.”
In his 2016 memoir Based On A True Story, Macdonald reflected on his enduring love for stand-up comedy and how fortunate he felt to have a career that many saw as dominated by his four-year stint on Saturday Night Live. “I think a lot of people feel sorry for you if you were on SNL and didn’t come out a superstar,” he wrote. “They assume you’re bitter. But it’s impossible for me to be cynical. I’ve been fortunate.”