Comic with­out a cause

Norm Mac­don­ald’s standup is of­ten skewed, fa­tal­is­tic and filled with wild ex­ag­ger­a­tions

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - SPOTLIGHT - By Phillip Valys

On one of the fi­nal episodes of “The Late Show With David Let­ter­man” two years ago, co­me­dian Norm Mac­don­ald, sport­ing a suit and sharp red tie, fin­ished his standup set with a glow­ing tribute to the leg­endary host. “Mr. Let­ter­man is not for the mawk­ish, and he has no truck for the sen­ti­men­tal,” Mac­don­ald told the au­di­ence, rais­ing his hand briefly to help main­tain com­po­sure. “If some­thing is true, it is not sen­ti­men­tal. And I say in truth: I love you.”

Then Mac­don­ald cried. And Let­ter­man hugged him.

It was a rare mo­ment of gra­cious­ness from a co­me­dian whose standup is of­ten skewed, fa­tal­is­tic and filled with out­landish ex­ag­ger­a­tions. Like Let­ter­man, Mac­don­ald has “no truck” for the sen­ti­men­tal, ei­ther: His com­edy has a bum­bling, bone-dry ca­dence that lulls and mis­leads be­fore turn­ing into a sharply caus­tic punch­line. Still, on the Sea­son 3 pre­miere of his spo­radic web se­ries “Norm Mac­don­ald Live” on July 25, Mac­Don­ald re­united with Let­ter­man for an hour­long in­ter­view, and couldn’t help but sound sen­ti­men­tal again.

The wist­ful con­ver­sa­tion touched on the state of late-night tele­vi­sion and old men­tors such as Johnny Carson. “Why don’t you get one of those big ‘Char­lie Rose’ desks and get back on the air?” Mac­don­ald asked Let­ter­man, who laughed but, of course, de­clined.

“I don’t think I con­vinced him,” Mac­don­ald says, speaking from a San Jose, Calif., air­port be­tween bites of ham­burger steak.

Reached by phone ahead of his two per­for­mances on Satur­day at the Casino at Da­nia Beach, Mac­don­ald sounds giddy when re­flect­ing on Let­ter­man’s en­dur­ing wit. “Norm Mac­don­ald Live,” his pod­cast-turned-stream­ing video show, also tries to sim­u­late Let­ter- Co­me­dian Norm Mac­don­ald will per­form two shows on Satur­day at the Casino at Da­nia Beach. man’s loose, cheeky play­ful­ness.

“It was fan­tas­tic to shoot the crap with Let­ter­man,” Mac­don­ald re­calls of his show, which launched in 2013. “Our en­tire re­la­tion­ship has been on cam­era. He’s very quiet off-cam­era, like Howard Stern. Both those guys are more real on-cam­era than they are when the cam­eras aren’t rolling.”

The se­ries’ re­turn comes at a pro­lific time for the comic, who will also co-star on Seth MacFar­lane’s new sci­ence-fic­tion par­ody se­ries “The Orville,” pre­mier­ing Sept. 10 on Fox. But Mac­don­ald’s cur­rent fix­a­tion is his web se­ries: This sea­son on the show (new episodes will ap­pear Tues­days on YouTube), he will in­ter­view Cait­lyn Jen­ner, Mike Tyson and fel­low Cana­dian icon Jim Car­rey, who “could’ve been the great­est im­pres­sion­ist in the world if he didn’t have an act­ing ca­reer,” Mac­don­ald quips.

But there’s one guy he hoped to get: the re­cently paroled O.J. Simp­son, a name in­ter­twined with Mac­don­ald’s ca­reer 20 years ago on “Satur­day Night Live,” when he rou­tinely feasted on the dis­graced foot­ball star’s trial from the “Weekend Up­date” desk. (Mac­don­ald ap­peared on “SNL” from 1994 to 1997.)

The first topic of con­ver­sa­tion? Mac­don­ald wanted to tell Simp­son, due for re­lease Oct. 1, that he prob­a­bly wasn’t guilty of mur­der. He says he be­lieves Simp­son’s son Jason, who shares his father’s DNA, mur­dered Ni­cole Brown Simp­son and her friend Ron­ald Gold­man (a con­spir­acy the­ory de­bunked in sev­eral doc­u­men­taries and news re­ports). Af­ter ap­proach­ing Simp­son’s lawyer to sched­ule an in­ter­view, Mac­don­ald says things started off promis­ing.

“At first, his lawyer was like, ‘Oh, sure, yeah, he’ll do it.’ But he didn’t know who I was,” Mac­don­ald re­calls. “And then the lawyer came back and said that O.J. didn’t want to do it be­cause I was ‘too tough’ on him on ‘SNL.’ I’ve also been try­ing to get Robert Blake to do [the show]. I re­ally loved ‘Baretta.’ When Blake was up for mur­der, I re­al­ized why black guys liked it when O.J. got off. I wanted Robert Blake to get off be­cause I liked ‘Baretta.’ ”

What would he have asked Simp­son if he granted the in­ter­view? Mac­don­ald pauses for a beat.

“I’d ask him if the nine years in prison hurt his golf game, you know?” he says.

The wise­crack should sound fa­mil­iar to long­time fans of Mac­don­ald, who rea­sons that he was fired from “Weekend Up­date” for lob­bing too many O.J. zingers by then-NBC head Don Ohlmeyer, one of Simp­son’s close friends. Mac­don­ald says he was asked to re­call that be­hind-the-scenes drama by pub­lish­ers for his 2016 mem­oir, “Based on a True Story.” He did not. The “mem­oir” is ac­tu­ally fic­tion, a self-loathing col­lec­tion of ab­surd sto­ries about the com­edy pro­fes­sion that Mac­don­ald cre­ated when he re­al­ized that fan­tasy was more fun than his per­sonal life.

“[The pub­lisher] wanted me to write a mem­oir, and they wanted to know about what I do back­stage, but back­stage is bor­ing,” Mac­don­ald says. “It’s just eat­ing a sand­wich and try­ing to fig­ure out what you’re go­ing to say on­stage. Three hun­dred pages is a lot of pages. Peo­ple who read my ac­tual mem­oir would be dis­ap­pointed. My life would be five pages. Maybe six. It would be a pam­phlet.”

Other than his show, the clos­est Mac­don­ald comes to sin­cer­ity these days is his standup. On his 2017 Net­flix special “Hitler’s Dog, Gos­sip & Trick­ery,” he’s more self­dep­re­cat­ing than ever, com­par­ing him­self to “some cheap ma­gi­cian” who says “noth­ing of sub­stance.” Over the phone, Mac­don­ald also down­plays his im­por­tance to com­edy.

“I did 20 dif­fer­ent sets, and that was my worst one,” Mac­don­ald dead­pans. “There’s so many spe­cials now, it’s kind of lost its special-ness. There’s one a week on Net­flix. I just think to my­self, ‘Richard Pryor is the best and he only did three, and the third one wasn’t even that good. I’d be happy to hit just one home run.”

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