Welcome to another “Why So Serious?” — a column where we ask stand-up comedians a handful of questions, and don’t expect anything resembling straight answers.
For this installment we talked to former “Saturday Night Live” cast member and veteran stand-up Norm MacDonald, who’s known as much for his laconic, smart-ass delivery as his cutting punchlines.
One of the few “SNL” cast members ever to be fired from the show, MacDonald has had his ups and downs over the years with high-profile writing jobs, ill-fitting sitcom projects and a number of bit parts in various comedy flicks. He’s been busy lately with his new, one-hour Comedy Central special (directed by comedy legend David Steinberg) and a pilot on that network called “The Sports Show,” patterned after “The Daily Show.”
We chatted with MacDonald over the phone in advance of his headlining sets at Comedy Works Friday, Jan. 28 and Saturday, Jan. 29.
When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?
When I watch (comedian) Brian Regan I laugh incredibly hard. If I ever want to laugh super hard I always watch Richard Pryor’s “Live on the Sunset Strip” video. It always makes me happy. And I watch Bugs Bunny every day. He makes me happy. I think he’s the funniest guy ever.
What’s your favorite, or least favorite, place to play?
The South can be kind of tough. Sometimes they can be a little too offended, even though I don’t REALLY do offense material. I’m not crazy, like Louis C.K., who just mercilessly makes fun of his kids and stuff like that. But I gratuitously swear and whenever I look back at a tape of mine, which is very rarely, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I’m just swearing all the time.”
You did a number of great impressions on “SNL,” including Burt Reynolds, Bob Dole and Larry King. Do you ever do impressions during your stand-up set?
Sometimes people will ask me to, but I don’t do any. There are two things people think I do, which is politics and impressions, but I don’t do either. I did stand-up before everything else and then I forget that people don’t know that. People will yell out “Do impressions!” when I’m on stage, but the fact is that I’m not really that good at impressions. I only do like four, and on “SNL” they put a lot of makeup and costumes on so you look exactly like the guy. And the other thing is that I know nothing about politics.
Do you have a joke you used to love to tell but now can’t stand?
Oh yeah, I hate all my material. I just did the Comedy Central special, and I’d only ever done one for them before that. But they were showing it all the time on the network. It was so bad, and because of that experience I never did it again (until now). It’s very hard to look back at your stuff because you always get better, and to look back at a show like that makes you cringe. I don’t like any of it.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever felt bad laughing at?
It happens all the time. Like, I laughed when Michael Jackson died, because Farah Fawcett died on the same day and (ex-husband) Ryan O’Neal was backstage at “Larry King Live.” They were going to do a big tribute to Farrah on there, and then at 3 or 4 o’clock Michael Jackson died, so they had to bump all these people on “Larry King” that were there to talk about Farrah, and that just made me laugh. That conversation that poor talent booker must have had…
Tickets for Norm MacDonald’s shows on Friday, Jan. 28 (8 p.m. and 10 p.m.) and Saturday Jan. 29 (8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.) at Comedy Works on Larimer Square are $32 and available via comedyworks.com.
John Wenzel is an executive editor of Reverb and an award-winning A&E reporter for The Denver Post. He is the author of “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” (Speck Press/Fulcrum) and maintains a Twitter feed of completely random song titles and band names.