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The GENRE ONLINE.NET Interview – Comedian & SNL Alumni Norm Macdonald
By Mark A. Rivera
Norm Macdonald was one of the best Anchors for Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update in the mid 1990s. Comedian and SNL alumni Chevy Chase has stated that Macdonald was the first person to get it “right” since he left the series in the 1970s. I remember seeing standup clips of Norm Macdonald on MTV’s Half Hour Comedy Hour along with other comedians that have since gone on to become household names like Chris Rock. Though not critically embraced when it was first released, Norm Macdonald and his costar Comedian and MAD TV alumni Artie Lange appeared in Dirty Work, which has developed a cult following after audio clips of a scene with Macdonald and Lange being verbally abused hilariously by Don Rickles began to air on The Howard Stern Show. Macdonald and Lange have also worked together on the sitcom Norm. Macdonald was also a writer for Roseanne. Recently Norm Macdonald released his long awaited comedy CD RIDICULOUS and was gracious enough to sit down and talk about the album and more.
You never know how a celebrity’s personality will come across when you actually talk with them directly. I’ve interviewed a lot of people for GENRE ONLINE.NET over the years and have found it surprising how one person’s image as a filmmaker or actor for example will contrast with how they communicate when they are relaxed and being themselves. Sometimes they can be distant or very appreciative while others may not seem all that different from their public persona. Norm Macdonald seemed very down to earth when I spoke to him and perhaps a little tired since I was not the first press person he had spoken to that day. However what stuck out in my mind was Mr. Macdonald’s openness. We seemed to get along so well during our interview that what was originally to be a ten minute interview turned into a longer conversation about many things both RIDICULOUS and not.
Mark A. Rivera) Why did it take 9 years to produce your new comedy CD RIDICULOUS?
Norm Macdonald) I had no time limit. So without a time limit, I wanted to change things all the time and then I kept getting more and more ideas. I actually didn’t know that after a certain point the CD begins to degenerate and so it can only hold so much time on it. I had like three or four hours of stuff and then I had to choose stuff, which is really difficult to do and while there was some stuff that was easy to throw away, some was very hard to let go. Mostly I was tinkering and tinkering and it wasn’t like I wanted it to take that long, but with no hurry… I wanted to make it as funny as I could.
Mark) Actually you answered one of my questions that I wanted to ask regarding whether or not you had to cut anything from the album and obviously there was a lot of material that you left out. Think any of the material not used on the CD will show up on a future CD, movie, TV program, or something?
Norm) Yeah, it will end up somewhere probably. Sometimes though these things never end up anywhere. I had things written up for Saturday Night Live that were good, but never ended up anywhere. It’s kind of useless if it’s not published.
Mark) You could always put it in a book like Steve Martin.
Norm) Yeah, a book may be the easiest way, but I don’t know… I have lots of ideas.
Mark) Well that’s a blessing. Better to have too many ideas than not enough especially in your field. So I take it then that some of the segments on the album were recorded years ago and then mixed together on the album?
Norm) I think the oldest might be from five years ago. Actually you can tell because in the Sportscaster sketch the teams are wrong.
Mark) I don’t really follow sports so I didn’t notice anything, but I found it funny. I mean you have a gift for lack of a better expression of a “deadpan” style. I mean you were the best in the mid 90s on Weekend Update. I mean every time you joked about Marion Barry, O.J. Simpson, or David Hasselhoff, it was just so funny. I also remember you from when you were on MTV’s Half Hour Comedy Hour back in the late 1980s.
Norm) Oh my God, you remember that?
Norm) I think that was one of the first things I ever did.
Mark) Do you think that the sketches you write regardless of whether it is the gambling sketch or “The World’s First Two Gay Guys” or “Girls, Girls, Girls” and whatnot reveal anything about your personal life or feelings?
Norm) They all come from parts of my life. I used to be a compulsive gambler and I was talking to this guy and I can’t tell who it is, but there was this terrific guy that was always betting money on the games and it made me laugh so much about how tortured he must have been to watch the game and losing all this money. And the world’s first two gay guys was from when I was a kid I asked my father a question about gay guys and my father said, “There were no gay guys when I was a kid. They didn’t come out till around the 50s.”
Mark) (Laughing) That’s a cute one.
Norm) It made me laugh and I’d tell people in school because I didn’t know any better, “No they started around the 50s.” Sometimes I think my Dad actually believed it too.
Mark) That’s a good line for a movie.
Norm) And my favorite bit though probably not the funniest was “The Fantastic Four”
because when I was a little boy, me and my two brothers would do that sketch verbatim for hours and hours.
Mark) With regard to “Girls, Girls, Girls” when you approached someone who is a colleague and I guess a friend as well like Molly Shannon with the script, was it kind of embarrassing?
