Time Out New York
MAY 28, 1998 -- BY JOHN SELLER
Jilted by SNL and beer-bombed by rowdy college kids, acerbic comic Norm Macdonald decides to play Dirty
Ah, sweet revenge. Norm Macdonald, the crass comic who was fired as Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" anchor in January, probably couldn't have chosen a better movie than Dirty Work as his first starring vehicle. In the dark comedy, Macdonald, 35, plays a guy who gets humiliated so badly that he decides to start a business specializing in revenge. If the deadpan actor is anything like his character, then the guy who gave Macdonald the boot, NBC honcho Don Ohlmeyer, might want to watch out for the whoopee cushion.
Although it's easy to think of Dirty Work as a reaction to Macdonald's troubles with SNL (he decided to leave in April), the $13 million film was actually shot last summer, long before the ax fell. Directed by Bob Saget -- yes, that Bob Saget -- it's Macdonald's third feature (after 1994's Billy Madison and 1996's The People vs. Larry Flynt) and includes appearances by a number of his comedy favorites, including Chevy Chase, Jack Warden and Don Rickles. The film, which Macdonald also cowrote, features his old SNL chum Chris Farley in his final role -- as a man with no nose.
Leaving SNL may have been the best thing that Macdonald ever did. In addition to Dirty Work the Canadian-born standup will voice the role of a dog in the Eddie Murphy comedy Doctor Doolittle, and he's preparing to star in a movie tentatively titled Ballbreaker, which is written and directed by the same guys who scripted Ed Wood, Larry Flynt and the upcoming Andy Kaufman biopic, Man on the Moon. And while it has been recently reported that Macdonald does drunken standup at colleges, it's also been rumored that he will join Howard Stern's new Saturday-night comedy show on CBS -- opposite SNL. Talk about revenge.
TONY recently sat down for a cup of decaf with Macdonald at Leu's Cafe in midtown. In addition to finding out which is his favorite SNL impression (Andy Rooney), we asked him about his burgeoning film career, fatherhood and the truth behind all those rumors.
Okay, here's your chance to say something bad about NBC. Do you want to?
No, not really. It was just executives, you know. So it didn't bother me that much, because it was just these guys that hang around the hallways. If it had been [SNL executive producer] Lorne [Michaels], it would've hurt me.
But it still must have been a slap In the face.
I was just a bit surprised by them doing it in the middle of the season. It's usually the other way: They usually let people stay as long as they want. And if they do anything, they do it quietly, off season, you know?
Do you think the fact that Don Ohlmeyer is friends with O.J. Simpson had anything to do with your being fired from "Weekend Update"?
I can't imagine it did, but people did tell me about that. It's incredibly odd, though, that a network president would actually watch SNL. It's, like, a fringe show, and ["Update" is] a tiny element of a fringe show. So it's unusual to be monitored by the president. But I can't believe the O.J. thing is true. Although who knows? When they asked [Ohlmeyer] about it at the press conference, he said, "What are you, crazy? What about the Dancing Itos?"
Ohlmeyer also said that you weren't funny. Then NBC wasn't going to let you out of your contract. That sounds pretty stupid.
Yeah, yeah. I think the idea was, like, if I would have left right away, they would have been fine with it. But then right after I got fired from "Weekend Update," some people jumped to my defense, and I think maybe NBC thought, Well, maybe he is funny....
So what do you think of Colin Quinn's "Update"?
I like Colin Quinn a lot. I haven't seen his "Update," but I always liked him on the show, and I figured he'd be the next guy to do it.
Do you feel bad that he had to step in under those circumstances?
No, I feel more bad for me. [Laughs] No, it would have been better for him to step in in September. That's a tough situation to put him in.
It's apt that you put the first "Update" anchor, Chevy Chase, in Dirty Work.
Yeah. Back when I was a kid and SNL started and everybody had their favorite guys, my buddies always loved Belushi and Aykroyd. But I loved Chevy Chase, because he didn't seem to have any ostensible talent. He just didn't give a fuck. The best thing I ever saw was when he did the Gerald Ford impression -- there was no impression. It was just him. It seemed so ballsy and funny to do. So we just wrote one role with Chevy in mind. That was the great thing: Everybody we had in mind for a certain person, we got the guy to do it.
Like Don Rickles? Is he like that in real life?
