NBA

An Interview with Norm MacDonald: Part 1

In continuing with our 2011 year in review, we’re highlighting some of our most popular posts. This originally ran in April.

Norm MacDonald has a new sports show that premieres on Comedy Central on April 12th. Last week I had the opportunity to sit down and speak with Norm about his show, his career and – you guessed it – Frank Stallone. No, seriously. I asked him about Frank Stallone. (You can read about that in Part 2) For now, let’s focus Sports Show (Premieres April 12 at 10:30pm Eastern), his new stand up special, and sports coverage on the internet. Oh, and Dennis Rodman.

Before we dive into this, let me say that Norm has been one of my favorites since his time as the Weekend Update anchor. It was kind of surreal to sit down and speak with someone whom my friends and I have watched and quoted for what seems like our entire lives. I like to think that I didn’t break into my own personal version of The Chris Farley Show (Coincidentally, Kevin Farley was in the building), but who knows. The temptation to stop the interview at a random moment, pick up my voice recorder and say, “Note to self…” was hard to deny. I like to think I didn’t break. I think I even made Norm laugh once or twice. Basically, it was the highlight of my career as an interviewer, blogger and fan of comedy. Enjoy.

SD: I watched your stand up special. (Me Doing Stand Up) How long have you been working on that material?
Norm MacDonald: I don’t know. I’ve got a lot of stand up. It came together pretty quickly. There was only one piece that took a long time. It took me like 6 months to figure out.

SD: Which one was that?
NM: The one about murdering a woman. I mean, that took a long time. It’s a very delicate piece to get laughter from.

SD: Do you preform live a lot?
NM: Yeah, yeah. I love doing stand up. Ever since I started doing show business, I’ve done stand up and everything else was just a side thing.

SD: Do you tour much?
NM: I tour all the time. I live in LA. If I was in New York, which I – God I so wish I lived in New York. You must be so sick of hearing me say that. (This was directed at a PR person in the room. Norm had never told me he wanted to live in NY.) New York, you just from club to club, its really fun to do, but LA’s not like that. So, yeah, I’m always on the road.

SD: How long have you been working on this show?
NM: We taped a presentation for it in like in, fuck, I think it was November or something like that. And then, yeah, I think it was November. It took us, we worked out it for about a month – The presentation I guess they call it – in November. Then we just waited to hear, then we heard in February, or something like that. Since then we’ve just been trying to get together pre-taped pieces and stuff because we can’t really write the jokes for it until the week of the show.

SD: What’s the breakdown going to be of pre-taped segments versus breaking news?
NM: It’s going to be mostly that week’s jokes. We’re going to have that week’s jokes, we’re going to try to do a sustained editorial piece for one piece and a pre-taped thing for one piece. Sports jokes will be the engine throughout the entire thing. Because that’s what I like doing. I don’t like doing man on the street things. They seem to be done to death.

SD: It’s kind of like getting back to the Weekend Update stuff.
NM: Yeah, yeah, I love the Weekend Update stuff. We’re – I’m trying – there’s a lot of internal discussion, but I’m trying to make this as close to Weekend Update as possible because I really liked Weekend Update.

SD: With the immediacy of the internet, are you worried that all the good jokes are going to be taken by the time you air?
NM: Well, luckily, the good thing is that we have sports because, my God, if you have a talk show monologue. That’s a way harder scenario because there’s 400 talk shows so I don’t even know how those guys write monologues because every joke would already be done. At least with sports… I wanted to do it live, but, uh… Comedy Central wouldn’t let me do it live. So we’re going to do it the night before. We’re going to do it Monday night. Show it Tuesday. So we’ll be really close to live-to-tape, so the stuff we’ll do, it will almost all be about that weekend, Saturday and Sunday. All the jokes will be about Saturday and Sunday.

SD: What kind of writing staff do you have?
NM: We have the two guys I wrote Weekend Update with. Like, they’re the best writers. They’re like the best writers I love from the Letterman Show. The original Letterman show that are really awesome. They all know sports like crazy. Then we have 4-5 guys who don’t know nothing about sports. We feel like its important to pull us back and not get to arcane because it will all drift into   like, jokes that only like five people will understand. Then on the pilot they’re like We had to cut down – I’m like, what’s wrong with that joke? – No one understood it. No one knows who that guys is.

NM: So, we had to make it accessible. We have a lot of guys reigning us back from getting too… Cuz I can really get into the minutia of shit. You forget that the people on Comedy Central, it’s not a sports talk radio network. So we have to make it accessible to everyone.

SD: Is the pilot going to air? (The pilot was funny, but most of the subject matter was obviously from the Fall.)
NM: No, the pilot’s not going to air. Probably a piece from the pilot is going to air. I saw this guy on the Internet, the guy who did the MMA thing. That Kyle kid, I really liked him on the Internet, I laughed so hard. So I was like let’s get this guy. This guy’s fucking awesome at interviewing.

SD: So he wasn’t really your nephew? (This was a joke and I swear it made Norm laugh.)
NM: No he wasn’t my nephew. So we’re going to send him to like three or four events. I think we’re sending him to NBA playoffs and shit. I want to get other correspondents too. I want to do that thing on Update where you bring the guy out and he talks straight into the camera. I like the immediacy of looking right into the camera much more than edited pre-taped pieces.