Norm) My God I was so embarrassed that I did not want to do it because I could never ask a woman to do these things. I said to Molly, listen I don’t know what to say… See I had been reading a lot about multiple personality disorders and I don’t think it will offend anybody because from what I read there’s no such thing, but if there were a person to have multiple personality disorder and I started thinking one girl would be a whore and say…
Mark) Filthy things.
Norm) (Snickering slightly) Filthy things… And how would the psychiatrist react and Molly was so cool.
Mark) She actually sounds very sexy in that sketch.
Norm) One of the studio guys kept playing it all the time and finally I felt enough, it’s supposed to be comedy bit.
Mark) I can picture the sound byte being used on The Howard Stern Show. I mean I don’t know if they do or would, I just can imagine it you know… What’s tougher for you? Writing an album of sketches, writing a standup comedy act to perform, or working as a writer on a network show like Roseanne or Saturday Night Live?
Norm) Well sitcoms are the easiest thing in the world because the bar is so low. I did standup and when Roseanne saw me perform and asked if I want to write for her show? I said, “I don’t know if I can,” but then after I got there, compared to standup it was simple. I mean in standup if a joke doesn’t work, the audience hates your guts so you have to either be able to dance around it, which I’m not really able to do or you got to be a lot funnier than on a sitcom. Great question… Like which is the hardest?
Mark) Yeah, I mean in a way you kind have answered it. Standup is the hardest I guess from what your saying. I was just curious because it’s sort of like when you do a series of sketches, the impression I get is not that you are a perfectionist, but you want to put out the best possible product, which is understandable. I know if you’re working on SNL, you’re on your feet constantly coming up with something new every week because of the nature of that kind of show. I was an intern on The Cosby Show…
Norm) Were you?
Mark) I saw what the writers did and they may collaborate on stuff, but in the end maybe two or three writers will get credit or something like that, I mean I wasn’t an intern on SNL, but you know I have some understanding of it and if it’s correct for me to say without putting words in your mouth, standup is probably the hardest thing to do in terms of writing material…
Norm) Saturday Night Live is about as close as you can get because Lorne let me write everything I did. I don’t find collaboration such a strong idea. Maybe like two people, but if you get eight or nine people working on one page of a script. I mean Rembrandt didn’t have eight or nine people working on his art.
Mark) Writing by committee.
Norm) Da Vinci and whatever the fuck else. (Laughter) I mean I think it would be a mess because you’d never have a singular vision.
Norm) Standup is the hardest, but at the same time like it’s the best when it’s just a single person.
Mark) Sure. I think I get the impression that when it works you know it’s like a high of happiness or feel good feeling like “Wow I killed tonight!” You know what I mean?
Norm) Yeah, yeah, yeah… I never aimed stuff for an audience. That’s why I bombed for so long because guys would give advice on how to make the audiences laugh and they were right, but I could never really do that. I could never like figure out what the audience wanted and then tailor it that way. I’m not good at that. I remember on Saturday Night Live I was never able to do that, but I would always think of funny stuff that made me laugh. I was always kind of directing my comedy to just entertain myself.
Mark) It works I mean in being yourself and doing it your way, well you wouldn’t be where you are today if it didn’t.
Norm) All through my life sometimes, it doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes people get offended and I really do get sad because the last thing I want to do is offend anyone and sometimes I’m talking about stuff like my father or something else… And I swear to God I never wanted to offend anyone.
Mark) Do you think in the near future you’ll make any appearances like do a standup special or appear on SNL this season or anything like that?
Norm) I’d love to do SNL. That would be fun, but I don’t know about a standup special. I’ve been approached to do them and stuff. The same with the album I could have just made it a standup record, but I kind of like the traditional nightclub. I don’t even really like theaters.
Mark) You like a more intimate setting.
Norm) I like a small nightclub and I don’t know why it’s just some weird thing where I don’t want to put it on videotape or stuff. I don’t mind doing five minutes on Leno or Letterman or something, but I don’t know why it is I like the separate worlds. Three hundred people are my perfect audience although more people show up, but that’s about my perfect audience size. It’s just about two or three hundred people.
Mark) Related to the standup thing, on the album there is the bonus track and I don’t want to give away what the bonus track is about, but we know it’s related to a reality TV show that was oft it’s time equivalent to something else that’s on a major network that people watch today, although I don’t, but people watch these things. I wanted to ask you because your views were dead on and funny, I was wondering do you have any views on the direction of television today?
Norm) I hate reality shows.
Mark) Me too.