Oh God, yes. We wrote some Ricklesish things for him to say, and he hated them. So we said, "Okay, do whatever you want." And he did. But on the set, he was incredible. The funny thing is, most people getting insulted by him, they're so happy. Just happy to be insulted by Don Rickles. But some of the other people -- maybe they didn't know him, I don't know -- but they were kinda put off by it. C'mon, it's an honor to be insulted by him.
So there are a lot of cameos?
Some...we're not allowed to tell who.
The Olsen twins?
Well, we did have an inside track to get them.
What did you do when you first heard that Bob Saget was going to direct this?
Well, he does have this reputation as a tyrannical director ... . [Laughs] No, he was, like, the first club comic I saw in Ontario, and his act was dark and kind of edgy. And then he did all that horrible shit on TV. But I thought, This guy is still funny. So we got him to direct this.
Did he have anything to do with any of the jokes In the movie?
No. He tried...but no.
Did he ever say, "Wouldn't it be funny if we had somebody fall down in this scene and we had somebody tape it, and then we show it later with my voiceover?"
[Laughs] Saget has some of the funniest videos that people have sent to him that were obviously staged. And the funniest one is this gu
and there's just no response for it.
Like "It just proves my theory that Germans love David Hasselhoff"?
Yeah, yeah. I said that on the first 30 or so "Up dates." Hasselhoff was on the show one time, actually, and he told me that he had people coming up to him and asking him, "Do Germans love you?" And he had no idea what they were talking about. Really a nice guy, though. We played football with him in Central Park, me and [Adam] Sandler and [Chris] Farley. And he's an old guy, like 40 or something. We thought we'd beat the shit out of him, but he was great. He's really in shape. I guess it's their business to stay in shape there on Baywatch.
Were you good friends with Farley?
Farley was great. That's the only death that really affected me. It was really a loss to comedy. I mean, he was 33. He could've been a great actor. He could make anyone laugh: a young guy, an old guy, a smart guy, a dumb guy, whatever. And he could do it constantly, always making people laugh. It's very rare, because usually people that are "on" all the time are really annoying. You just want to get them out of your face. But this guy...he was really the funniest guy I ever met in my life.
What's better, standup or acting?
Standup is great, but the lifestyle is hell. Basically, you show up in town, and you're like a serial killer. The worst places are the little towns where I go to do standup. You go out and wander around, and there's nothing to do. Just wasting your life except for that hour onstage.
I heard you're working on a comedy album. What will be on that?
Yeah, now that I have time...I just wanted something where I could do anything I wanted. We used to pitch ideas for Saturday Night Live for sketches, and they would always get big laughs. But they'd say, "We can't do it, it's too rough." And that was always a drag. So I have a lot of things that I wanted to do on the show that they'd never allow on TV. I always wanted to do this one about that newspaper Street News -- you know, the one written by homeless people. I wanted to do a sketch inside the newsroom, with guys pissing on typewriters, and all these delusional stories, like the Empire State Building being made out of cotton candy. And the editor says, "I like it!"
I read somewhere that on one "Weekend Update" you wanted to put up that famous photo of the naked Vietnamese girl from the war and say, 'Woody Allen is dating again."
Yeah, I didn't think that one was too rough, but we did it in dress rehearsal, and ... they didn't boo, but there was this noise, like shock, for literally 30 seconds. They couldn't believe it. And then I tried to explain that the lady was fine, because now she's living in New Jersey somewhere. They really hated it.
So what do you do with your son? I can't picture you doing normal "dad" things.
That's all I do. I play with Beanie Babies. I took him to Disney World last week.
Does he know you're on TV?
He knows. People ask for my autograph, and I have to explain to him. It's very hard to explain to a child why someone would want you to write your name. I just tell him that some people in the world would like to have my name written on a napkin. [Laughs] Then he understood, because when we went to Disney World, he got Mickey Mouse's autograph. The characters actually give autographs. It's odd, because they don't match. There's a lot of Mickeys around the park, and one Mickey Mouse's autograph doesn't match another's.
Last question: If you could be any superhero, which one would it be?
The superhero I always liked is because he named himself weird. Do you remember the Fantastic Four? There were four people. You had the Thing, and he's this big thing. And there's the Human Torch, and he's on fire. And the Invisible Girl, she turned herself invisible. And the last guy was elastic; he could stretch everywhere. So you figure his name is something like Elastic Man. Instead, he calls himself Mr. Fantastic. I love that he just gav
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