The Comedy Couch

 NORM MACDONALD - January 17, 2006

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.

GM: Right.
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.
NM: (laughs)

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.
NM: (laughs)

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.

GM: When?
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?

GM: Lafflines?
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.
NM: Yeah.

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.

GM: (laughs)
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.
NM: Exactly.

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!"
NM: (laughs)

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.
NM: (laughs)

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!
NM: Exactly.

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.
NM: Wow.

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?

GM: Yeah.
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?

GM: Yeah.
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?

GM: Yeah.
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.
NM: Really?

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.

GM: Excellent.
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.

GM: Longhand?
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?

GM: No.
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?

GM: Yes.
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?!

GM: Yeah.
NM: Oh my God... Did I say anything bad?

Norm on:
Lorne Elliott: "He must be old."

Tom Green: "That guy's funny!"

Todd Barry: "Oh, I like Todd Barry."

Margaret Cho: "Margaret Cho's hysterical."

Louis CK: "Louis CK's hysterical."

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."

Derek Edwards: "Oh, I love Derek."

Andy Kindler: "Oh, I love Andy."

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?"

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?!'"

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."


 
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