Norm) I despise them, but in a way I understand them because I know these guys that do reality TV because the sitcoms are all so fucking bad that these reality shows are more entertaining than what’s on opposite them so it’s not their fault. The network is going to put out what people want to see. The real problem I have is when celebrities do them. I go, “What’s wrong?’ I know some of the guys that do Last Comic Standing and I tell them don’t do that fucking show because I love standup so much that I hate the whole idea of a show with competing standup comedians and the worst part of it is they give you immunity so you don’t have to do standup like that’s some fucking reward. You don’t have to do standup? You should want to do standup. Your goal should be to do standup.
Mark) That’s a good observation. You know in the eighties there were these two film documentaries called The Fall Of Western Society. One focused on punk rock and the other focused on heavy metal and I always feel that if they ever did another one, they should make it about reality television. Sometimes I want to suspend my disbelief because reality is too much.
Norm) I like fantastic things. Maybe it’s because society has insulated everybody so much through TV that people have no relationships and so the programmers go, well fuck it we’ll give you some friends. We’ll give you reality.
Mark) But ultimately even that’s not real. It’s like the term politically correct; it’s almost an oxymoron because how can you truly be politically correct? It’s relative and cannot be determined across the board. It’s only as correct as where you are and who you are with.
Mark) There is no such thing.
Norm) It’s so unreal, those reality shows. Obviously a great movie or a great TV show is going to be more real than a reality show.
Mark) Good Night, And Good Luck was a good movie.
Norm) Yeah that was great.
Mark) I don’t like tuning into the SCI FI Channel and instead of seeing something fantastic, I see a reality show about people trying to be fantastic.
Norm) What show are you talking about?
Mark) They have silly shows now like Who Wants To Be A Superhero?
Norm) I used to watch the SCI FI Channel. Is this a new show?
Mark) They have been doing more reality TV lately.
Norm) Oh its reality.
Mark) That’s what I mean. When I tuned into SCI FI and I also review a lot of their programs and they have Who Wants To Be A Superhero? with Stan Lee. Stan Lee is a lovable guy.
Norm) Stan Lee goes along with that?
Mark) Yeah. I think Stan Lee will go along with anything. He’s got that kind of easygoing personality and he has for lack of a better word, so much gumption about him I think he can do anything and you just got to love him because he’s Stan Lee. You know what I mean?
Norm) That’s true.
Mark) I was curious about the significance of The Bensonhurst Marching Band Theme was because I grew up and live in Brooklyn. I don’t live far from Bensonhurst so I was wondering if that was a creative choice to have one of the running themes on the album be The Bensonhurst Marching Band Theme?
Norm) Yeah my buddy is from Brooklyn. He’s an older guy and I needed some underlying music for the subtext and he told me about it and I thought it was definitely an evocative melody of New York and of course evocative of Brooklyn. That’s interesting that you recognize it.
Mark) Oh well I live in the neighborhood next door called Bay Ridge.
Norm) I know Bay Ridge.
Mark) So I live in Bay Ridge and most of my friends in high school either lived in Bay Ridge or Bensonhurst so you I’m familiar with the neighborhood. I mean there are parts in Saturday Night Fever that while the stores don’t exist anymore, I can recognize the streets. I can even tell when they have Travolta walking in one place in Bensonhurst and turn the corner and suddenly he’s in Bay Ridge. I’m sure the same thing happens with all the movies in Los Angeles that they make and people recognize the street and then suddenly the character turns the corner and he’s in a location that’s actually three miles away, you know what I mean? You’ve been a professional comedian now at least twenty years or close to it?
Norm) A little less, but close.
Mark) Is there any young and up and coming comedians out there that you like?
Norm) There’s a guy named Brian Regan, who I hope will really take off.
Now I come to an embarrassing point in this interview. It actually went on for additional thirty minutes, but the audiocassette I recorded our conversation on was partially devoured by my little Sony cassette-corder. So in actuality this is just half the interview, but I hope it gives you all some sense of what the new album RIDICULOUS is about and some background about Mr. Macdonald. If I can splice the tape back so that the rest of the interview can be transcribed here, I will do it. However rather than try and make a fake summary for something I feel clearly gets cut off, I’d rather just be honest about what has happened and hope you all will understand. Norm Macdonald’s audio CD RIDICULOUS is available now at retailers on and offline courtesy of Comedy Central Records and Broadway Video.
One thing is for certain, I’m upgrading to pure digital audio recording for interviews from now on. I guess it is about time given the nature of what I cover here at GENRE ONLINE.NET. Anyway, my apologies and my special thanks to Norm Macdonald, his publicist, the folks at Electric Artists and Comedy Central Records for making this possible.
© Copyright 2006 By Mark A. Rivera Exclusively For GENRE ONLINE.NET.
All Rights Reserved.
All Rights Reserved.