Norm Macdonald Was Quite Possibly the Best Talk-Show Guest of All Time

Macdonald passed away on Tuesday after a battle with cancer. Here are some of his most memorable appearances.

September 14, 2021 4:40 pm
Norm Macdonald
Comedian Norm MacDonald poses for a portrait while preparing to perform at Carolines on Broadway in Manhattan, NY, on November 13, 2015.
The Washington Post via Getty Im

On Tuesday, the internet was rocked by the sad news that legendary comedian Norm Macdonald passed away at the age of 61 after a nine-year battle with cancer. According to his longtime producing partner and friend Lori Jo Hoekstra, Macdonald chose to keep his illness private, concealing the information from friends, family and the general public.

“He was most proud of his comedy,” Hoekstra said in a statement to Deadline. “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.”

That is, of course, a massive understatement. In addition to his time on Saturday Night Live from 1993 to 1998 — which included a memorable run as host of Weekend Update for three years, during which he mercilessly made fun of OJ Simpson and the media circus around his murder trial despite pleas from NBC studio executives to go easy on the former NFL star — Macdonald was one of the best late-night talk show guests of all time. He was one of the most popular and frequent guests on both Letterman and Conan, and his appearances were always surreal, outrageous and viciously funny. To salute the comedy legend, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite clips below.

“The Moth” joke

The less you know about Macdonald’s famous moth joke — one of the greatest ever told on a late-night show — going into it, the better. But just know that it starts with “a moth goes into a podiatrist’s office” and only gets weirder from there.

Norm discusses getting fired from SNL

All those excellent OJ Simpson jokes famously caught up with Macdonald, eventually costing him his job at Saturday Night Live due to Simpson’s friendship with Don Ohlmeyer, then-president of NBC’s West Coast division. Never one to suffer fools, the former Weekend Update host appeared on Letterman shortly after getting axed to air all the network’s dirty laundry and reveal what really went down.

Norm saves Conan’s interview with Courtney Thorne-Smith

Macdonald had already wrapped his own appearance on Late Night by the time Melrose Place‘s Courtney Thorne-Smith came out for her segment, but he stuck around and chimed in with some excellent non-sequiturs and one-liners, stealing the spotlight with some all-time great Carrot Top jokes and culminating with the observation that Thorne-Smith’s movie with him (i.e., Carrot Top), Chairman of the Board, should have been called Chairman of the Bored.

The Bob Uecker story

In which our hero delivers an incredible anecdote about the longtime voice of the Milwaukee Brewers’ profanity-filled encounter with John Fogerty.

Norm’s final stand-up performance on Letterman

Most of the best Norm Macdonald appearances on Letterman are absurd and over the top, but this one’s notable for its genuine emotion. Before Letterman stepped down from his hosting duties, Macdonald took a moment to get serious about what the longtime host meant to him, getting choked up and wrapping up with a simple, touching “I love you.”

Part of Norm Macdonald’s brilliance was in the way he delivered jokes where the punchline wasn’t actually the punchline. Instead, it’s the journey to said punchline that’s really worth it, as in this wonderfully convoluted bit from one of his many Conan appearances.

Right before O’Brien finished his all-too-brief run as host of The Tonight Show following the highly publicized Jay Leno/NBC fiasco in 2010, he brought on Norm Macdonald to send him off with a gift basket and a card. The joke is, of course, that said gift basket’s been in his possession a little too long. “Congratulations, Conan, on finally securing your place as permanent host of The Tonight Show,” he deadpans as he reads from the card. “That’s something they can never take away from you. It is perhaps the shrewdest programming decision ever made by the NBC braintrust.”

Come for Norm’s views on “that dork Hitler” (“The more I learn about that guy, the more I don’t care for him,” he says), stay for the way he recalls getting a jaywalking ticket on a trip to Amsterdam.

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