‘Comedy giant’ Norm Macdonald, known for his dry wit and compassion, dies at 61

The owner of Yuk Yuk’s, where Norm Macdonald started, says the late comedian had three qualities that made him successful in his craft.

“He was smart, honest and cutting. Three wonderful things you want to see in a comedian, ”Mark Breslin, CEO and founder of Yuk Yuk Comedy Clubs, said Tuesday, recalling the career of Canadian Norm Macdonald, a comedian who died after nine years with cancer.

He was 61 years old. His family said Norm died peacefully at the Pasadena, California hospital of acute leukemia on Tuesday, a disease about which he was very secretive.

“He was also a friend. We were friends. Today I lost a friend, ”Breslin said of Macdonald’s death.

The former “Saturday Night Live” cast member, actor and broadcaster, who was known for his deadpan style in which he used to milk a joke even when no one else was laughing, was born in Quebec City.

His niece, Andrea Macdonald, editor of the team at Star’s production table, remembers the man she affectionately called “Uncle Norm.”

Star editor Andrea Macdonald with her "Uncle norma" and his sister Maxine in 1991.

Once when she was a little girl, about 4 or 5 years old, and she visited him in Toronto in the 1980s (she spent the night here while traveling from London Ont. To the family farm in Ottawa), he took her to see the movie “The Never Ending Story.” A scene scared her and she had to run out of the theater.

“He was there comforting me, but he also laughed a bit with me,” she says, choking at the memory of the moment. “He liked to tease me in a friendly way.”

She remembers him as the “funny” guy.

“He was a big part of my life growing up. He was around a lot, ”says his niece.

Norm grew up with his older brother Neil, a veteran CBC television journalist, and his younger brother Leslie. The brothers first lived at the Camp Valcartier Canadian Forces army base in Quebec City, where their father was a director and their mother a teacher. They spent about 17 years there.

According to family tradition, Norm and his brothers would laugh in imitation of the locals in the area.

“That’s where she got her skills from imitating people,” says her niece.

The family had a farm in the Ottawa Valley area and Norm would sometimes receive a stern look from his father whenever Norm imitated visitors to the property.

“Apparently Grandpa didn’t like that,” laughs Macdonald’s niece.

As his success as an entertainer later blossomed, the family rejoiced with the comedian. Macdonald arranged for his niece to be in the front row of the studio for the 1995 season premiere of “Saturday Night Live.”

“He was such an important part of everyone’s life. They were all very proud of him, ”says his niece.

“He was a very private but emotional person. He always went out of his way to take care of all of us, ”she continued.

Star editor Andy Macdonald with his uncle backstage at a Toronto show in 2013.

Macdonald got his big break after working the open mic comedy scene in Ottawa and Toronto, then headed to Los Angeles and took off in the US, his climax as one of the cast members of “SNL “in the mid-to-late 1990s, including a stint on the show where he featured the popular Weekend Update segment, a satirical version of the weekly news.

He was known for murderous impressions, including a Burt Reynolds chewing gum and former Republican presidential candidate and US Senator Bob Dole.

Comics in both the United States and Canada mourned Macdonald’s passing on social media and elsewhere.

Well-known Canadian actor and comedian Seth Rogan said: “I was a huge fan of Norm Macdonald and basically ripped off his delivery when I started acting. I’d stay awake specifically to see him on talk shows. He was the funniest guest of all time. Today we lost a comedy giant. One of the greats of all time. BREAK.”

Breslin remembers the days when Macdonald started doing wacky things at Yuk Yuk’s in Ottawa and Toronto as a shy hobbyist in the mid to late 1980s.

“Most comedians suck when they start out and suck for a while before they get good. Norm shows up for amateur night in Ottawa and he’s absolutely fantastic in five minutes. My manager told me that Norm thought he had bombed. (The manager) ran after him and said, ‘You have to go back.’ He came back the next night and killed again, ”Breslin recalls.

In fact, Macdonald was so good that he was removed from the fan list in Ottawa within three weeks, which Breslin believes is a record for his club.

“When he came to Toronto (as the headliner), I was expecting someone great, and I got it,” says Breslin. Macdonald spent about two or three years perfecting his routine at Toronto’s Yuk Yuk’s on Richmond St., Breslin says.

Deborah Knight, Macdonald’s publicist in Toronto at the time, remembers his dry wit.

“He said ‘oh, do I have to act for you too?’ It was so funny. It was a deadpan way of thinking of a publicist, ”he recalls.

“He had an observational mood that made you laugh because he said it so sincerely. He had quick, spontaneous comments that made you feel at ease even when he was teasing you, “Knight said, recalling a client who” was a lot of fun working with. “

“He was humble and a ruckus to be around. He always had a joke to make you laugh, ”recalls Knight.

Breslin remembers spending time with Macdonald in Aspen, Colorado, around the time of the 9/11 attacks. Macdonald appeared at a comedy festival in town.

“He did such a brilliant set as I have never seen it. His full 45 minutes were on one topic: fear. Fear of politics, fear of his body and his mortality, ”says Breslin, remembering the nervous part.

One of his most popular roles in "SNL" he was hosting the Weekend Update, a satirical version of the weekly news.  He appears here on the set of SNL in a 2012 segment of The Comedy Awards with Colin Quinn and Chevy Chase.

During his time on Weekend Update, Macdonald abandoned lines that were very sharp and close to the line. After OJ Simpson’s acquittal, Macdonald said: “Well, it’s official. Murder is legal in the state of California. “

Shortly after, he missed his Weekend Update concert and was fired from “SNL” entirely. Some blame NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer, who was a friend of OJ Simpson, for Macdonald’s fate on the show.

“What you want from a comic is honesty because you can’t get that from anyone else,” says Breslin of the controversy.

Perhaps it is a sign of irony that one of the Macdonald most famous standup routines It was about his uncle’s cancer treatment, and a sign of his scathing wit that he crushed the cliche of cancer as a battle, or the notion of “losing” to the disease.

Todd Van Allen, an Ottawa comedian and voice actor, was present during Macdonald’s early open mic days. So, as always, Macdonald’s material was “dry, witty, well thought out,” and often silly, says Van Allen.

His delivery, his choice of words. He was always concise and in his own style. We will never hear from anyone like this again, which makes their passing that much sadder. “


Leave a Comment