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Why Was Norm Macdonald Fired From ‘SNL’?

How could Saturday Night Live let go of such an influential comedic talent?

The world mourns the loss of a true legend. Norm Macdonald, the Canadian-born comedian, writer, and actor, died on Tuesday after a 9-year disagreement with cancer. He was 61 years old. Battle would be a much more accurate word to explain the situation, but everyone battles cancer. Some win and some lose, but if you knew Norm, he disagreed.

In one of his stand-up routines, Macdonald shared his feelings on “battle” being the wrong word for his uncle’s fight against bowel cancer, and honestly, he’s got a point. If we’re acknowledging the facts, Norm Macdonald didn’t suffer a loss at the hands of cancer. It was clearly a draw.

RIP Norm Macdonald is all over the internet. #Norm is trending on Twitter, tribute videos continue to crop up on YouTube, and plenty of late-night hosts have paid homage to his unique and caustic edge. 

Take a look at this truly pointed tweet from The Ringer’s Head of Content, Sean Fennessey. 

In many ways, Norm was the perfect late-night guest. A live wire and often unpredictable, no one knew if he would stick to the script or go off-cue. And if he went off-cue, well, good luck.

Seth Meyers, fellow SNL alum and Weekend Update anchor, had these beautiful words to share about the late master of stand-up.

If Meyers’ mention of the famed Conan “Moth Story” piqued your interest, here it is. Watch it through to the end⏤the payoff is well worth the wait.


Macdonald’s unpredictability was his superpower, and he strung humorous moments together in real time like a tightrope walker balancing on a high wire, but it did get him into trouble from time to time. Specifically, Norm’s “shoot from the hip” attitude is what ended up getting him fired from the birthplace of his famed late-night persona, Saturday Night Live

Friction with SNL began in 1997 after Macdonald’s constant berating of former NFL star and alleged murderer O.J. Simpson. Norm had countless criticisms and jokes levied against the “Trial of the Century.”  Opening the first Weekend Update following O.J.’s controversial acquittal, Norm had this to say:  “Well, it is finally official: Murder is legal in the state of California.” 

Comments like that can get just about any comedian in hot water, even Norm Macdonald. As it would turn out, NBC executive at the time Don Ohlmeyer was a friend of Simpson’s. Though Ohlmeyer used excuses surrounding low ratings to justify Norm’s firing in 1998, everyone knew that had nothing to do with it. 

Being kicked out of Rockefeller Plaza didn’t stop Macdonald, though, and he went on to have a successful career in spite of all that early unpleasantness. A year and a half after his firing, he was even brought back to host the late-night sketch comedy show. You read that correctly. The hilarious audio of his opening monologue in October of 1999 can be found here.

Since then, it’s been all love between Macdonald and his former employer. Over the years he’s appeared countless times on SNL for anniversaries and random sketches.  

The New York-based television institution tweeted this about Norm’s passing:

To Norm, it wasn’t about the fanfare or platform. It was about the joke. Everything was encapsulated by his comedy. Even if that meant the occasional “boo!”

A class act, Norm played his cancer diagnosis close to the chest, never disclosing the information publicly. Friend and collaborator Lori Jo Hoekstra spoke with Deadline about the tragic news.

“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.”

Looking back on the comedian’s iconic 40-year career, it seems to have played out exactly the way Macdonald wanted it to. Maybe he didn’t reach the same levels of fame or notoriety as other entertainers, but who cares? To quote his alma mater: “No one was funny like Norm.” 

Parker Whitmore
About the author

Parker Whitmore

Parker is a writer, filmmaker, and storyteller who really hates talking about himself in the third-person. Couldn't he just say something like... Hi, I'm Parker! I write articles about some of the stuff you like. Take a look — or don't, I'm not the boss of you.