SD: Doing the sports show, there haven’t been many comedy sports shows that have worked.
NM: No, they never worked.

SD: Do you guys read a lot of sports blogs?
NM: Yeah, they do more. I read sports blog somewhat, but I’m kind of addicted to listening to sports radio. I have been for a long time. I get it mostly off FM. And also, I’m just learning computers. For the last fucking week, people have been trying to explain blogs to me. I didn’t even know what they mean because we have our own internal blog. They keep telling me and I still don’t understand. Finally when I understand I’ll understand. But again, like you don’t want to get too arcane. I’m now watching a lot of sports blogs on the computer.

SD: How are you liking Twitter so far? (@NormMacDonald)
NM: Oh, Twitter. I didn’t know how to do it a month ago. Now I’m fucking addicted to it. I love it so much. I didn’t understand what it was. I never understood it. I was like why the fuck would some guy… who the fuck cares if Sean Penn is eating a hamburger? You know? I never understood why anybody was on it and then a guy taught me to do it and I can’t stop. I’m like everybody else. I was thinking of starting separate Twitters. I’m thinking of doing a sports twitter since the Sports Show is coming up. I think I’ll do that.

SD: I saw your video that you posted with your bracket.
NM: Yeah. Fucked up that, man. I love that I put that on video. Two out of 5.9 million they said had the Final Four on ESPN. Don’t know what happened to those two.

SD: Yeah. I doubt they know much. It’s like buying a lottery ticket.
NM: Yeah, that’s about the only way you could do it. One guy said his kid picked. If you were knowledgeable, it’d be impossible to pick that.

SD: With more personal life stuff of athletes coming out, does any of that factor into your gambling picks?
NM: There’s a guy I know that does a blog. I know this kid because I used to gamble and shit and I knew handicappers and stuff. And this guy, he used to play poker with me. Nate the Great. But he does a New York Times blog where all he does is crunches numbers and he odds, he tells the exact percentage that that team will win. He crunches numbers and he sims the thing a million times and wait, what did you ask me? I feel like I’m on Adderall.

(Norm was mainlining coffee that day. He asked to be cut off multiple times.)

SD: Stories about players personal lives factoring into gambling picks.
NM
: No because that’s what this guy does. He puts ah… I’ll tell you one thing I did one time. When I was really into my gambling. I was at Saturday Night Live and Dennis Rodman came into the show. He was a guest on the show and the Bulls were playing the next day against the Knicks at noon, right? I said, Dennis Rodman is fuckin there, he’s got like 8 whores, he’s smoking weed and shit. All of a sudden, like, we’re at the after partythe g, its like four in the morning, the guy’s still drinking and partying. I’ve got this inside information. He’s probably going to suck the next day. So I bet against the Bulls and he had like 300 rebounds and like what? I guess these guys can just… I guess especially with basketball you just be stoned and play the fucking game. That was my one time I thought I had inside information.

(Background: On May 11, 1996, Dennis Rodman made an appearance on Saturday Night Live. The Bulls played the Knicks at Madison Square Garden at noon the next afternoon and Rodman grabbed 19 rebounds in 41 minutes as the Bulls took a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals. That’s why he’s a Hall of Famer.)

SD: If Sports Show becomes a big hit, do you think you’ll be asked back to host the ESPYs?
NM: I’d love to host the ESPYs. When I did the ESPYs, what was interesting was, you know the athletes were here and they comprised a small amount of the audience. And behind them was the crowd, the New Yorkers you know. When I was doing it, the crowd loved me and I had no idea the athletes fucking hated my guts. Then I see it on TV and I do a joke and the cut a scowling guy. I was like “Oh God, I like that guy and now he hates me. But all my heroes… But Tiger laughed! It was a pro-Tiger joke, but Tiger laughed. He’s my hero. I love Tiger

SD: So there’s not much Tiger material in the new show?
NM: I’m not going after Tiger. I’m not going after anybody really. I’m such a sports fan. Like you were saying, sports shows haven’t really… I don’t think they’ve succeeded because in general they haven’t really been sports fans viewing them. I don’t give a fuck about guys’ personal lives. I’m not going to be unfair to them. I think its ridiculous that Plaxico Burress is in jail for fucking shooting his own leg. I think that’s crazy. I really feel sorry for him. I’m not going to make fun of people just because. I love sports and I’m not going to attack anybody. Like O.J. Simpson wasn’t an athlete at that point. That was like beyond sports. I don’t like Ben Roethlisberger but, you know, guys do things, they commit adultery, I don’t give a fuck about it.

Part 2 of the interview can be seen here. We forget about the great work he’s doing on Comedy Central (Seriously, watch his new stand up. It’s brilliant.) and focus on O.J. Simpson, failed sitcoms, the Bob Saget Roast and the most painful moment of his career.

Sports Show with Norm Macdonald
Old Sports Memories
www.comedycentral.com
Jokes The Comedy Awards The Comedy Central Roast of Donald Trump

[Images: Comedy Central / Patrik Giardino]

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