"I don't speak French. My father would never let me learn it because the English and the French don't like each other. So I took Latin in school instead of French. It didn't make much sense because Quebec City, where I lived, was virtually 99 percent French and zero percent ancient Roman."
– Norm Macdonald
Guy MacPherson: Hey, it's Guy MacPherson calling from Vancouver.
Norm Macdonald: Yeah, how you doing?
GM: Good. I can't really hear you but...
NM: [much louder] You can't hear me?
GM: Oh, that's better.
NM: Yeah, I lost my phone. I'm on my speaker-phone. I paged my phone but I guess it ran out.
GM: Don't you hate that?
NM: It's the worst.
GM: I'm constantly paging my phone. I miss half my phone calls because I can't find it.
NM: Yeah, because if it runs out of batteries, like, it doesn't page anymore.
NM: So it's somewhere. I'll talk real loud.
GM: I haven't seen you around in ages. Where have you been?
NM: I've been in the United States.
GM: Yeah. I mean...
NM: Oh, you mean on the TV.
GM: Yeah, TV.
NM: I don't know, man. I don't know. I'm no good at it.
GM: You're great at it.
NM: That's nice. I like doing standup, though, you know, so I've kind of rededicated myself to standup. And I'm just going to wait until I figure out something to do.
GM: I guess that's how you got your start originally, right?
NM: Yeah. And that's what I'm best at and that's what I like the most.
GM: You say you're best at standup, and I agree you're great at it, but you're great at writing, too, since you got jobs in the States originally through writing.
NM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm a good writer. That comes from standup. All my standup's just written. It's not really much performance.
GM: I read where you said not every comic's like Robin Williams, who just gets out there and riffs.
NM: That's true, yeah. I can't riff.
GM: You can on the talk shows when I see you.
NM: Yeah, I'm good at talk shows for some reason. But that's because usually the guy's so good.
GM: The host?
NM: Yeah. Generally I just do Letterman, you know, because I think he's the best. He's the funniest guy. You gotta keep up with him, you know?
GM: And they set you up nicely.
NM: Other guys set you up better but it's kinda flatter because it's just you. Letterman is, like, funnier than you so you gotta, like, be kinda at the top of your game because he'll say something funnier than you and then you have to try and say something funnier back.
GM: You're so self-deprecating. Do you ever come off those shows and go, 'Aw, I sucked.' Do you ever just question yourself right after when you come off?
NM: Oh, yeah, yeah. Most of the time.
GM: But the audience loves it.
NM: Yeah, they have very low expectations, though, you know?
GM: There you go again!
NM: I'm audience-deprecating as well as self-deprecating.
GM: Yeah, you deprecate lots of people.
GM: Now that you've rededicated yourself to standup, are you constantly writing new material?
NM: Yeah, I'm always writing. When I started doing standup, I wasn't doing it right, I realized.
GM: How were you doing it?
NM: I guess I was just trying to do stuff that would please the audience, you know? I was sort of, uh, aiming towards the audience.
GM: (sarcastically) Yeah, you don't want to please the audience.
NM: (laughs) You want to please them as a byproduct, but you don't want to write with that in mind, you know what I mean?
GM: Because then you're just going for the cheap laugh?
NM: Yeah, you're not doing stuff you think is funny; you're doing stuff you hope that the audience thinks is funny, sort of, you know? I talked to Sam Kinison a lot when he was alive and he kinda changed my attitude about standup. He was saying, like, "You can talk about anything you want on stage in standup, so you should talk about the things that you find the most interesting." So he goes, "If you're telling me you find, like, owning a dog interesting or losing your luggage at the airport interesting, then go ahead. But if you find other stuff more interesting, you should really focus on that."
GM: Because the audience will see that it's something you actually care about?
NM: Yeah, yeah. And the audience doesn't really care if you lose your bags at the airport, you know, so much. And so then I started thinking, like what are people really interested in, and then what am I really interested in? And I realized what it was. Mostly.
GM: And what is it?
NM: Well, I think mostly, at least what obsesses me most of the time is first of all, death or disease, and then probably sex. And beyond that everything else is sort of trivial compared to that, you know? Like, if somebody dies or if you get a terrible disease, it's like that's what's always in your head.
GM: Wasn't it you who made the joke about Cal Ripken's Disease?
NM: Ha-ha, that was terrible.
GM: But I, too, like you, am kind of obsessed with death and fearing every little thing that's going to be some terrible disease with me.
NM: Yeah, especially when you have a child. I remember when I had my child, I was like, "God, now I have to live long enough for him to grow up." It's not just yourself anymore. I remember seeing this movie and it was the scariest movie I ever saw and I had just had my kid. It was called My Life with Michael Keaton. It was this nightmare movie where this guy, Michael Keaton, his wife is pregnant and then the doctor tells him he only has a month to live. So he's not going to see his child born. So he makes a video of his life. It was the worst. And then he kept trying to get cures, but he just dies at the end. I had to walk out of the theatre because it was like my worst fear. Much more scary than King Kong.
