Ask any late-night host who their favorite guest is, and invariably Norm MacDonald will top the short list. His seemingly unrehearsed, rambling, often obscene shaggy-dog tales that fracture and expand, hydralike — always teetering on the verge of disaster — are the stuff of great TV. It’s also safe to assume his signature unpredictability is a big reason why TV execs haven’t seen fit to hire MacDonald for the past seven years. Thankfully, Comedy Central has decided to break that shameful streak with Sports Show With Norm MacDonald, a weekly SNL “Weekend Update”-meets-ESPN show (premiering tonight at 10:30 p.m.). Before heading back to L.A. to begin taping, MacDonald sat down with us last week to talk about failing at everything, his love of Twitter and Rebecca Black, and why he doesn’t fear going broke.
Was The Sports Show something you came up with?
Nah, Comedy Central wanted me to do it. Why me, I have no idea. I mean, I do know a lot about sports. I’ve been offered political shows before, and I don’t know anything about politics and I feel uncomfortable making political opinions — there’s consequences to them. I often think I’m wrong, so I really don’t like getting in political or religious discussions because of the giant possibility that I might be wrong. Whereas it doesn’t matter if you’re wrong in sports.
Are you a meat-and-potatoes, major-sports guy, or the type who will watch anything?
Yeah, I don’t like modern sports. I don’t like X Games shit, because I like stuff where I can watch and I know what’s happening as it happens. I don’t like sports where it’s like, you watch a guy on a motorcycle flip or something, then another guy does it, it looks exactly the same, and then at the end one guy gets higher points! It seems so arbitrary; I don’t know who’s ahead ever.
So you’re not the type to watch figure skating?
I can, actually. My dad had this thing — everyone in Canada wants to play hockey, that’s all they want to do. So when I was a kid, whenever we skated my dad would not let us on the ice without hockey sticks, because of this insane fear we would become figure skaters! I remember my dad would see figure skaters on TV and go, “Why doesn’t that guy go pick up a goddamn hockey stick! Look at him, look how good he is!”
You used to be a heavy gambler. Was there a particular game you bet on, or were you the Cool Hand Luke type who bet on anything?
Yeah, I’d bet on anything. Fuck man, I bet on soccer and that’s about the worst thing ever! I used to bet on the Super Bowl with my buddies over who would score first — a black guy or a white guy. It’s an interesting bet, because the kickers are all white guys and the receivers and running backs are almost always black guys, so it turns out to be like 50-50. Try and find that bet in Vegas.
And you burnt through serious cash?
Yeah, I used to be crazy with it; I used to be a little crazy. I went broke four times. Like completely broke. And it was when I had money, when I was in show business. Oddly enough, it sort of feels kind of good. It’s hard to explain to people, but you just lose all your money and you have a couple bucks in your pocket and you go get a coffee. You feel clean.
So then what happens?
Well, later you get really sad and regretful of course.
Sports Show really has a similar feel to your “Weekend Update” on SNL.
Yeah, I wanted it to be as close to “Weekend Update” as possible.
But you got canned doing that.
Yeah, maybe that is misguided. [Laughs.]
Actually, throughout your career you’ve been fired or had stuff canceled a lot, yet here you are. What’s the secret to your staying power?
Oh yeah. Yeah, I have failed at everything. I’m no good at anything but comedy, which I think I’m good at. I’m absolutely no good at networking; I’m terrible at acting; I’m terrible at dealing with executives; I’m terrible at collaborating. And I say whatever I want to say. But I think I’m good enough at comedy that I can survive. And I don’t really have an ambition for money.
Are you on a tight leash for this show?
No, they’ll let me do anything I want to do, which is good.
So you’re willing to go bankrupt again?
Yeah, sure, exactly. You gotta. Yeah, man, you gotta fucking roll the dice. You either roll the dice or you sit on the rail and watch, right? This is my opinion: better sorry than safe. That’s how I live.
Will we be getting any Frank Stallone references, per the “Update” days?
That was wildly successful. I did like that. That was from the picture — I just found that picture of Frank Stallone and it was so funny. But then when Sylvester Stallone hosted the show, he goes, “Can you take it easy on Frank?” And then he tells me when he did Rocky, he was like, “My brother started boxing.” And so [from then on] everyone wanted to beat up Rocky’s brother. They’d just beat the fucking shit out of him! And so Stallone says to me, “Frank was never the same after that.”
Can you talk about your voracious Twitter habit.
I love Twitter. I love Twitter so much. But I don’t know what I’m doing. I do it way too much, talk too much. People go, “Shut the fuck up!” But it’s just really fun … I think the computer is the coolest thing ever. I just watch YouTubes all the fucking time. It’s just the best thing.
Like cute cats and pandas sneezing?
I love to watch comedy, but I love Rebecca Black. I love that fucking “Friday” song. I just fucking think it’s so fucking funny. I thought at first it was a parody, because it’s a lot like Justin Bieber’s “Baby Baby.” You know, even sounds like it, and at the end of Justin Bieber’s “Baby Baby,” Ludacris shows up, and at the end of Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” this random black dude shows up! So I thought it was kind of a funny parody. But I guess it was meant to be serious.
What about the dark side of the Internet? Now that you’re directly linked to fans, does it get creepy?
Yes. Yes, I worry a little bit about a stalker killing me. [Laughs.] Sometimes I worry about that, because I’ve had a few stalkers in my life. I have this one woman — it’s always nice when you have a 64-year-old stalker. There’s no upside to it at all. Her psychiatrist phoned my manager, and my manager’s acting like it’s nothing. He’s like, “This wackadoodle called today.” I’m like, “Stop calling her that, she might kill me!” So anyway, this nice 64-year-old lady is convinced I’ve been dating her for 30 years behind her husband’s back. But she wants to break up with me. She doesn’t want to hurt my feelings. It’s so fucking weird … That’s the one thing about that social-networking shit: In the old days, people would become obsessed, like, “Uhhhhh, I know that person.” Here, they actually do, you are their friend and you actually talk with them on the Internet. What I like, though, is that there’s no barrier between audience and performer. Because it takes all the mystique and horseshit away from it all. Because, you know, celebrities are very, very uninteresting people, like everyone else. So I like that part, that there’s no stupid mystique to it.