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And Now, The Fake News

Norm MacDonald talks about Death, etc.

Actor, writer, and comedian Norm Macdonald, best known for his five-year stint as Weekend Update anchor on Saturday Night Live, will perform his standup routine at the Seneca Niagara Casino’s Events Center this Saturday, September 3.

Over more than two decades in comedy Macdonald has dabbled in all forms of funny, leaving his mark on SNL with his now classic impressions of David Letterman and Burt Reynolds; performing in movies like Billy Madison and Doctor Dolittle; and appearing in more than 15 different television series like The Norm Show, Family Guy, and most recently as the host of High Stakes Poker on GSN. This week I talked to the 47-year-old comedian about his career in standup, 3D technology, and his run-in with airport security.

AV: How does doing standup now compare to when you began your career in Canada in the 1980s?

Norm Macdonald: I like it way more because I’m better at it. The better you get at something, the more relaxed you get. Even though I still get nervous, I’m usually confident that I won’t be booed off the stage. That happens less frequently than it used to.

AV: You’ve done a lot of celebrity impersonations in your career. Which is your favorite?

MacDonald: I never really considered myself an impressionist, but on Saturday Night Live they ask you to do those. The only ones that I could do were of guys that I was very very familiar with, like David Letterman and Burt Reynolds. I would watch these guys all of the time. I guess my favorite one to do was Burt Reynolds because when I was young I was so shy and Burt Reynolds seemed like the coolest dude ever. I’d watch Smokey and the Bandit all of the time and I’d go, “Oh, if I could only be like this guy.” So when I went on Saturday Night Live I told them I wanted to do an impression of Burt Reynolds, but I couldn’t figure out how to do him because I didn’t want to do him as an old guy. So I wrote this sketch, “Celebrity Jeopardy,” and I remember Lorne Michaels had a white beard for me and I was like “No, no, I’m playing him from the 1970s.” So for no reason Burt Reynolds is from 1970 and everybody else in the sketch is modern.

AV: You were the host of High Stakes Poker on GSN for their seventh season. What is the most you’ve ever won or lost in a poker game?

MacDonald: One time at the World Series of Poker, which is a poker tournament, I won $95,000, so that was the most I’ve ever won playing poker.

AV: Wow, did you expect to do that well?

MacDonald: Oh no, no, no. I always expect to lose. I’ve kind of perfected that, actually. After losing so often, you lose all hope of ever winning anything. So I was pretty shocked when I won that much. The field was so large and it just keeps narrowing down and you forget because you’re there all day. Those guys, I don’t know how they do it, you just get so tired and part of you just wants to lose already so you can go watch SpectraVision in your hotel room. There is a focus it requires, which I don’t have at all. I just kept clumsily winning.

AV: This season of High Stakes Poker was broadcast in 3D.

MacDonald: [laughing] I forgot about that. It was so crazy. I haven’t even seen a 3D TV so I don’t know what it looks like. I remember the producers would say things like, “Here, throw a card at the camera,” and I’d go, “Jeez, man, this seems like the least 3D show you’d ever want to see.” Throwing the cards at the camera reminded me of this old Second City TV sketch where John Candy would do this 3D thing where he’d push a sandwich into the lens for no reason.

AV: Did you ever feel the urge to push a sandwich into the lens?

MacDonald: Yes, but [the producers] didn’t get the reference. I kept trying to push the cards in slow like John Candy anyways, like, “Look at this, the ace of clubs, oooooooo.” Have you ever seen a 3D TV?

AV: I haven’t. The thought of sitting on my couch wearing 3D glasses kind of turns me off, though.

MacDonald: I imagine it’s awful.

AV: You have more than 260,000 followers on Twitter. How does it feel to command the attention of all of those people all at once?

MacDonald: It’s weird because I didn’t even know what Twitter was until like February or something like that. It’s really fun just saying whatever you want to say, but you’ve got to be really careful. Fortunately, I don’t drink or do drugs, because I don’t understand how drunken people don’t just say the craziest shit. Even straight I have to be very careful because I’ll think of something to say and then just be like “Uh-oh, I can’t say that.” I just found out you can read people’s replies—this I found out like two weeks ago—to whatever you tweet. Oh my god, these people are brutal. And these are people that are following me! I look at them and I’m just like “Good lord, these are my fans?” It’s funny, because I guess this is how people really feel. In real life they won’t say it. I remember one time I saw this guy that I didn’t even like—I think he was from Three’s Company or something—anyways I recognized him in this book store and I went to him like “Oh man, I love what you do, you’re so great,” but obviously I didn’t mean any of it. So the guy is like, “Yeah, okay, fine,” and he blows me off. Then I leave and I’m thinking, “Oh my God, I didn’t even like him and he blew me off, I can’t go back now and tell him I really don’t like him or anything like that.”

AV: Well, now you can just defame him on the Internet.

MacDonald: I guess that’s what I’m doing here.

AV: On Family Guy you voiced the character of Death, but after a couple episodes your friend, Adam Carolla, replaced you. Who do you think makes a better Death?

MacDonald: Well, I love Adam Carolla. The people at Family Guy wanted me to continue voicing Death but I couldn’t because I was on a standup tour at the time.

The strange thing is, you do all these things in your career and you’re remembered for something you do for 10 minutes, which was literally what it was. One time I was on an airplane, and there were these kids on the plane who recognized me from Family Guy, so they sent a note through the flight attendant that said, “It is very comforting to know that Death is on the plane.” Well, the flight attendant didn’t know who I was, so this note must have upset her a little bit, because when we got off of the plane she had me and these two kids pulled aside and we were all interrogated for like an hour. It was just me and these two kids trying to explain a cartoon. I guess they thought we were some kind of terrorist cell.

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