GM: Those movies just depress me. I can't even go to them. Whenever it's a movie about a disease, I can't see it.
NM: I was reading this thing about movie titles, you know, and how they're bad. Like The Great Santini was a bad title because people thought it would be about a magician, so they didn't show up and everything. But they said the worst title ever was this movie with Julia Roberts and Macaulay Culkin. It was called Dying Young. (laughs) People didn't care to see it.
GM: Yeah, why would you go see that? So how disciplined a writer are you?
NM: I can't write standup from scratch. But what I do is I write movies and stories and stuff all day. I can write structure and plot, you know, of stuff. So that part is easy. That's just like a craft, you know? It's just like learning haiku or something, you know, you just learn it and it's easy. You can't write funny stuff like that. But anyways, while I'm writing, though, at least my mind's working and I'll think of ideas.
GM: Then you'll come up with stuff that you can't use in your script?
NM: Yeah. But mostly I get it just from when I'm ruminating late at night trying to get to sleep. You're trying to sleep and all these crazy thoughts are going through your head. So then I scribble stuff down then. That's usually when I write.
GM: Last night as I was lying in bed, I thought of a few questions to ask you, but I didn't have my notepad and I didn't want to turn on the light, so I've forgotten them now.
NM: (chuckles) My buddy told me he used to get, like, really stoned, you know? He was a comedian. He said, "I always think of this really funny stuff, you know, and the next day I forget it all." So he had this plan, like he was stoned he was going to write it down, you know? He was really stoned and he wrote it down on this piece of paper and he said the next day when he read the piece of paper, on the piece of paper it said, "That's really funny."
GM: (laughs) That is really funny, ironically.
GM: When you were doing the fake news, did you write most of it yourself or were there writers?
NM: No, I wrote it virtually myself, but there was a guy that sort of served as my editor. There was this really brilliant guy at Saturday Night Live named Jim Downey and he was fantastic, that guy.
GM: The other day I listened to the monologue that you did when you came back to host after being fired. I couldn't believe that they let you say that the show blows.
NM: No, they hated me, man.
GM: Did you have to clear that with anyone before you went on?
NM: Well, they write monologues generally for the hosts. But when I was on the show, I wrote virtually everything I was ever in all by myself. I never did anything that I didn't write, you know? So I was like, "Nah, I'll write it." And then Lorne [Michaels] goes, "Just write whatever you want." But the writers weren't happy at all. (laughs) And they really hated me.
GM: But it was hilarious. And true, too. And this was a few years ago when it didn't even blow as much as it does now.
NM: (laughs) I wouldn't say that.
GM: I just did. Do you still watch it?
NM: Actually, I watch it all the time because I've watched it ever since I was a kid, you know? Only lately am I beginning to kinda not understand it. I mean, maybe I'm too old or something, but I kinda don't understand the references. They're doing parodies of MTV shows. And there's a lot of singing and dancing lately, I've noticed, on the show. But I don't know who watches it.
GM: Teenagers, maybe?
NM: My son's, like... Well, he's only 12. He doesn't know anything about it. I don't know.
GM: What's wrong with it? I know they have a cast of about a hundred.
NM: Yeah, I don't like big casts. Obviously the original cast was only six or seven guys. Then you get to know them, you know?
GM: And now you don't know who any of them are.
NM: It's really hard to identify them, yeah.
GM: Have you performed in Vancouver before?
NM: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
NM: I performed at the Yuk Yuk's they used to have in Vancouver. I did that one but they wouldn't let me do the other one. What's the other one?
NM: No, there was another one.
GM: Oh, Punchlines.
NM: Yeah, Punchlines.
GM: They're not around anymore, but those guys were arch-enemies.
NM: So Mark [Breslin] would only let you play Yuks Yuk's.
GM: So you were a Yuks comic in Canada.
GM: For how many years?
NM: Like, four years, probably.
GM: Do you spend much time in Canada now?
NM: No, I never spend any time there. Because my mom, who's my only living relative, lives in Ottawa, which is the most boring place ever. It's just easier for me to fly her here [to L.A.] then to go and live in a suburb of Ottawa. (laughs)
GM: Did you grow up in Ottawa?
NM: No, I grew up in Quebec City.
GM: Do you speak French?
NM: No, I don't speak French. My father would never let me learn it (laughs) because the English and the French don't like each other. So I took Latin in school instead of French. (laughs)
GM: That's helpful.
NM: Yeah, it didn't make much sense because Quebec City, where I lived, was virtually 99 percent French and zero percent ancient Roman.
