The Dallas Morning News
JANUARY 13, 1999 -- BY ED BARK

'Norm Show' star Macdonald
tells it like it isn't

Norm Macdonald's passion is poker, which he presumably plays with a full deck. Otherwise . . .

Ready or not, the most famous person ever fired from "Saturday Night Live" is coming to ABC in a spring sitcom titled "The Norm Show." Whether in a roomful of TV critics or circled by a small group of same in a hotel lobby this week, Macdonald gives every indication he's certifiable. Then again, he might only be a comic genius.

"I don't want to be maudlin or anything," he said when asked how he coped with being sacked in late 1997 as SNL's "Weekend Update" anchor, "but my dad, when I was a young boy, told me life would not always be easy. And he said that in times of trouble, you should drink a lot of whiskey."

This got the big laugh Macdonald no doubt wanted, even if he insists that all of his jokes are "written to please my buddies and myself," period. If the audience laughs, fine. If not, "That doesn't mean I'm wrong. It means they're wrong."

"The Norm Show" -- which will premiere Wednesday, March 24, following "The Drew Carey Show" -- finds the star playing [Norm Henderson,] a tax-evading ex-hockey player sentenced to community service as a social worker.

Laurie Metcalf plays his meticulous workplace pal, and "Drew Carey Show" creator Bruce Helford is in charge of somehow making the series work. They all know each other from a year spent together on "Roseanne," where Macdonald says he especially enjoyed writing lines for Metcalf's character, Jackie Harris.

"I write better for thinner women," he explained.

Macdonald's forte is scathing topical humor. For a while, he looked like the heir apparent to Craig Kilborn on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show." The job instead went to Jon Stewart, who debuted Monday.

Asked whether he negotiated with Comedy Central, Macdonald retorted: "I hate that . . . [expletive] 'Daily Show.' I know you critics love it, but it just seems like the most obvious type of comedy."

After the interview session, he tried a different tack.

"I was joking," he contended. "I love 'The Daily Show.' And I love Jon Stewart. But in print, you can't italicize irony, know what I mean? It's all just words. A guy could say right now: 'I hate David Letterman. I really hate him.' And you could print that. But don't print it."

He earlier told an unprintable joke about sex, cigars and President Clinton.* Let's see if we can get this in, though. Macdonald said he wanted to do another show on NBC "because they're the most powerful network." No chance of that because "They don't like me there. But actually I like ABC because it's the American Broadcasting Company and I think that's nice. American -- you know what I'm saying? Whereas NBC is 'National,' but they don't really say what nation. Then the other one [CBS] is a bunch of . . . [expletive] Colombians, aren't they?"

He also considered doing a show for HBO, where his "lacerating" humor could have aired without any cuts.

"But HBO doesn't have as much money as these networks," Macdonald said after the news conference. "They pay you a huge amount of money. So it's a question of whether you want to do the best thing you can, or do you want to make a lot of money."

"So you kind of sold out," he was told.

"Well, I didn't sell out, did I?" Macdonald wondered. "I guess I did!"

Which puts him in a sitcom and has him questioning whether he'll ever really be suited for such.

"When I watch a sitcom, I don't believe anything in it," he said. "Because I know it's like an actor playing a dude, ya know? I can't act, so I try to just do my best. But I love the writing. The acting is hard. It's not a pleasant experience -- either to act or to watch me act."

It's also hard to tell whether almost everything he says -- is all just an act.

* EDITOR'S NOTE: The Toronto Sun published Norm's Clinton quip: "I don't like to get on my horse again about the climate of society. But the president of the United States ... you know what I'm saying? And I mean, I have nothing against Clinton. Listen, as far as I'm concerned, if inserting a cigar into a woman's vagina is a crime, I'm f------ Dillinger."

© 1999 The Dallas Morning News. All Rights Reserved.