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Q&A with Norm Macdonald

The former SNL funnyman cracks wise on Burt Reynolds, bad words and his new sitcom

One day last winter, NBC entertainment honcho Don Ohlmeyer made a phone call that changed Norm Macdonald's life. Seems Ohlmeyer took exception to Macdonald's work as the wisecracking anchor of Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update." He let SNL execs know--and within 24 hours, the pseudo-newscast was anchorless. A few weeks later, Macdonald left the show altogether. With his sudden free time, the 36-year-old Quebec City native hooked up with a buddy from his writing days on Roseanne. Together, they cranked out a sitcom about a beer-guzzling ex-hockey player who winds up banished to community-service hell--The Norm Show. The show, which costars Laurie Metcalf (former sister/sidekick to Roseanne) and Ian Gomez (Drew Carey's Larry), premieres March 24 on ABC. So, while Ohlmeyer may have had the final word in late night, it looks like comedic Canuck Macdonald may well have the last laugh.

Do you still watch "that" show?
Yeah, I've watched "SNL" since I was a kid, and I still do. I love it. It's the only show where they can really do anything they want, even though they waste a lot of opportunities. They can really hit big sometimes, though.

Would you ever consider guest hosting?
Sure...you never know. I could become famous enough to.

What's it like being over at ABC?
It's the same thing. It's a channel on your TV. You know, a lot of people don't know how to use their remotes. My grandma used to watch "Another World," so in her house the TV was always on channel 4, and if you changed it, she'd freak out. It's like if you changed the channel, she'd never be able to find it again.

I'm sure she'd change it to find your show. What's it about?
Well, I'm this dude who used to play hockey but gambled on the game and got kicked out. Instead of going to jail, he has to be a social worker but is really only trained at penalties and that sort of thing. Kind of like in real life--I have no real training at anything in real life. I just do stand-up comedy, so I always wondered if I had to get a real job what would happen.

You're Canadian. What do you think is the biggest difference between you guys and Americans?
I guess Canadians are without opinion. Normally, Americans always have these opinions, and I always find that funny because I don't have any. Like, you can tell me two sides of an issue, and I'll just think they're both right. I don't know how people come up with opinions.

Your character spouts things like "ass-face" and "huge whore" with great ease. What's your opinion on that?
I just like funny words. I lean on them heavily instead of funny ideas or situations. Like, the phrase "crack whore" has so much going on. You know, it's a whore, but instead of money, she'll have sex with you for crack. It's just a lot of stuff happening in those two syllables.

Will we ever see crack whores on your new show?
No, visually they're not as funny. It's more tragic when you actually see them.

Agreed. Tragedy aside, what's been the funniest thing so far?
My favorite thing is we had Jack Warden on the show. He plays a therapist, and he said to me, "You've got a great ass. I'd love a piece of that." It was really funny to hear Jack Warden say he wanted a piece of my ass.

Who else would you like to have on as a guest?
There're a lot of guys. The great Dan Aykroyd. He does this hysterical French-Canadian accent, so I'd love to get him on as maybe my coach or someone from the hockey days.

What about Howard Stern? You two seem to really hit it off when you're on his radio show.
Yeah. I'd love to have Howard on as maybe like a snake handler, but he'd never do it. That'd be great, though.

You get to work with Laurie Metcalf again.
Yeah, when they first approached me about doing the show, I kept saying, "We've got to get Laurie. We've got to get Laurie." That was my big mandate right from the beginning. She proved to be very difficult to get because she had a deal and so forth, but I just kept saying it every day. We finally got her, and I knew it was great for the show because she's a great comedic actor and I'm not.

Roseanne's a pretty good comedic actor, too. Did you learn a lot working with her?
Roseanne was great--she had total control of her show and knew exactly what she was doing. And she maintained control, which is really important for a performer--they know what they can and can't do. I have a very limited ability, so I can't do anything where I'm not involved in the writing--because I'm not an actor. I can't go pretend to be a Scotsman or something like that. I can only do, like, one thing, so I have to be involved in the creative end.

Don't sell yourself short! You pretended to be lots of people on "SNL". Who was your favorite?
I like doing Burt Reynolds. Just because when I was growing up, Burt and Dean Martin were the guys who made me laugh most. I always wanted to do Burt, and they always wanted me to do, like, an older Burt. But I said, nah, I just want to do the guy from the '70s.

Is there a recent "SNL" skit you've liked?
There was a commercial parody Robert Carlyle wrote that was hysterical. It was a home exercise machine that was this robot/monster you had to fight, and it beat you up all the time. It was really, really funny.

Speaking of really funny, your show's on after Drew Carey's. Think that's a good idea?
Yeah. I guess we're both kind of laid-back, regular dudes. Drew's is sort of an adult show, which this show will be, too. It has a little bit rougher jokes. The thing I like most about "Drew" is it's all about the jokes. He'll go to any extent to get a joke--at the expense of story and so forth.

"The Drew Carey Show", "The Norm Show"...not very original titles, eh?
That wasn't my idea. I didn't want to call it "The Norm Show," in case it was horrible and my fucking name was on it--but they kind of insisted. What's cool, though, is it's easier to answer to your own name than to a different one. "Yeah, that's right, I'm Dagwood."

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