Behind-The-Scenes Norm Macdonald SNL Stories, As Told By Norm Macdonald

Norm Macdonald SNL opening monologue after being fired

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I recently pulled out my trusty old copy of Live From New York by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller, who fed my fan appreciation for Saturday Night Live. The pages are dog-eared and yellow from use and age at this point -- as is often the SNL criticism “not what it used to be” -- but this time I brought it out following the death of Norm Macdonald after a private battle with cancer at age 61.

His fellow SNL co-stars and other people whose lives he touched already weighed in after the actor and comedian's passing, but just in case you haven’t been able to read Live From New York yet, I did want to share some stories from Norm himself.

Norm Macdonald funny Weekend Update joke from SNL

Norm Macdonald On Why SNL And ‘Weekend Update’ Was A Good Job For Him

The thing about Norm is that he was always coming at jokes or even everyday concepts from his own perspective. An old-fashioned way of describing that trait might be something like a “true original” though that makes me think of art or sassy older ladies. When Norm got the job at Saturday Night Live, it was actually Adam Sandler who “liked” Macdonald and was a key person in helping him land the role. But was he nervous? No.

Adam Sandler liked me and he told Jim Downey about me, and then Jim Downey said I could come on the show. I wanted to be a writer and performer. I wasn’t a very good writer and I wasn’t a very good performer, but I could be a writer-performer. And the one place I could do that was SNL, because Lorne was always good with letting writers perform if they were funny.I always thought Chevy was the best guy at doing ‘Update.’ Most people were not good at it, you know. So I didn’t think if I was bad I’d be singled out. Just basically Chevy and Dennis Miller were the only good ones, ever. So, I wasn’t worried about it.

Norm Macdonald infamous David Letterman Appearance

Norm Macdonald on Dropping An F-Bomb Live From New York On Saturday Night

Over the years a variety of celebrities and cast members have accidentally said things they shouldn’t have on the air on SNL. I remember one memorable episode Live From New York in which paired "Weekend Update" chairs Michael Che and Colin Jost managed to drop both an f-bomb and the word "shithole" in one broadcast. So, it happens. Norm was no exception, and recalled in Live From New York that he did once drop an f-bomb on the air.

I said ‘fuck’ one time during ‘Update.’ Something got caught in my throat and I went, ‘What the fuck was that?’ If I hadn’t brought attention to it, I don’t think anybody would have even heard it. I pointed it out, because I couldn’t believe I said it -- although I’m usually shocked that I didn’t say it, you know what I mean? It takes a lot of discipline not to say, ‘fuck.’ In sketched you’ve got to say what’s on the cards, but in ‘Update’ I would do the joke and then say whatever I wanted afterwards. So, when you’re just talking like that, you can easily say, ‘fuck.’ I like to say it a lot in real life. Anyway, [Don] Ohlmeyer said it was cool.

Chris Farley, Norm Macdonald, Adam Sandler, And Tim Meadows in SNL screenshot

On Getting Fired From SNL Right After Chris Farley Died

Norm Macdonald famously was replaced with Colin Quinn on ‘Weekend Update.’ There was an awkward transitional period that happened on the show after he broke the news during a Letterman appearance, and Macdonald stills seems bummed to recount what happened with his ultimate exit from the NBC late night show. He recalled to Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller that he found out he was being fired three hours after finding out his co-worker and pal on the show Chris Farley had died. He later said he actually had to call Ohlmeyer to ask if he was being replaced, since no one would tell him.

Someone told me Ohlmeyer has said, ‘I want two things: I want Macdonald fired and I want a Best of Chris Farley ready to go.’ So, then we went to the funeral in Wisconsin. That was really sad. They said, ‘Ohlmeyer wants you out.’ I still didn’t think it would happen in the middle of the season. And no one would come right out and say it. The first week back from Christmas, no one would come right out and tell me what was going on. Lorne has a hard time telling you bad stuff. I had to do ‘Update’ that Saturday, so I’m like, ‘Am I doing it or not?’ And they’re like, ‘Uh, we don’t think you are.’ So I said, ‘Somebody’s got to tell me I’m fired,’ but nobody wanted to do it, so they said, ‘You can phone Ohlmeyer.’ So I had to phone Ohlmeyer myself. And Ohlmeyer was kind of surprised that I was calling him. He just thought it was taken care of.

David Letterman would later call Norm Macdonald one of the three funniest comedians he'd ever encountered.

Turd Ferguson Celebrity Jeopardy screenshot

So, Did Norm Macdonald Regret His Time On SNL?

Norm Macdonald’s the guy who can get away with moth jokes and get away with monologues about being fired from SNL after you get fired. He also had no regrets about his time on the show, noting he “was never bitter” about how things ultimately played out.

I was happy SNL gave me a chance. Other comics, when they were young, wanted to be on Johnny Carson. To me it was like that, you get to be on Saturday Night Live, it’s a dream come true, and then everything after that is not going to be as good. To me, just getting there was the thing.

Saturday Night Live will return on October 2 for Season 47 with Michael Che and Colin Jost in the ‘Weekend Update’ chairs and a slew of planned guests already in the works. If you haven’t picked up the 2002 behemoth Live From New York: An Uncensored History Of Saturday Night Live yet, you can and should do so.

Jessica Rawden
Managing Editor

Reality TV fan with a pinch of Disney fairy dust thrown in. Theme park junkie. If you’ve created a rom-com I’ve probably watched it.