NM: But I took Latin anyway. It's good to take Latin.
GM: I guess, yeah. It helps you when people are being pretentious and throwing out Latin phrases.
GM: Your brother [CBC news reporter Neil MacDonald] is in Canada, isn't he?
NM: Yeah. He's in the States now.
GM: You mean temporarily?
NM: No, he's working in Canada but he's covering, like, Washington.
GM: Do you see him much? Are you close?
NM: Yeah, I don't see him much because we're on opposite ends but I e-mail him a lot.
GM: Every time I see him on the news I announce to everyone in the room, "Hey, that's Norm MacDonald's brother!"
GM: And if they didn't know already, they're blown away by that fact.
NM: Yeah, he's a good guy. I'm glad he's in Washington because he always likes to go to wars. And he has kids now and stuff. He doesn't really like it [being in Washington] because, you know, he just stands in front of the White House and talks and he doesn't do anything. But I'm glad that he's safe there, you know?
GM: Is he older or younger?
NM: He's older than me.
GM: I know you've said you'd never do a "mother-fucking reality show", but I was watching The Bachelor last night and I was thinking how great it would be if you were the Bachelor.
GM: That would be so funny. I think you should consider that.
NM: (laughs) No, they're the enemy to me. I like scripted things. I watch TV and movies for fantasy, you know, not for reality. I don't really understand that.
GM: What kind of shows do you watch?
NM: There's nothing. Every morning I watch the British [The] Office.
GM: It's on in the morning?
NM: No, I have a DVD of it.
GM: And that's your morning ritual?
NM: Yeah. I love Ricky Gervais. He makes me laugh every time. I just love that show so much. So I watch that. It's cool now with DVD's so I can watch The Simpsons and stuff. All the shows that I never watched. Even Seinfeld when it was on, I think only watched, like, nine episodes. I never understood appointment TV. I never know what day it is, you know what I mean?
GM: Yeah. Now I understand why they made the DVD's of Seinfeld. Because it's running twelve times a day, why do you need to buy the DVD? But it's for people like you!
GM: You're playing this great new casino we have here.
NM: Yeah, yeah. Is that the government?
GM: I don't know. But it's amazing. It's like Vegas north.
GM: I know you're a big poker player.
NM: I like to play poker, yeah.
GM: How often do you play?
NM: I started playing when I was young. But now I mostly play internet poker.
GM: With money?
NM: Yeah. It's real money. It's legal. It's sort of muddled but I think it's legal.
GM: Is it about the same as if you were in the room with actual players?
NM: It's much faster. Like I can play five or six games at once, you know? So I can play about 800 hands a day whereas in a casino I could only play maybe 100.
GM: You must be pretty good.
NM: Yeah, I'm good. I'm good at poker.
GM: Are you ahead?
NM: In my life?
NM: Oh, I'm way, way ahead.
GM: You're like a pro?
NM: No, I'm not a pro because a pro only makes his living from it. I'm an amateur.
GM: What was your biggest payday?
NM: You mean like in a single night?
GM: Sure. Like in a single game or tournament.
NM: I hit an internet tournament for I think it was 175 or something like that.
GM: Wow. Thousand, you're talking.
NM: Yeah, but I mean that's, you know, very rare.
GM: Yeah. Because if you had said 175 dollars, I wouldn't have been that impressed because I won two hundred the other night.
NM: Oh, you did? In what, a tournament?
GM: No, just with friends.
NM: Oh, I see. I don't really like tournaments. I mean, they're very, very depressing. Because you can play for four hours and not get in the money, you know? And the luck it takes to get a long way in a tournament, if you had that same luck at a regular game you'd make way more money. So that's the way I look at it.
GM: When I said 200, you understand that was dollars, not 200 thousand.
NM: Two-hundred dollars is great!
GM: I know you're an American citizen now. Are you also still Canadian?
NM: I'm not an American citizen. I'm a Canadian citizen. I just keep renewing my green card.
GM: I'd read that you had become an American.
NM: Oh, no. I don't want to be American.
GM: You were a big fan of [Ronald] Reagan and [Bob] Dole. What about George W. [Bush]?
NM: Uh, well, I don't know about him. I don't know. I mean, I'm just confused about that whole thing. I'm not sure what's right or wrong on that. I'm just lost on that war with Iraq issue. I don't understand if it's good or not.
GM: So you're withholding judgment.
NM: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I wish there was another president, a different president engaging the war, since we're in the war because I don't think Bush did a very good job with it. The war itself, you know, if it works it was worth it. But I don't know if it's going to work, so I don't know.
GM: So you don't get to vote down there.
NM: No, I don't get to vote. I can vote in Canadian elections.
GM: And do you?
NM: No, I don't. (laughs)
GM: Because there's one on Monday, you know that?
