With comedy fans still reeling from the news that true stand-up original and former Saturday Night Live star Norm Macdonald had died at the age of 61, Seth Meyers took some time to process the loss on Tuesday’s Late Night. Paying homage to a guy whose inimitable deadpan style he nonetheless copped to imitating in his time delivering one-liners at SNL’s Weekend Update desk, Meyers began by noting that the famously undemonstrative Macdonald (who hid his cancer battle from pretty much everyone for a decade) wouldn’t “want anything sentimental.”
Maybe so, but Meyers’ segment saw the host sharing his heartfelt admiration for his Weekend Update predecessor, sharing some uniquely Norm Macdonald moments, such as the time at the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary show where Macdonald’s rambling entrance bit went off-script enough for venerable SNL (and now Late Night) cue card guy Wally Feresten to take the unprecedented step of making sure he wasn’t holding up the wrong cards. He wasn’t—that was just Norm being Norm. “I remember laughing really hard,” recalled Meyers, “not at what Norm was saying as much as the idea that any of us thought that Norm would play by anyone else’s rules.”
As to Macdonald’s influence on him personally, Meyers was unequivocal in noting that he still has to “beat Norm’s delivery out of me” when it comes to delivering topical jokes to an audience. Explaining that Macdonald’s greatest gift was the “ability to just stare into an audience unblinkingly, telling the jokes that you believed in,” Meyers shared Macdonald’s respect for SNL being “the last place in TV where you can bomb.” Meyers didn’t mention Macdonald’s infamous firing by then NBC boss, the late Don Ohlmeyer, ostensibly for Norm’s penchant for brashly cutting jokes about Ohlmeyer golf buddy O.J. Simpson. In retrospect, that can’t have helped, but Norm’s canning was more likely about the way that SNL’s audience was simply not willing to accept Norm’s signature, fearless unwillingness to hold anybody’s hand through jokes he knew were funny. With the admiration of a peer and a fan, Meyers explained that appreciating a Norm Macdonald joke meant feeling that “You were on the inside with him.”
Signing off, Meyers urged viewers still shellshocked by the announcement of Macdonald’s death (Meyers taped just hours after the news broke) to seek out Macdonald’s moth story on Late Night With Conan O’Brien for just a taste of what made him “truly timeless.” (We’ve compiled the moth joke alongside some of MacDonald’s other greatest hits for you, and a Dirty Work rewatch is never a bad idea.) “He was the gold standard, and he will continue to be the gold standard,” said Meyers, finally.