Rolling Stone

The Normal One

At least there's one reason to watch 'Saturday Night Live' this year: Norm Macdonald

"I'm worried," says Norm Macdonald, America's greatest sit-down, deadpan Canadian comic, hours before an appearance on "Politically Incorrect." "But I'll probably know as much as Meat Loaf," he says, referring to one of his co-panelists. One might think that a man who works the term "crack whore" into most of his punch lines and often steals the show on "Saturday Night Live" with his brave and crazy wit -- not to mention his dead-on impressions of David Letterman and Bob Dole -- would be more confident. But this is a guy who, the day before, cased out the coffee shop before our interview took place because he wanted to feel comfortable, a guy who hasn't seen "The People vs. Larry Flynt," in which he has a cameo, because he can't stand the notion of people watching him watching himself onscreen. A few hours later, Macdonald is nervously pacing the "P.I." greenroom while Meat Loaf mellows out by the caterer's table. Macdonald needn't worry: He kills with his riffs on secret trials, butt injections and gay porn. He has such a zonked-out presence, it's hard to believe he can be so funny. Backstage, Linda Bowles, the conservative columnist, hugs Macdonald. "Norm, you're so bad," she says. He is -- and a little weird, too.

You once said that you'd have been a class clown, but your parents couldn't afford the big shoes.

I did? That's funny.

Were there early inklings you'd be a professional wise-ass?

No. When I was young, I was always funny to myself, but people just thought I was weird.

Some people still think you're weird.

They do? To me, I'm normal, but before I was in show business, everyone thought I was really weird. In the real world, I never got laughs. The more traditionally funny people got the laughs, like the funny guy doin' jokes.

So you don't think you're weird?

I find myself the only normal one.

You recently did a great Letterman impersonation -- isn't that a gutsy move, since Dave's kind of an untouchable in comedy?

Well, I phoned him before and told him I was going to do it, and he said, "All right. Fine." After I did it, I phoned him again, and he said he hadn't watched it, but he said he trusted it would be funny, and he had no problem with it.

Do you worry about his reaction?

Oh, yeah, I worry. Because to me he's the funniest guy on television, and I'm not. I don't want to parody a show that I think is funnier than the show I'm on. It's really just a straight impersonation -- there's no point of view to it. He and Howard Stern are the two guys doing anything original in show business. I don't want to make fun of him, and I don't think I am.

Do you get a lot of angry mail?

I get a lot of angry mail about O.J. and also Michael Jackson. I just like saying the words "homosexual pedophile" and "Michael Jackson." They get really mad about that -- I think they think it's a slam against homosexual pedophiles.

So what do you watch?

"The Daily Show"....Just joking [breaks himself up]. Letterman. Stern. Conan [O'Brien]. And every football game.

Are you fed up with comparisons to classic "SNL"?

There's not going to be a "Saturday Night Live" as funny as the one with Belushi and those guys, because if those guys existed now, they'd be famous long before they got on "Saturday Night Live". Everybody gets picked up quickly now. That's why nobody becomes a great stand-up anymore -- as soon as they're faintly funny, they get on some sitcom.

Where generally they're not funny.

Right. The only guy I know who returned to stand-up and became a great one is Chris Rock.

You weren't a great one?

No. I could have

Thank you Carolyn Parker for transcribing this article!