NM: There is? I figured since I never did when I was in Canada... I never voted because I don't want to make a mistake. I'm so uninformed that I don't want that on my hands, you know?
GM: How is your stage persona or your screen persona different from the real Norm?
NM: Well, my stage persona's exactly the same. And then my screen persona's like nothing at all. I don't know what I'm doing when I'm doing that.
GM: You're still "Norm MacDonald" when you're on screen, I think. You're still that guy. You're not really getting lost in other characters.
NM: No, I don't get lost in it, but, like, I say lines that I would never say in real life. I'm just talking about sitcoms, because they have writers and they tell you what to say.
GM: But you kind of make them your own.
NM: Yeah, I try my best. (laughs) Like, on Saturday Night Live it was great because I got to write my own stuff, so then that was just my voice.
GM: Even in the sketches?
NM: Yeah. In virtually every sketch except when they'd put me in a small role. But normally I wrote all my own sketches.
GM: Were you happy with your sitcom experience?
NM: Well, I'm not really a sitcom actor, you know. So I would say no. (laughs) I liked the second one the best. But no one ever watched it. It never aired, hardly. It was a show on Fox called A Minute With Stan Hooper. And I liked that one. That one only lasted, like, half a season. The first one, which I didn't care for that much, lasted like three years. I didn't care for that one that much.
GM: So no sitcoms in your future?
NM: Uh, well, I'm talking to HBO and stuff. They want to do something with me. There's no restrictions and they leave you alone. They just let you do it and they don't bother you and stuff.
GM: And you have a movie coming up.
NM: I wrote a movie that... Oh shit, look at that. I'm telling you what a good poker player I am and I just made a terrible mistake.
GM: Oh, I'm sorry to distract you.
NM: No, no, it wasn't you. It was me. But what were you asking? Oh yeah, I wrote a movie. I'm trying to write movies like.... Because I hate being the lead in the movie. And ever since the start, I tried to get them to let me write movies where I'd be a side character. Because I can't do fall in love with a girl and that stuff. I don't know what I'm doing. So I always tried to get them to just let me just write a movie and be a side character in it and they always wanted me to be the star. And then I proved them wrong on that count.
GM: You like to be the wise-ass friend or something?
NM: Yeah, because it's really hard to be a star because you have to be a nice guy and then fall in love, or you have to be a bad guy and then turn out to be a nice guy and fall in love with a girl and all this crazy stuff that has nothing to do with comedy. In the old days, they would just have a nominal leading man as the star of the movie, which would just be some guy, and then they'd have, like, Abbott & Costello or the Marx Brothers, like, hanging around.
GM: Zeppo was the nominal star.
NM: Yeah, yeah. They never had love stories with Abbott & Costello or guys like that.
GM: I guess these are Hollywood-type movies where everything has to be a certain formula. If you were to go and just make an independent film, you could do it any way you wanted.
NM: Yeah, that's the way to do it. But the big problem with comedy in TV or movies is that they have this crazy thing where you gotta be likeable, you know? Like that's much more important to them than being funny. You gotta be likeable, you know? And I was always like, well, if someone's funny, you like them. And likeable guys you kinda don't like. Sort of. You know what I mean?
GM: That's the case with the guy that you work with a lot, Rob Schneider. The reason I like Rob Schneider is because he's that jerk. But they put him in movies and he's got to be this sweet, nice guy and it just doesn't work.
NM: I know. I never liked that. I always liked Steve Martin when he was crazy. Because dramatic actors know how to be likeable and stuff. To me, if you've got a guy like Steve Martin or Jim Carrey or something, who are unbelievably funny, I don't know why they'd want to be dramatic actors when they have no chance. They're completely outclassed by actual dramatic actors. How many funny comedy actors are there? There's like a million great dramatic actors. I don't know why they'd want to switch. I guess to get respect or something, I don't know.
GM: So what is the movie you've just written?
NM: It's called Court Appointed Attorney. I'm writing the final polish on it.
GM: You're in one that's coming out soon, aren't you?
NM: No, I'm not in a movie.
GM: The one with the big bushy moustache you grew.
NM: Oh! (laughs) Oh, no, no, I didn't get into that movie. I grew a goddamned bushy moustache for it and then the director said, 'Why'd you grow that bushy moustache?' And I was like, 'What? It's cool, man. It'll be funny for the character.' And then she said, 'Nah, nah, you can't have a moustache.' And then I was like, 'Aw, oh well. All right.' And then I didn't want to do it anymore. (laughs)
GM: So you didn't even do it?
NM: It wouldn't have been funny without the moustache.
GM: What was the movie?
NM: What was it called? I don't know. I can't remember. Something with Michelle Pfeiffer in it. I was going to be Michelle Pfeiffer's husband. That's why I wanted to do it. It would have been cool.
