The Internet Is Having a Norm Macdonald Moment

When news of O.J. Simpson’s death broke last week, it wasn’t met with the normal outpouring of condolences and fond memories typically seen following a celebrity’s passing. 

In a strange twist of fate, instead those feelings were directed at Simpson’s longtime antagonist, the late Norm Macdonald, whose years of savage jokes about Simpson instantly  resurfaced, introducing his brutal brand of comedy to a whole new generation of fans. 

“Here’s 10+ minutes of Norm Macdonald sh*tting on O.J. Simpson,” read one tweet, posted shortly after Simpson’s death was first reported. Featuring a supercut of Macdonald’s Simpson jokes, it’s been viewed nearly 5 million times. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

From 1994 to 1997, Macdonald held court as the anchor of SNL’s “Weekend Update,” where he was arguably the most polarizing comedian to ever sit behind the desk. 

“I’m Norm Macdonald. And now, the fake news,” he said by way of introduction on September 24, 1994, his first night at the helm, before immediately launching into a scathing joke about Simpson.

In the book “Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live,” Chevy Chase—who co-created “Weekend Update” and served as its first anchor—declared that “Of all the other ‘Update’ guys, the one who was the funniest to me was Norm. Because he just came out and said it.”

Chase said that Macdonald’s “quality of ‘I don’t care’” is part of what made the late comedian such a great fit for SNL.

It also happens to be what got him fired.

“I didn’t care about the audience reaction at all,” Macdonald said in “Live From New York.” “I just like doing the jokes I like, and if the audience doesn’t like them, then they’re wrong, not me.”

The punchline in all of Macdonald’s jabs at Simpson was just how guilty he believed the football star to be, with his most memorable line coming in the days after Simpson’s acquittal. “Well, it is finally official,” Macdonald said. “Murder is legal in the state of California.”

It was this dogged bluntness, and almost pathological inability to let a joke drop, that garnered Macdonald his fair share of haters—chief among them Don Ohlmeyer, the then-president of NBC and a close friend and confidante of Simpson. As Macdonald and others close to SNL would later explain, the NBC head honcho repeatedly asked that Norm cease talking about Simpson. Instead, Macdonald dug in harder.

Ohlmeyer’s response? To fire Macdonald—under the pretense that he wasn’t funny.

Macdonald’s willingness to turn the circumstances surrounding his firing into a hilarious anecdote is just another way he cemented his reputation as a comedian’s comedian—one whose brand of funny was based in bravery. 

Fellow late-night warrior Conan O’Brien has always been one of Macdonald’s biggest admirers. Last week, while speaking with Jake Tapper on CNN about his new Max series Conan O’Brien Must Go, talk turned to Simpson and then, naturally, Macdonald. The former Tonight Show host praised Macdonald for delivering “some of the most brilliant comedy of anybody” when Simpson was arrested and tried for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

It’s not the first time O’Brien has celebrated Macdonald’s fearlessness as a comedian. In 2022, on the one-year anniversary of Macdonald’s death from leukemia, The Washington Post shared a speech O’Brien had delivered at a private memorial for Macdonald in which he said the following:

“What distinguished Norm Macdonald was one quality: He was superhumanly brave. The media loves to talk about ‘brave comedy’ and they’re usually wrong. Bravery isn’t a Trump joke that gets applause and pat on the back from the New York Times, bravery means tremendous risk and, often, loss. Norm was highly principled and he paid dearly for his refusal to compromise. He lost jobs—many jobs—because he followed his own insane, outlandish North Star.”

Who knew it would take the death of O.J. Simpson for the rest of the world to catch on?

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