Norm Macdonald, ‘Saturday Night Live’ Comedian, Dies at 61


Norm Macdonald, the acerbic, sometimes controversial comedian familiar to millions as the “Weekend Update” anchor on “Saturday Night Live” from 1994 to 1998, died on Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 61.

His manager, Marc Gurvitz, confirmed the death. Lori Jo Hoekstra, his longtime producing partner, told the entertainment news outlet Deadline that the cause was cancer, something he had been dealing with for some time but had kept largely private.

Mr. Macdonald had a deadpan style honed on the stand-up circuit, first in his native Canada and then in the United States. By 1990 he was doing his routine on “Late Night With David Letterman” and other shows. Then, in 1993, came his big break: an interview with Lorne Michaels, a fellow Canadian, for a job on “Saturday Night Live.”

“I knew that even though we hailed from the same nation, we were worlds apart,” Mr. Macdonald wrote in “Based on a True Story: Not a Memoir” (2016), a fictional work with occasional hints of biography mixed in. “He was a cosmopolite from Toronto, worldly, the kinda guy who’d be comfortable around the Queen of England herself. Me, I was a hick, born to the barren, rocky soil of the Ottawa Valley, where the richest man in town was the barber.”

In any case, he got the job, and by the next year he was in the anchor chair for the “Weekend Update” segment. In sketches, he impersonated Burt Reynolds and Bob Dole and played other characters.

Mr. Michaels, in a telephone interview on Tuesday, said that Jim Downey, the show’s head writer at the time, had first brought Mr. Macdonald to his attention.

“Jim just liked the intelligence behind the jokes,” he recalled.

And Mr. Michaels saw it, too.

“There’s something in his comedy — there’s just a toughness to it,” he said. “Also, he’s incredibly patient. He can wait” — that is, wait for a punchline.

That, Mr. Michaels said, made Mr. Macdonald different stylistically from other “Weekend Update” anchors.

“I think it took some getting used to for the audience,” Mr. Michaels said. “It wasn’t instantly a hit. But he just grew on them.”

“In my mind, I’m just a stand-up,” he told Mr. Brooks. “But other people don’t think that. They go, oh, the guy from ‘S.N.L.’ is doing stand-up now.”

Though known for “Weekend Update,” Mr. Macdonald did not do much topical material in his own routines. He liked jokes that would still be funny years in the future.

Among his most famous is one he told on “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien” in 2009, about a moth that goes to a podiatrist. After a setup that rambled on for minutes, in which the moth pours out various emotional troubles, the podiatrist asks the insect why it came to a podiatrist rather than a psychiatrist. Mr. Macdonald’s punchline: “And then the moth said, ‘Because the light was on.’”

“I’ve been interviewing Norm for 18 years, and he has consistently broken every talk-show rule,” Mr. O’Brien told The Times in 2011. “He tells anecdotes that are blatantly false. His stories have always been repurposed farmer’s daughter routines that he swears happened to him.”

Mr. O’Brien added, “When Norm steps out from behind the curtain, I honestly don’t know what is going to happen, and that electrical charge comes through the television.”

Norman Gene Macdonald was born on Oct. 17, 1959, in Quebec City, according to IMDB.

In 1998, his brother Neil told The Record of Ontario that Norm had had a flirtation with the newspaper business as a young man but that he had deliberately botched an interview for a job as a copyboy because he wasn’t that serious about the profession.

“He once said he was interested in discovering the truth, but he hoped it would be within walking distance,” Neil Macdonald told the newspaper.

He also recalled finding his brother hyperventilating in the washroom at Yuk Yuk’s, an Ottawa comedy club, before going onstage for his first stand-up gig. But he got it together and, as comedians say, killed.



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