GM: Do you play casinos so you can get in some poker, or do you just play on-line?
NM: No, I like playing poker at casinos. I quit gambling, you know? I used to just do casinos and then blow all my money, you know? So I decided to quit gambling. So now I just play poker.
GM: Isn't that gambling?
NM: No, that's not gambling. It's a game of skill, you know? Gambling would be like craps or sports betting where you can't win, you know. It's unbeatable because you're playing a casino and a casino can't lose. So by default, you lose. Whereas with poker you're just playing against other players. So if you're better than the other players, you win.
GM: Providing you get the cards.
NM: No, it doesn't matter. The cards don't matter. Because everybody gets the same cards. It's just whoever's better will win. Maybe not that night but eventually. I started with backgammon when I was a child.
GM: For money?
NM: Yeah. I was a very good backgammon player. And then backgammon dried up.
GM: That whole backgammon craze?
NM: Well, there was a kind of.
GM: (laughing) Was there?
NM: You could get, like, big money games. That's probably actually the best gambling game but that dried up and all the backgammon players moved to poker because it's the same game - it's just all math, you know?
GM: You play Hold 'em?
NM: I play limit Hold 'em. I should have learned no-limit, but I learned limit like 25 years ago, so that's what I know how to do. But I play no-limit on the computer. It's pretty easy now. It used to be tough, you know, but now everybody plays so it's very easy.
GM: Why is it easier if everybody plays?
NM: When I started playing nobody played poker, you know? So the people that played were all great poker players. And now everyone plays. I used to go to the card rooms in L.A. and there'd probably be like 100 guys there and they were all really good. I was probably the worst player. And now there are 10,000 guys there. So now it's relatively simple. Even if you're a mediocre player you can win... All you're asking me about is gambling!
GM: I just got to that! What else do you want to talk about?
NM: I don't know, man. I love Canada.
GM: And yet you live in the States.
NM: Yeah, yeah, I mean I wish, you know? Now I know there's more of, like, an industry there. Like, I was happy that Brent Butt got that show. Because he's a really funny guy. But there wasn't that opportunity when I was there. I remember Mike McDonald had one short-lived series, but that was about it. Otherwise there was nothing to do. But it was great with standup. It was way, way better with standup than in the States. Like, I think the standups are generally much better in Canada. Because, like, when I was in Canada, none of us had any ambition to movies or TV because there were no movies or television. So it was all standup and we just assumed we'd be standups for our whole lives and that was what was fun. And then when I came to the States, I realized, whoa, they don't take their standup very seriously here because they're just trying to do something other than standup and using standup as, like, a springboard to something else that they're generally not as good at.
GM: They're all actors trying to get more stage time.
NM: Yeah, a lot of handsome guys on stage.
GM: Comedy doesn't need handsome guys.
NM: That's what I try to tell people! Whenever I try to cast a show, I'm like, 'Enough with these handsome fucking people.'
GM: It's distracting seeing them.
NM: I know. I just resent them.
GM: And young, too, right?
NM: Young. Handsome. Because what young, handsome person is funny? I remember on Saturday Night Live hosts would come in. You know, like handsome hosts. They'd be dramatic actors generally. And the publicist would always be like, 'This is a big chance for this guy because he's really a funny guy and people don't know it. He's hilarious!' And then he'd just suck, you know? And then I realized a very important thing: You know how girls always say they like a guy with a sense of humour? I think what they do is they just laugh at whatever a handsome guy says. So the handsome guys are saying these idiotic jokes and the girls are giggling and laughing. They're going to think Mel Gibson is funnier than Shemp.
GM: Because the ugly guy will say something genuinely funny and they'll just be like, 'Whatever.'
NM: Yeah, right. 'Whatever.' I remember when I was a kid the guys who were always getting the big laughs were always like these charming funny guys, and then I'd say something that I thought was funny and they'd go, 'You're weird!'
GM: (laughs) Well, they were right on that count, too.
NM: That's true. (laughs)
GM: I remember you on Letterman a few years ago talking about visiting Victoria.
NM: Yes, I stayed at a bed and breakfast there!
GM: That's my hometown.
NM: That's your hometown?
NM: Oh my God, I love Victoria. I lived there for about two years.
GM: You did? At what stage in your life?
NM: I think I was like 15. In James Bay. I lived at the James Bay Inn.
GM: What is a 15-year-old doing living in a hotel? Oh, you quit school at 15, right? And then you just moved out to Victoria on your own?
NM: Yeah, I left school when I was young.
GM: And you were a mailman or something?
