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Norm Macdonald was fired from ‘SNL’ because he wouldn’t let his writing partner be fired alone

Macdonald could have kept his job had he let Jim Downey take the fall.

Image via NBC

You may already know that late comedian Norm Macdonald was fired from Saturday Night Live in 1998, but what became knowledge only recently was that Macdonald could have kept his prestigious job had he let his writing partner be fired instead.

The story goes that Macdonald got the boot after making too many jokes about O.J. Simpson while hosting the “Weekend Update” segment of the show. Simpson was a friend of NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer, who stabbed the comedian in the back not unlike what Simpson was acquitted of doing to his ex-wife and a waiter.

Omitted from the official story is that Macdonald’s “Weekend Update” writing partner, Jim Downey, was the intended target of the firing. In an interview with Dana Carvey and David Spade on their Fly on the Wall podcast, Downey revealed how Macdonald walked out of 30 Rock in solidarity with Downey but didn’t tell him about it until years later:

“The phone rings and it’s Mike Shoemaker from the show. He was a producer at the show. And he says, ‘Couple things: Chris Farley’s dead and you and Norm were fired.’

It was like three years later, Norm told me, and he had never said this to me, because if our positions were reversed I would have said it right away, he said, ‘You know, they told me that they were only firing you, that I was welcome to stay, and I said I won’t do it without Downey. And so they said, ‘Okay, motherfucker, be our guest.’

So that’s how Norm came to be fired. He went out of solidarity with me.”

Another of Macdonald’s “Weekend Update” collaborators, Frank Sebastiano, corroborated Downey’s recollection:

“A lot of people don’t realize that Norm could have stayed [at SNL] if he had agreed to fire Downey.”

Watch Macdonald, a man of integrity nonpareil, in his posthumous comedy special, Nothing Special, which can be streamed on Netflix today.

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Shane Fraser