Norm MacDonald was the middle child of three boys: Norm, Leslie, and Neil. His father, Percy MacDonald, served with the Canadian Army during World War II and helped to liberate the Netherlands. After the war, he and his wife Fern became teachers. Norm attended grade school at Alexander Wolff School on the Canadian Force’s Base Valcartier outside Quebec City.
His father was his genetics teacher for grades 6 and 7. After completing Grade seven at AWS, MacDonald continued his education at Quebec High School in Quebec City. However, MacDonald would soon drop out of high school at the age of 15. He later attended Algonquin College in Ottawa, Ontario, majoring in broadcasting, but he agin dropped out to pursue a career in show business. When his family moved to Ottawa, a comedy club was in walking distance. At 21, MacDonald worked up enough nerve to walk over and take the stage. His family was stunned. “He was a shy and sensitive boy. Seriously!'” said his brother Neil. “Comedy was an unlikely job for him, period. He would hyperventilate in the bathroom before he went out. He had a real problem with the idea of facing an audience.”
Eventually, MacDonald began to loosen up, and got his big break at the 1987 Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal. “He went up on stage, this skinny, wiry guy, and did such bright, intelligent, twisted material that people were knocked out,” said festival director Andy Nulman.
MacDonald’s first job was writing for The Dennis Miller Show in 1992, followed by a stint writing for the Roseanne series. Three years later, he would make his film-acting debut in the Adam Sandler film Billy Madison. In 1993, he made his television-acting debut in the series, the Jackie Thomas Show. That same year, he joined the cast of NBC’s popular Saturday Night Live program, where he did impressions of Larry King, Burt Reynolds, David Letterman, Charles Kuralt, and Bob Dole. But today, he is best remembered for anchoring the Weekend Update segment, after the departure of host Kevin Nealon in 1994. MacDonald used a deadpan style of comedy, which included repeated references to prison rape, crack whores and the Germans’s love for David Hasselhoff. He also commonly used Frank Stallone as a non sequitur punchline and made fun of OJ Simpson long after his acquittal. Following Simpson’s acquittal, MacDonald opened Weekend Update by saying: “Well, it’s official: murder is legal in the state of California.” A Rolling Stone magazine article suggested MacDonald had trouble getting along with other cast members. In that article, fellow cast member Chris Kattan said, “If Norm says I’m gay then put in that I say he’s an asshole.”
MacDonald’s fired from the Weekend Update segment in 1997 upon by NBC West Coast Executive Don Ohlmeyer. Some believe that Don Ohlmeyer’s friendship with O.J. Simpson may have fueled his decision. However, Ohlmeyer has denied this rumor. Colin Quinn took the reigns from MacDonald after MacDonald left. During Quinn’s first segment as host, Will Ferrell appeared as Chicago Cub’s announcer Harry Carey. Ferrell repeatedly referred to Quinn as “Norm”, at one point adding, “Norm, have you gained some weight?” During an interview on the Late Show with David Letterman, a few days after he was fired, MacDonald told Letterman that the NBC execs fired him because they thought he wasn’t funny. However, former Weekend Update host Chevy Chase, has publicly stated that he feels that MacDonald is the only person that has done Weekend Update segment right since Chase left the show.
After leaving Saturday Night Live in 1998, MacDonald co-wrote and starred in Dirty Work with Jack Warden, Don Rickles, Chevy Chase, Chris Farley, Artie Lange and Adam Sandler. Later that year, he voiced the character of Lucky the dog in the Eddie Murphy remake of Doctor Dolittle. He would reprise his role in the sequels Dr. Dolittle 2 and Dr. Dolittle 3.
He appeared on the 1999 Saturday Night Live primetime special celebrating the program’s 25th year on the air. Only three former Weekend Update anchors to appeared to host a Weekend Update montage. The same year, MacDonald made a cameo appearance in the Andy Kaufman biography Man on the Moon. When Michael Richards refused to portray himself in the scene reenacting the infamous Friday’s incident, MacDonald stepped in to play Richards, although, in the film, the Richards character is never referred to by name.
In 1999, Macdonald co-created and starred in the sitcom The Norm Show. It co-stared Laurie Metcalf, Artie Lange, and Ian Gomez. The Norm show focused on Norm Henderson, an ex-hockey player who is banned from the game for life for gambling and tax evasion. MacDonald played the title role. Despite an Emmy nomination, The Norm Show was cancelled after only 54 episodes. In 2000, MacDonald voiced the character of Death on an episode of Family Guy. However, due to a conflict with his stand-up comedy schedule, he was unavailable to reprise the character for its next two appearances. In 2000, MacDonald reached the $1 million question on the Celebrity Edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? No other celebrity has made it that far on the show.
In early 2002, he and Jon Lovitz were slated to play mismatched roommates for a proposed NBC sitcom entitled Leave Me Alone. Because of a dispute between the network and the producers, the pilot was never filmed. In 2005, MacDonald signed with Comedy Central to create a new sketch comedy pilot called Back To Norm, which debuted that May. That pilot was never panned out into a series. Also in 2005, MacDonald portrayed a Genie named Norm, on two episodes of the cartoon series The Fairly OddParents and stared as Earl McManus in box office embarrassment Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. He can also be heard in the 2006 Bob Saget straight-to-video film, Farce of the Penguins.
In September 2006, Macdonald’s sketch comedy album, Ridiculous, was released by Comedy Central Records. The album also featured appearances by Will Ferrell, Jon Lovitz, Tim Meadows, Molly Shannon and Artie Lange. On September 14th, 2006, MacDonald appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to promote that album. During the appearance, MacDonald made some controversial jokes about the death of the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin. Holding back laughter, Stewart pleaded with Norm to change the subject. Norm is also a poker player. In the 2007 World Series of Poker, he came in 20th out of 827 contestants, winning $14,608. He also made it to round two of the $5,000 World Championship of Heads-Up No-Limit Hold’em. Comedy Central has ranked MacDonald the #83 greatest stand-up comedian of all time.