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A sardonic presence on television and the occasional feature since the early 1990s, comedian and actor Norm Macdonald enlivened the "Weekend Update" segment on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) with his cutting, often scandalous comments on celebrities and politicians. Macdonald's take-no-prisoners attitude contributed to his dismissal from the variety show in the late '90s, and he bounced between failed films like "Dirty Work" (1998) and modestly successful sitcoms like "Norm" (ABC, 1998-2001), as well as numerous voiceover and promotional turns. Macdonald's acidic humor kept him in the public eye for decades until his return to a "Weekend Update" like format on "Sports Show with Norm Macdonald" (Comedy Central, 2011). It also made him a refreshingly unfettered voice in the vast and largely safe world of stand-up comedy.
Born Norman Gene Macdonald in Quebec City, Canada on Oct. 17, 1963, he was one of three sons by his schoolteacher parents. By all accounts, Macdonald was something of a dreamer, drifting through his school years and later, through a series of meaningless jobs, including playing chess on the street for pay. He briefly flirted with the idea of becoming a journalist like his siblings, Neil and Leslie, but lacked a driver's license, which prevented him from covering events. But after the family moved to Ottawa, Macdonald latched on to comedy via a club that, luckily for him, was within walking distance of his home. He surprised his entire family by trying out for stand-up jobs, which seemed to be the antithesis of his shy, retiring personality. But after gaining confidence and control over his anxieties, Macdonald began performing regularly in Ottawa clubs before gaining his big break at the 1987 Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal.
In 1992, Macdonald headed south to try his hand at comedy writing in the United States. He soon landed a writing job on Dennis Miller's post-"Saturday Night Live" talk show, "The Dennis Miller Show" (syndicated, 1992) before heading to ABC as a writer on "Roseanne" (1988-1997). After completing a seasons with the turbulent sitcom, Macdonald made his on-camera debut in a 1993 episode of "The Jackie Thomas Show" (ABC, 1992-93), produced by Roseanne Barr and her then-husband, Tom Arnold before joining the writing staff at "Saturday Night Live." Though initially confined to the writer's room, producer Lorne Michaels gave him a chance to read some editorials on the "Weekend Update" segment; Macdonald's nervous-but-bemused delivery caught on with fans, and after Kevin Nealon departed the show in 1995, Macdonald took over the anchor's chair at "Weekend Update."
As anchor, Macdonald combined a palpable disdain for outrageous celebrity and political behavior with his own ad-libbed editorializing, which frequently drew shocked response from audiences and critics alike. Macdonald was an outspoken critic of former football legend O.J. Simpson during his notorious murder trial, and after Simpson's acquittal of his wife's murder in 1995, Macdonald opened the segment by declaring that murder was legal in California. He also spared no quarter in regard to Michael Jackson and his numerous child abuse allegations, and surprised many by making light of the murder of Brandon Teena, whose life was the subject of the film "Boys Don't Cry" (1999). Macdonald's combination of controversy and eccentricity won him as many fans as detractors, though most agreed that he was the best performer to assume the "Weekend Update" anchor chair since Chevy Chase during the show's first year. Chase himself agreed with the assessment in subsequent interviews.
Macdonald's appearances on "SNL" were not limited to the "Weekend Update" segments. Despite his somewhat stiff stage presence, Macdonald proved to be an expert mimic, capturing both the stale insouciance of Burt Reynolds and the mechanical comportment of Senator Bob Dole. Such self-important figures as Larry King, Marv Albert, Andy Rooney and Quentin Tarantino were also mercilessly skewered during his run on the show. Macdonald also created a few original characters, like the cynical newspaper columnist Stan Hooper, whom he later transformed into a more palatable figure for the short-lived sitcom "A Minute with Stan Hooper "(Fox, 2003). Macdonald's polarizing nature came to a head in 1997, when NBC West Coast President Don Ohlmeyer insisted that he be removed from "Weekend Update" on the grounds that he lacked humorous appeal. Macdonald would later counter the claim by stating that Ohlmeyer was offended by the sketches because of his friendship with O.J. Simpson. Whatever the case, Macdonald was fired from "Weekend Update" in December of 1997, and left "Saturday Night Live" the following year.
