Norm Macdonald was the guest on Marc Maron's "WTF" podcast on Monday, and revealed that his career could have changed dramatically if not for the support of an unlikely source: Steve Martin.
Macdonald hosted Weekend Update on "Saturday Night Live" from 1994 to 1997, a period when Macdonald's news show parody was frequently cited as the highlight of an otherwise lagging show. Chevy Chase has even said that Macdonald was his favorite Update anchor. Frequently controversial and always bone-dry, Macdonald's humor was a wickedly bleak voice distorting the news in the days before "The Onion" or "The Daily Show" were household names.
But Macdonald revealed the Lorne Michaels originally had another idea in mind: A female co-anchor alongside Macdonald. The comedian was against the idea.
From "WTF with Marc Maron" (beware, those offended by the F word):
Well I remember this one time he wanted me -- this was actually about Weekend Update -- they wanted me to do Weekend Update with a lady. Like the two of us. And I thought I don’t want to do that, that sounds like shit. I was like if there’s a lady and a dude, what are we making fun of local news or something? What the fuck is that?
And he was like, no, no....he had some crazy idea. And I think he liked me because I didn’t understand what he was talking half the time. He goes “You’ll be Fred Astaire, she’ll be Ginger. You’ll give her the comedy and she’ll give you the sex.” And I was like, the dancers? And I had no idea what the fuck he was talking about.
So anyway I said, I don’t want to do it with a fucking lady; let [Al] Franken do it. ... I didn’t care that much about it, because I could just do standup.
Of course, Michaels would have his way a few years later with the enormously successful pairing of Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon as co-anchors. But at the time, Macdonald did not feel that it would work. More importantly, neither did Steve Martin.
But anyways, what happened was funny. At that moment Steve Martin walked in, because he was hosting, and Lorne, to embarrass me, said, "Let’s see what Steve thinks about it." And Steve Martin doesn’t give a fuck about anything. So [Lorne] gives this big long spiel and Steve Martin is completely uninterested... but luckily, just fucking right of the blue, Steve Martin goes “Oh fuck, one time I did this awards show with some broad, they paired me up with up with her and she fucked everything up. And then Lorne was like “Ooh, some support from an unexpected place...”
Interestingly, the only female cast members on the show at the time were Janeane Garofalo and Ellen Cleghorne. Unless Michaels planned on bringing in an outside performer to host Update, it seems likely that he had Garofalo in mind for the "lady" spot, considering her political material.
Then again, what could be drier and more sarcastic than a Macdonald/Garofalo pairing? Maybe Steve Martin saved us all from a barrage of snark that surely would have resulted.
Macdonald told Maron that to this day, he believes he was fired from "SNL" simply because the show stopped finding him funny, and not because of network politics or his irreverent treatment of O.J. Simpson, as many speculate. "I told Lorne at one point I'd do [Weekend Update] forever. What if I was like Walter Cronkite? I wouldn't ask for much money, [but] I'd do it till I was 65," Macdonald said.
But despite having veteran "SNL" writer James Downey on his side, Macdonald was dismissive of the idea that then-NBC west coast president Don Ohlmeyer had him fired.
"I think the whole show was tired of me not taking marching orders. Lorne would hint at things ... I'd do Michael Jackson jokes. And Lorne would say, Do you really want a lawsuit from Michael Jackson? And I'd say, 'Cool! That'd be fuckin' cool, Michael Jackson suing me!'"
For the full 88 minute interview with Norm Macdonald, where the veteran comedian opens up about his past gambling problems, love of literature and ongoing quest for spirituality (really), download the latest free episode of "WTF with Marc Maron."