Norm Macdonald and his bitter feud with NBC

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The world of comedy is mourning the loss of Norm Macdonald, who died on Tuesday at 61 from a battle with cancer, and what made him a television star was anchoring the “Weekend Update” desk on “Saturday Night Live,” which ultimately resulted in a bitter departure from NBC. 

Macdonald joined “SNL” in 1993 and took on the role of the comedic newsman the following year. But despite his popularity, it was alleged that he was abruptly pulled from “Weekend Update” in 1997 his constant mockery of O.J. Simpson, a friend of top NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer, during the former NFL star’s murder trial that resulted in an acquittal. He was replaced on “Weekend Update” by fellow cast member Colin Quinn. 

During a 1998 interview with David Letterman, Macdonald said Ohlmeyer told him he “wasn’t funny” as the reason why he was fired from “Weekend Update” despite having the support of his boss, “SNL” executive producer Lorne Michaels. 

“He doesn’t think I’m funny in ‘Weekend Update.’ And God only knows… and, you know, it’s just a matter of opinion. He also thinks that O.J. is innocent,” Macdonald chuckled. 

“Exactly! Don’t let this pinhead push you around, heaven’s sakes!” Letterman reacted. 

“No, he’s not a pinhead. He’s a, uh, he’s a fat guy,” Macdonald quipped. 

After being openly discontent with being in run-of-the-mill “SNL” sketches, Macdonald parted ways with NBC in 1998. Things remained sour between the comedian and the Peacock network that Ohlmeyer blocked NBC from airing ads promoting his film “Dirty Work” being so openly candid about the “SNL” drama. Macdonald referred to Ohlmeyer as a “liar and a thug” in an interview with Daily News. 

But in a strange twist of events, the comedian was invited to host the show in October 1999, taking the bold opportunity to roast the network in his opening monologue.

“I sorta had a disagreement with the management at the NBC. I wanted to keep my job, alright? And they felt the exact opposite,” Macdonald joked. 

“So you see, they fired me because they said I wasn’t funny. Now, with most jobs, I could have had a helluva lawsuit on my hands that. But see, this is a comedy show. So they got me,” he quipped. 

Macdonald then pointed out the strange logic of being invited back onto “SNL” after supposedly being fired not being funny. 

“This is the weird part, right? It’s only a year-and-a-half later and now they ask me to host the show. So I wondered… how did I go in a year-and-a-half from being not funny enough to be even allowed in the building to being so funny that I’m not hosting the show? How did I suddenly get so damn funny?” Macdonald asked. “It was inexplicable to me because a year-and-a-half, let’s face it, is not enough time a dude to learn how to be funny. Then it occurred to me. I haven’t gotten funnier, the show has gotten really bad!”

That sparked laughs, groans and even some boos from the audience, but Macdonald doubled down.

“So let’s recap: The bad news is- I’m still not funny. The good news is- the show blows!” he exclaimed.

Macdonald’s view of the murder trial of O.J. Simpson apparently shifted over the years, telling The Daily Beast in 2017, “I’m not completely sure he’s guilty anymore. I’m almost completely sure, but I’m not completely sure.”

On Tuesday, Macdonald’s longtime producing partner and friend Lori Jo Hoekstra said the comedian had been privately battling cancer nine years. 

“He was most proud of his comedy,” Hoekstra told Deadline. “He never wanted the diagnosis to affect the way the audience or any of his loved ones saw him. Norm was a pure comic. He once wrote that ‘a joke should catch someone by surprise, it should never pander.’ He certainly never pandered. Norm will be missed terribly.”

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