Macdonald set to work on establishing a film career with "Dirty Work" (1998), a broad comedy about a pair of working class stiffs (Macdonald and Artie Lange) who establish a revenge-for-hire business to pay for Lange's father's (Jack Warden) medical bills. Co-written by Macdonald and featuring a host of "SNL" figures, including Chevy Chase, Adam Sandler and Chris Farley, the film was roundly panned by critics and failed at the box office, though it developed something of a cult following in later years. Macdonald fared better as the voice of the woebegone dog Lucky in "Dr. Dolittle" (1998) and its sequels (2001 and 2006), as well as with his own sitcom, "Norm." Co-created by Macdonald and fellow "Roseanne" scribe Bruce Helford, the sitcom followed Macdonald's eponymous hero, a former National Hockey League player who has become a social worker to work off a community service charge for gambling and tax evasion. A solid ratings hit during its debut season, the show struggled to maintain its audience when it was bounced around the primetime schedule by ABC. Artie Lange was brought aboard in its third season as Norm's half-brother, but by then, the show's viewership had eroded to such a degree that cancellation was inevitable. Macdonald then made a string of minor turns in features, including an appearance as Michael Richards in the Andy Kaufman biopic "Man on the Moon" (1999) and occasional guest shots on television series.
In 2000, Macdonald made another pass at movie stardom with "Screwed," another raunchy comedy about a put-upon chauffeur whose attempt to kidnap his employer's dog snowballed into a massive ball of confusion. Despite a supporting cast that included Danny DeVito, Sarah Silverman and Dave Chappelle, the film was a resounding failure. His next attempts at a series also met with disaster: the pilot for the sketch comedy series "Back to Norm" featured a humorous take on the stomach-churning televised suicide of politician R. Budd Dwyer, which sealed its fate with its network, Comedy Central. Fox also failed to promote "A Minute with Stan Hooper," which followed his New York columnist to a small Wisconsin town filled with eccentrics. He found more lucrative and substantive work as a voiceover artist for various advertisements, including Hardee's and Carl's Jr. restaurants, Canadian cell phone provider Bell Mobility, and AT&T's GoPhone.
In 2006, Macdonald released his debut comedy album, Ridiculous. A collection of comic sketches, it featured contributions by Will Ferrell, Jon Lovitz and Artie Lange. He continued to make television appearances, most notably on several episodes of "Saturday Night Live," where he reprised some of his celebrity impersonations, and as a regular contributor to Dennis Miller's "Miller Time" segment on "The O'Reilly Factor" (Fox News Channel, 1996- ). Macdonald was also a popular recurring guest on both "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (NBC, 1993-2009) and "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" (NBC, 2009-2010), fans were guaranteed laughs whenever Norm stopped by, doing his best to make O'Brien squirm. The comic also created his own animated web series, "The Fake News," on the comedy video web site Super Deluxe. In 2011, Macdonald returned to comedy news anchoring with "Sports with Norm Macdonald," which poked fun at the professional sports scene in the same vein as "The Daily Show" (Comedy Central, 1996 -). He divided his attention between the program and co-hosting and commentary duties on "High Stakes Poker" (Game Show Network, 2006- ). In March of 2011, he starred in his first stand-up special, "Me Doing Stand-Up," for Comedy Central.
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Special Thanks (Special)
Was a staff writer for the syndicated "The Dennis Miller Show"
Served as writer and story editor for "Roseanne" (ABC)
Joined the ensemble cast of "Saturday Night Live" (NBC) as series regular and Weekend Update anchor
Feature film debut in "Billy Madison"
Had cameo in "The People vs Larry Flynt"; played a TV news reporter
Was replaced by Colin Quinn as host of the "Weekend Update" segment on "Saturday Night Live"; announced in interviews that he would probably leave the show at the end of the season in May; released from his contract in April
Co-wrote and co-starred in the feature comedy "Dirty Work"
Voiced the Dog in the big-screen remake of "Dr. Dolittle," starring Eddie Murphy
Starred in "Screwed"
Reprised voice role in "Dr. Dolittle 2"
Starred on the short lived Fox series "A Minute with Stan Hooper"
Featured in the Comedy Central movie "Back to Norm"; also wrote and produced
Reunited with fellow "SNL" alum Rob Schneider in "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo"
Guest starred on several episodes of NBC's "My Name Is Earl"
Made a cameo in the ensemble comedy feature "Grown Ups"
Cast opposite Adam Sandler in the comedy feature "Jack and Jill"