Norm Macdonald dies at 61; From the ESPY’s to O.J., the five best sports-related moments of comic’s career

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Norm Macdonald, actor, author, and comedian who hosted the “Weekend Update” segment on “Saturday Night Live” from 1995-97, died on Tuesday after a private, nine-year battle with cancer. He was 61.

“He was most proud of his comedy,” said Lori Jo Hoekstra, Macdonald’s longtime producing partner and friend (via 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.”

Widely regarded as one of the best and most influential comics ever, Macdonald was also known as an avid sports fan and bettor. The Quebec City native even played an ex-professional hockey player who was suspended by the NHL for gambling and tax evasion on his ABC sitcom “The Norm Show” (he played “Norm”), which aired from 1999-2001.

Macdonald also hosted a short-lived “The Daily Show”-style program on Comedy Central in 2011, the “Sports Show with Norm Macdonald.” The first joke from the first episode tells you everything you need to know about the tone and Macdonald’s style of humor:

Macdonald was involved in many classic sports-related moments throughout his career, including playing tennis with Jon Lovitz, making a punch line of boxer and “Rocky” actor& Frank Stallone’s name, and portraying Marv Albert on “SNL.” Here are five more of our favorites (plus a bonus bit at the end):

1. ESPY’s monologue: “That is something that no one can ever take away from you…”

Macdonald’s ESPY’s monologue in 1998 cut a little too deep for ESPN executives and many of the athletes in attendance, most notably his jokes about East German speedskaters, Tiger Woods’ fellow golfers, and, of course, his legendary, monologue-closing Charles Woodson joke:

Macdonald also did a bit later in the show with Will Ferrell, who mocked John Elway’s teeth while in character as former Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray. Ferrell later talked about it as a time he might have gone too far with his comedy:

It’s widely believed that after Macdonald hosted, ESPN decided to “play it safe” with the ESPY’s, instructing hosts to not be too edgy or offensive. So, Norm not only only hosted the best ESPY’s ever, but he also ruined it forever, which is something no one can ever take away from him.

2. O.J. Simpson jokes: “Well, it is finally official…”

The O.J. Simpson trial was the biggest news event of the ’90s, and Macdonald was the host of “Weekend Update” at the time. His weekly takedowns and breakdowns of Simpson and the trial were appointment viewing, as few comedians were as fearless or incisive.

These clip packages might make you uncomfortable in 2021 — hell, they made people uncomfortable in 1995 (see Ken Griffey Jr.’s reaction in the monologue clip above) — but Macdonald didn’t care, as he followed his first two rules of comedy: Be funny, and tell the truth.

Macdonald’s opening “Weekend Update” joke on the show after Simpson was acquitted is widely regarded as one of the best “Weekend Update” jokes of all time (and, yes, he was saying “fake news” long before it become fashionable):

It’s believed Macdonald was ultimately fired from “Weekend Update” because of NBC president Don Ohlmeyer’s friendship with Simpson. Ohlmeyer and the network claimed it was because they didn’t think Macdonald was funny.

When Macdonald was invited back the next year to host “SNL,” he asked a simple question: “How did I go in a year-and-a-half to being not funny enough to be even allowed in the building, to being so funny that I’m now hosting the show? How did I suddenly get so goddamn funny?”

Wouldn’t we all like to know the answer to that last question?

3. Oscar Pistorius bit: “Allegedly…but, also, really…”

This isn’t a legendary cultural moment by any means, but it’s the kind of niche, esoteric bit that true Norm (and/or Conan O’Brien) fans know and love.

It’s also a great example of Macdonald’s timing, style, and comic brilliance. It seems like he’s rambling at first, and the audience members don’t really know whether they should laugh, cringe, or boo. He gets some laughs along the way, but the crowd still isn’t fully with him.

Then, as if it was his plan all along (was it?), he turns the tables on Conan and Andy Richter, makes them look like the jerks, and gets the biggest laugh of all. And of course he does it with some ol’ timey slang:

4. Blake Griffin press conference: “There’s kind of a curse with Rookie of the Year…”

Looking to flex his reporting skills, Macdonald made a surprise appearance at Griffin’s Rookie of the Year news conference back in 2011 after the then-Clippers forward had won the award.

“It’s a question from Blake’s good friend, Norm,” Macdonald said to Griffin, who was already laughing before Macdonald had even grabbed the microphone.

Griffin had previously appeared on the “Sports Show with Norm Macdonald” as part of the segment “Blake Like Me.” The bit was a sports takeoff on Eddie Murphy’s famous “SNL” mockumentary sketch “White Like Me.”

Griffin shared his thoughts on Macdonald in a tweet posted Tuesday night, calling Macdonald one of his comedy heroes and noting that Norm’s question was his “favorite press conference moment ever.”

5. Bob Uecker stories with David Letterman: “Bob Uecker’s a very interesting guy…”

“Do you have a story you can tell us about Bob Uecker, voice of the Milwaukee Brewers?”

Of course he does. Enjoy:

Make that two stories: 

 

Bonus: Norm Goes Viral: “… IN A CAR!”

Norm can finally find out God’s response to this in person. RIP you old chunk of coal, and thanks for the laughs.

Sporting News’ Jordan Greer contributed to this article.

This article has been updated since its original publishing.

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