NM: A mailman?! Well, I did work in the post office, but not a mailman. Yeah, man, you know when those guys go nuts and stuff, I can understand it. It's crazy. They push you so hard, it's insane. You're sorting mail at a super-fast speed, you know? I didn't do it long; I did it for about six weeks. Because it was like Christmas rush so they just hire a bunch of guys. And it's, like, mind-numbing. It's so fast and the bosses are like, 'Come on, hurry up, hurry up!' I wouldn't kill the guy or anything, but I could see how somebody less mentally stable than I would. Mostly when I was in Victoria I did manual labour jobs and stuff. And I went up island a lot, too. So you were right in Victoria?
NM: It's so beautiful, oh my God.
GM: When was the last time you were here in Vancouver?
NM: I filmed a horrible movie there, like six years ago or something like that.
GM: Which movie?
NM: It was called... What did they end up calling it? Screwed. [Dave] Chappelle was in it.
GM: And Sarah Silverman was in it?
NM: Yeah. And Brent Butt was in it. That was a tremendously bad movie. Although the script was fantastic, but just me and Chappelle were so terrible.
GM: You see this a lot – a great script that turns into a terrible movie. Is it really a director's medium, like they say, where they can screw up a good script?
NM: Well, that movie in particular was my fault. Because this guy wanted me to do a movie and I found this movie that was really hilarious. And I said to the guy, "You should do this movie. Not with me, but you should do this movie." Then he said, "Yeah, yeah, you wanna do it?" And I go, "No, no, I don't want to do it. Because I think it's written for two old black guys." Like Fred Sanford and his buddy. And he said, "No, no, it'll be great." So they talked me into it but I knew it was wrong-headed [because] when I read the movie I was like, "No, this is two old black guys; this isn't me and Chappelle." Then when I was talking to the guys who wrote it, it turned out it was written for two old black guys. But nobody wants to do a movie with old people. For some reason. God only knows. I love old people in movies.
GM: I heard that when Paul Reiser went around to pitch his film with Peter Falk as his dad, they would say, "No, how about you're the father with a young kid?" They didn't want Reiser being the son.
NM: That's terrible. Imagine not wanting Peter Falk. That's crazy.
GM: Well, you know, they're thinking of the kids.
NM: Yeah, I know, but my kid, I show him old shows and he loves them, you know? I show him The Honeymooners and Get Smart! Because when I grew up, young people weren't the stars of TV shows.
GM: That's true. We're the same age. I showed my nephew, who was seven at the time, Horse Feathers starring the Marx Brothers. He loved it.
NM: Oh, that's great.
GM: The next day I woke up and he was watching it again.
NM: That's great. Yeah, my kid's favourite show, I just watch Beverly Hillbillies with him all the time. And they're all old and ugly and it's hilarious. So I think kids would still like that. It's the same with writers. They get young writers, too, in Hollywood, you know, to write which is really nuts because they're not even on camera. And obviously older writers are better than younger writers. It just makes sense. Like, novelists are all old.
GM: And they were all young once. The young people were never old.
NM: Yeah! That's a good point! I never thought of that. Yeah, you're right. But that's their thinking here. That's what's good about standup. It's just you, you're completely responsible and you can say whatever you want.
GM: You ever bomb in standup?
NM: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
GM: Even now that you're famous?
NM: Sure. Absolutely.
GM: How do you feel about that?
NM: Really, it doesn't concern me much.
GM: Because the audience is wrong?
NM: Yeah, that's the way I look at it. Because... I don't know. Like, when I did [Weekend] Update, I always thought I'll never do a save. I'll never do, like, that Johnny Carson thing where he danced after the joke didn't work. I was always like, no, I think I know more about comedy than the audience. I'm pretty certain of that. So if I did a joke and it didn't work, I'd just stare at them for five or ten seconds, you know? (laughs) And then they wouldn't like me more.
GM: And that's why you got fired.
NM: And that's why I got fired. (laughs)
GM: Did that affect you? I know you went on talk shows and made light of it, but did it get you down at all?
NM: No, it didn't affect me at all. I told Lorne [Michaels] when I got the job, I said I'm just gonna do what I wanna do and it doesn't matter to me how the audience reacts. And he was cool with that. I always think there are two ways you can deal with an audience. I hate applause, you know? That just wrecks everything. To me applause means the audience is in control. Like all you're doing is saying something they agree with. So you can go, "Pat Buchanan is a Nazi" and everybody laughs. There's nothing funny about it. And then they're in control because they're applauding. They're doing something voluntary, whereas laughter is involuntary. All they're doing is agreeing with you. You may as well be a politician or something.
GM: Although you do see it on the talk shows. With Letterman's monologue, it's laughter that turns into applause every single joke. I don't know if they're telling the audience to do that or not.
NM: Arsenio [Hall] changed all that. Because I remember the old Letterman show, you could hardly hear the audience. And it was fine. Especially watching at home, people applauding - that doesn't do you any good.
GM: And it's a time waster, too.
