NOVEMBER 27, 1997 -- BY DAVID WILD
Looking for the heart
of 'Saturday Night'
It's nearly 1 A.M. and Norm Macdonald is in NBC Studio 8H, where the Matthew Perry-hosted second show of the season is drawing to a close. Technically, Macdonald should be joining all his colleagues -- Molly Shannon, Cheri Oteri, Ana Gasteyer, Will Ferrell, Chris Kattan, Tim Meadows, Tracy Morgan, Jim Breuer, Darrell Hammond and Colin Quinn -- as well as Perry and musical guests Oasis for the curtain call. But Macdonald -- a true believer in the Church of Not Giving a Fuck, where he worships forefathers like Dean Martin and, yes, Burt Reynolds -- doesn't do curtain calls. Nobody's cheerleader, he prefers to deliver the "fake news" and flee.
Macdonald doesn't generally attend the traditional Saturday Night Live after-party, either. "I never see the point," he explains. "There's all these people you know, and who wants to be with them? Then there's all these people you don't know -- and I don't like them, either." Tonight, though, he's thinking of going. He even appears to be in a good mood. This is not because his "Weekend Update" segment went well -- much better than last week, when he endured the indignity of sharing his desk with Richard Jewell. ("I fuckin' hated him," Macdonald says. "He was creepy. What the hell did he ever do? Not bomb something?") No, Macdonald is feeling "hot" tonight because his bookie is in the audience and Norm is up $15,000.
As befits a man who loves saying the word whore -- as in crack whore, truck-stop whore and Chinese whore -- Macdonald engages in a little soliciting himself. Of praise, that is.
Macdonald spots Steve Martin -- the former Wild and Crazy Guy himself and arguably the greatest SNL guest host ever -- making his way toward the elevator after dropping by his old haunt. "Steve, this guy's from Rolling Stone," Macdonald calls over to Martin. "Can you tell him how much you think of me?"
"I really enjoy Norm's subtlety and wit," Martin says with a tried look.
"That sounds like...nothing," Norm says.
"It's all I can get up right now, Norm," Martin explains.
"What if I just make something up for you?" Macdonald offers.
"Please," Martin says, exasperated. "Tell me what to say and I'll say it."
"How's, 'He's the funniest man alive'?"
"He's the funniest man alive," Martin says and quickly moves on.
Macdonald seems thrilled. "He said it! Steve Martin said that I'm the funniest man alive. You can put quotes around it now!" Next, Macdonald spots former cast member Jon Lovitz.
"Jon, can you tell this guy what you think of me?" Macdonald begs.
"I think Norm Macdonald is hilarious on 'Weekend Update,'" Lovitz says.
"Not good enough," Macdonald responds flatly. "Steve Martin just said I'm the funniest man alive."
"Steve Martin said the same thing to me three years ago," says Lovitz, breaking into Master Thespian speak.
"Wow -- Steve Martin told Jon Lovitz I'm the funniest man alive, too," says Macdonald.
The one-time Liar searches for words he can get behind. "Norm Macdonald is not only one of the funniest comedians," Lovitz says, "he's one of the most well-hung. He puts Milton Berle to shame."
Backstage, cast member Jim Breuer has a different comparison: "Norm's so brave and fearless -- he's like the John Wayne of comedy."
"I'd like to add one word to that John Wayne thing," says Colin Quinn. "Gacy."
Then there's Norm Macdonald, who seems intent on having a comedy blood feud with Kattan. "I don't know, but to me he seems gay," Macdonald says. "He claims he's not, but I've never seen, like, a guy who's not gay seem so gay. I don't find him funny. What can I say? Never made me laugh."
Kattan -- who happens not to be gay -- has heard it before. "Norm gives me a hard time," he says. "My hair got longer over the summer and he will not stop talking about what a gay little man I am." Kattan guesses that Macdonald may have gotten stuck in a character last season and never come back. "If Norm says I'm gay," he says, "then put in that I say he's an asshole."
Morgan is widely viewed as a rough-but-real talent who hasn't had his best moment quite yet. "Tracy's amazing," says Norm Macdonald approvingly. "He's, like, a real black guy. He comes from, like, poverty and a real ghetto. You know, he's been shot in the leg and stuff."
On the walls of Norm Macdonald's lived-in office -- along with the portrait of Richard Nixon and a photo of Macdonald with Howard Stern -- there's a bulletin board. On that board is a cute snapshot of Macdonald's young son, Dylan, and two tacked-up letters.
One is a note from Bob Dole, written in the fall of 1995: "If you're ever in Washington and want to see the real article," Dole writes, "please feel free to stop by my office. With two terms of a Dole presidency, I can keep you employed until the year 2004!"
The other letter comes from Rick Klatt, assistant athletic director for external affairs for the University of Iowa, and was apparently written on June 23, 1997: "This letter is to inform you that the invitation to you and a guest to participate in the golf event on the University of Iowa campus later today has been formally withdrawn. Your performance last night at the Hancher Auditorium was inconsistent with values and morals of the staff of the University of Iowa Men's Athletic Department and the University of Iowa and Iowa City community as a whole. You insulted the intelligence and decency of a great many people with a monologue which was, at minimum, irresponsible."
Irresponsibility, even immaturity, has served the Quebec native well. Asked what he was like as a child, Macdonald offers this: "You know those kids who seem much older than their years? I was the opposite of that. When I was 3, people would always go, 'You seem like you're 1, or zero.'" In the mid-'80s, Macdonald started hitting the Great White North comedy clubs. "Whenever I did stand-up, I never had any, like, rapport with the audience," he recalls. "I'd just stare up into the lights and talk, say stuff that would make me laugh. Then, I'd laugh a lot, which annoys people. You're not supposed to do that. You're supposed to act like the whole thing is just a mistake."
Wisely, then, Macdonald moved to L.A. and became a writer for Roseanne. "I think Roseanne's the funniest woman in the world," he says. "Or, as I like to put it, the only funny woman ever."
Macdonald has no time for women who've complained over the years about having a tough time in the male-dominated world of SNL. "Untalented women complain," he says. "Anyone who's ever complained about SNL is untalented. Janeane Garofalo is fine in movies and stuff, but she was horrible at this."
Macdonald remains a staunch defender of the previous SNL regime. "That was a great time," he says. "Sandler, Farley and Spade were the funniest guys." And what of this new regime? "They're very talented. More talented than funny, to me."
The censors were damned last season when Macdonald said a quiet but audible "fuck" on air. The last time that happened on SNL, the guilty party, Charles Rocket, was fired. This time, Macdonald kept his job. According to one source, there was a grand total of five calls to the NBC switchboard, and three of them were in support of the "fuck."
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is not complete ... we've chosen to feature only the portions dealing with Norm.
© 1997 Rolling Stone. All rights reserved.
Thank you Carolyn Parker for transcribing this article!