Norm MacDonald has passed away after a private, nine-year battle with cancer, his management announced. MacDonald was famous for his time on Saturday Night Live, his standup and his many appearances on late night shows, all of which make an aggressive argument for him being one of the funniest comics of his time.
“He was most proud of his comedy,” his producing partner and friend Lori Jo Hoekstra said. “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.”
Born in Canada, MacDonald’s first writing gig was on Roseanne in the early ’90s before jumping to SNL. While there, he changed the tone of “Weekend Update,” swapping out previous host Chevy Chase’s goofball antics for something slyer and more subversive. His ingenious deadpan became the trademark of his career, telling jokes that never missed, even when they did miss, maybe especially when they missed. He had a talent for fielding groaners and finding new energy in jokes that bombed.
He’ll be remembered best for his comedy, but MacDonald was also a Christian and spoke regularly of his faith. “Scripture. Faith. Grace. Christ, Glory of God,” he tweeted in 2017. “Smart man says nothing is a miracle. I say everything is.” He also bristled at one up-and-coming comedian’s attempt to roast Christianity. “I think if you’re gonna take on an entire religion you should maybe know what you’re talking about,” he said as a judge on a talent show.
He was a frequent guest on late night shows, where his jokes kept both the audience and the host guessing, never quite sure when or how the laughs were going to land. From his masterful roast of Bob Sagat (in which the audience hardly laughed …but you definitely will) to his emotional, poignant send off to David Letterman, almost nobody was better on stage.
MacDonald was 61 years old.