NM: It really is. Letterman and Leno now, audiences are hooting and hollering and they never did before. I think it was Arsenio that started that and was probably best at it, you know? And now that's what it is. It's like a circus atmosphere.
GM: And Ellen is dancing in the audience.
NM: Yeah, they're too audience friendly. On the Johnny Carson show when I grew up, you never saw the audience. You just heard them somewhere in the background.
GM: So if you bomb, it doesn't affect you.
NM: I actually find it kinda funny because comedy is sort of the unexpected. So if you go up there to make them laugh and then they don't laugh, that's kind of funny. And also it really makes me laugh if someone goes up and is really trying to make people laugh, which is kind of a noble thing, you know, and they're really trying and they fail, then the audience hates them! (laughs) They just hate their guts. They start yelling at them. It's, like, bizarre because singers don't get that. They sing and if you don't like them you just politely kind of go along with it. But you never hear people screaming and yelling if a guy's last song was not that good. And that's the other thing with standup: They can love you for twenty minutes and then if you go two minutes without a laugh they can start screaming and yelling at you. It's funny to me.
GM: I would expect that in a theatre setting like you'll be here, you won't get that. It's got to be a different crowd than in a club.
NM: (laughs) I dunno. Are you gonna be there?
GM: I'll be there, yeah.
NM: (laughs) You might see it. I don't know.
GM: Maybe I'll start it.
NM: (laughs) My standup's actually pretty rough, you know. It's not in any ways mean-spirited or anything like that. Depending on the night, I can talk about anything that interests me at the time, you know what I mean? So I can go on for twenty minutes about suicide or something, you know? And I didn't realize this, but people know you from different things, you know? Somebody could know me from some TV show and have no idea. They don't know. They could say, "He was a dog in Dr. Doolittle!", you know what I mean? I don't know what expectations they come with.
GM: Like these rap groups that have radio-friendly versions and then parents take their kids to see them.
NM: (laughs) Exactly. I always tell them to put an advisory at the box office or if they advertise. And sometimes they don't. Because I don't want kids in the audience. Although sometimes I do an absolutely clean show just for fun. And then sometimes I don't.
GM: You hear this a lot, but is working clean harder?
NM: In a sense it is. Like, if you're bad, working dirty is easier. Because if you're bad, the only laughs you're going to get are if you shock them or something like that. But I think if you're good, working clean is easier because you hit everybody and you don't offend anybody. I have a lot of respect for those guys. There's this comedian, Brian Regan, who's like the funniest guy I've ever seen and he doesn't say 'darn' hardly. And he's, like, incredible. And same with Bill Cosby and all these guys. They can elicit gasping laughter with just completely sanitized material. But on the other hand, if they're that good, the dirty material will always be funnier because it's funnier subject matter. Like, I was talking to Seinfeld and I said, "You're so great at analyzing. It's this picayune level of observation, you know, just the tiniest detail, that if you did sexually graphic stuff, your observations on it would be hysterical, you know?" And he said, "Yeah, yeah, I always think of great jokes for that but people would never accept it from me."
GM: Is that a case where he's worrying too much of what the audience thinks? Should he just go with what he wants to do? Maybe he'd find new fans.
NM: He certainly has nothing to lose. But I would love to hear him talk about his observations. His observations are so great [that] his observations on sexuality and stuff would be hysterical, too. Why limit yourself to socks?
GM: You have a few websites devoted to you.
GM: You've never done a search?
NM: No, I'm no good at the computer at all. I just know how to get onto poker. I'm putting out a comedy album and they said, "You've got to get this all over your website." And I'm like, "I don't have a website." "You gotta get one, you gotta get one." So I guess I have to get one.
GM: Just give it to these other ones. They have everything about you. They have transcripts from your appearances on talk shows, they have forums where people talk about you.
NM: That sounds creepy.
GM: When's your CD coming out?
NM: It's coming out in April.
NM: Yeah, it's gonna be great. It took me ten years to do it.
GM: And it's live, I take it.
NM: No, it's not live. It's like sketches. It's like Bob & Ray and Cheech & Chong.
GM: I love Bob & Ray.
NM: Yeah, they're my favourite. I had all this audio of them and now I'm trying to find CD's of them and I can't find them anywhere. Oh my God, they were funny.
GM: So you're acting on the CD with other people.
NM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I just got buddies of mine to do it. Like Will Ferrell did a bit with me, and Molly Shannon did a bit with me, and the sportscaster Jim Lampley did a bit with me. And different guys.
GM: Why are you against learning about computers?
NM: For some retarded reason I never thought computers would catch on. But now it's to such a point that other people are talking about it and I'm so far behind I think I would have to get a guy to teach me from scratch, you know? People are talking in such advance terms. I have my computer so that when it goes down I have to get my buddies in and then they're talking to each other. I don't know how they know it. They use all these words. I'm gonna work on it.
