Pol­i­tics a non­starter for Norm Mac­don­ald

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Pa­trick Ryan

Co­me­dian has no de­sire to be a pun­dit on new Net­flix half-hour talk show

“Norm Mac­don­ald has a Show” is like ev­ery other talk show’s laid-back older brother. ❚ The no-frills Net­flix se­ries (10 episodes due Fri­day) is the brain­child of stand-up co­me­dian Norm Mac­don­ald, 58, best known for his mid-’90s stint as a “Week­end Up­date” an­chor on NBC’s “Satur­day Night Live” and a string of short-lived TV come­dies and late-night ap­pear­ances.

Sit­ting in an empty stu­dio with just a desk and re­frig­er­a­tor, Mac­don­ald wel­comes celebrity guests in­clud­ing Jane Fonda, Drew Bar­ry­more and David Let­ter­man (also an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer) for widerang­ing, half-hour con­ver­sa­tions.

“He’s ec­cen­tric, but he’s al­ways had his own voice, and I re­spect that,” says “SNL” pro­ducer Lorne Michaels, one of his guests. “He likes the part of the cur­mud­geon, but he is truly funny.”

Mac­don­ald drew flak this week for his con­tro­ver­sial com­ments in The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter on the #MeToo move­ment and for his de­fense of dis­graced co­me­di­ans

Roseanne Barr and Louis CK. He chat­ted with USA TO­DAY about those topics and why he re­fuses to do po­lit­i­cal com­edy.

Ques­tion: Be­fore this Net­flix se­ries, you had three sea­sons of your pod­cast, “Norm Mac­don­ald Live,” in which you had con­ver­sa­tions with other co­me­di­ans and ac­tors. How do you typ­i­cally pre­pare for an episode?

Norm Mac­don­ald: I don’t do any re­search. Some­times af­ter, I go, “Dang, I should’ve talked about this or that.” But I just want it to be

like a (half )-hour slice of two peo­ple talk­ing rather than some­thing with any agenda. And we have noth­ing on the show that’s time-stamped – we even have guests with Net­flix shows on the air, but we didn’t plug any­thing. That’s why we didn’t want any top­i­cal jokes, be­cause we didn’t want any­thing that couldn’t live on in the Net­flix li­brary for­ever.

Q: Who was the guest that sur­prised you most?

Mac­don­ald: I loved hav­ing Judge Judy, be­cause she’s my fa­vorite per­son ever. I thought I was the only one who loved her, but then she came to the show, and it turns out that ev­ery­one in the world loves her. Ev­ery­one on the staff loved her; some­one’s 9-year-old kid loved her, be­cause she’s like a lit­tle doll. She’s like a per­fect, minia­ture judge. I watch “Judge Judy” ev­ery day. That’s where I get all my knowl­edge of ju­rispru­dence. Es­pe­cially these days, when we’re talk­ing about (pres­i­den­tial) im­peach­ment, I need Judge Judy to ex­plain it to me.

Q: Look­ing back at your past sit­coms “The Norm Show” and “A Minute with Stan Hooper,” why do you think they didn’t suc­ceed?

Mac­don­ald: Very few sit­coms ever work, and I’m not an ac­tor – I don’t know how to act. So when I’m put in a show where I not only have to act but be the star of the en­tire show, there’s no hope. When­ever I did those sit­coms, I’d be like, “Let me just be a side char­ac­ter or not in it at all. Let me just write it for some­one.” That’s why they don’t work, be­cause I’m do­ing a job that I’m not equipped to do. So that’s why this (Net­flix) show is good, be­cause this is about as close to stand-up as you can get, just talk­ing to some­one with­out a script, which is what I’m good at. Good at? I’m the best at it. (Laughs.)

Q: You choose not to get po­lit­i­cal in your com­edy. Why?

Mac­don­ald: It’s im­por­tant for me not to do pol­i­tics, mostly so (the ma­te­rial can be) time­less. But I’m also fa­tigued by the (news cy­cle). I never wanted to be a po­lit­i­cal pun­dit. When I grew up, there were talk-show hosts like Johnny Car­son, who did his show dur­ing Viet­nam and civil rights, and he never men­tioned them.

Jon Ste­wart was fan­tas­tic; he was bril­liant. But an un­in­tended con­se­quence of Jon Ste­wart is that ev­ery talk- show host sud­denly had to be­come a pun­dit. As a viewer of tele­vi­sion my­self, I am fa­tigued by pol­i­tics, I’m fa­tigued by Don­ald Trump, I’m fa­tigued by ev­ery­one who hates him, every­body who loves him. I just want to have a show where it’s just two idiots talk­ing about in­con­se­quen­tial non­sense.

Q: So as the cul­ture gets more po­lit­i­cally cor­rect, do you be­lieve that’s help­ing or hurt­ing com­edy?

Mac­don­ald: Well, if it gets too po­lit­i­cally cor­rect, then it’s harm­ing com­edy. And also, the idea that we should be­lieve a per­son be­cause a per­son is of a cer­tain gen­der is lu­di­crous. It used to be if 50 peo­ple said that a per­son was guilty, then the pub­lic said that per­son was guilty. Then it went all the way down to if one per­son says a per­son’s guilty, that’s enough. While I think the #MeToo move­ment is a great thing in a macro sense and will lead to a much bet­ter world, I don’t want any­one to be badly hurt that’s in­no­cent in the process of get­ting there. And I could see it end­ing with an in­no­cent, prom­i­nent per­son blow­ing their brains out one day.


Norm Mac­don­ald de­scribes his Net­flix talk show “Norm Mac­don­ald has a Show” as two guys talk­ing with­out a script.


Judge Judy is among Norm Mac­don­ald’s fa­vorite guests on his con­ver­sa­tional new show.

Norm Mac­don­ald is best known for “Satur­day Night Live.”

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