GM: As long as you have friends who know about them, you can just call them up.
NM: Yeah, exactly. Fortunately I don't type. I just write everything.
NM: Yeah, I never liked typing. I write everything longhand. And then I hire a kid to type it out (laughs). Because they don't want to see a movie written on a yellow legal pad.
GM: All right.
NM: Is this going to work?
NM: Are you going to be able to write something from all this nonsense?
GM: I don't think so. No, I'm an old pro at this. I'll be able to scratch something together.
NM: Feel free to make up stuff if you want.
GM: Could I? Thanks.
NM: (laughing) If it makes me sound good.
GM: No, I won't have to. It'll be good.
NM: It's not going to be like, "Seinfeld sucks!"
GM: (laughs) Yeah, but it's in Vancouver. He won't see it. Don't worry.
NM: (laughs)... You're Guy MacPherson?
GM: That's me.
NM: That's a great Canadian name.
GM: Yes, French and Scottish.
NM: So it's Ghee MacPherson.
GM: Well, no. My mom was from France but it's always been Guy.
NM: Oh, your mom was from France? So she has the cool accent.
GM: I never noticed that she had an accent because she moved here when she was 11 or 12.
NM: When I was in Quebec, the French-Canadian accent was always to me the funniest accent of all time. It's hysterical. Every show I've been on, I've gone, "Let's get a French-Canadian accent. They're the funniest accent." And you hardly ever see them. The only one I think I've seen was in, like, Slapshot. The goalie was French-Canadian.
GM: A lot of times when an American tries to do a French Canadian, it just sounds Parisian.
NM: No, I don't like the Parisian accent. It's beautiful, but it's not funny. You've never seen Slapshot?
GM: No, you know what? I haven't.
NM: Oh, my God, it's like the funniest movie ever.
GM: I own it, but I've never seen it.
NM: Oh, my God, you've got to see it. Because first of all, Paul Newman is swearing like crazy and he's a giant star. And everyone is funny in it. I think the French Canadian guy, unless he's a fantastic actor, I think he actually is French Canadian. You gotta watch Slapshot! Oh my God, you're Canadian. And you like comedy.
GM: Well, you know what? I also don't like hockey. So it might be the hockey part I'm averse to.
NM: Yeah, I understand what you mean but there's very little hockey in it.
GM: Another one that I've never seen is Spinal Tap, which I also own.
NM: Yeah, I'm not as big a fan of Spinal Tap as everybody else. It's all right but I don't think it's the greatest movie ever made.
GM: I'll eventually see both of them.
NM: Did you see Bad Santa?
NM: Did you like that?
GM: Yes, I did.
NM: Okay. That's what Slapshot's like. Paul Newman plays the same kind of character. But it's funnier than Bad Santa... That'll be good for the interview, right?
GM: (laughs) Yeah.
NM: That'll make a good article.
GM: Also, the transcripts of interviews I do with comics I have on a comedy site in Vancouver.
NM: (shouting) The entire transcript of what we just said?!
NM: Oh my God... Did I say anything bad?
The interview ended because I had to feed my baby lunch. But we kept talking. It ran to 90 minutes. Here's Norm's opinions on various other funny people:
On Lorne Elliott: "He must be old."
On Tom Green: "That guy's funny!"
On Todd Barry: "Oh, I like Todd Barry."
On Margaret Cho: "Margaret Cho's hysterical."
On Louis C.K.: "Louis C.K.'s hysterical."
On Tommy Chong: "I love Tommy Chong. Just because he got thrown in jail for smoking pot. And I always feel sorry for him. Cheech is this fucking giant star and Tommy Chong's trying to do standup."
On Derek Edwards: "Oh, I love Derek."
On Andy Kindler: "Oh, I love Andy."
On Mike MacDonald: "Did you see him when he was young; when he was starting? Holy God he was funny! And then he just made an about-... It was very strange because him and [Sam] Kinison hung out and everything and I think he became a born-again Christian or something. So all of a sudden he was wearing suits and everything and talking about how you shouldn't have violence against women and all this weird stuff. Kinison just blew up, you know, and Mike could have done the same thing. That rock 'n' roll crazy, you know?"
On Bob Newhart: "He's the nicest. He told me a hilarious thing. I was asking him, like, what makes you laugh and stuff, and he said the funniest thing that he ever heard, he said he was an accountant in Chicago and he was just walking down the street and there were two homeless guys sitting in the gutter beside each other. And he said he was just walking by and he heard one of the homeless guys saying to the other homeless guy, he said, 'When the fuck did you ever play goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens?!'"
On Doug Stanhope: "That guy's nuts! Yeah, he's hilarious. He's almost a communist. I can't believe what he says. He'll just say anything."