Norm Macdonald’s subversive comedy goes from stage to page

Norm Macdonald, on writing a book: “Most of it was not fun.”
Jason Scavone

Like the heat death of the universe, Norm Macdonald’s comedy has only grown cooler over the years. The subversiveness that characterized his all-time-great turn as Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update anchor has only increased in scope, apparent in his New York Times best-seller, Based on a True Story: A Memoir, a gonzo riff on the celebrity memoir that reads like Mickey Spillane filtered through Mark Leyner’s postmodern surrealism. But with more jokes about weapons stuffed up butts. We spoke to Macdonald in advance of his Vegas dates with Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider and Tim Meadows.

Did the election surprise you? I wasn’t shocked. To me they were both very disliked, but [Donald Trump] was this big, charming guy, and she was this real humorless sort. I don’t vote, because I’m Canadian, but I would just vote for the one that seemed like the coolest guy. I would have voted for Obama, and I probably would have voted for [Trump].

Did you ever cross paths with Trump? I was on The Tonight Show, following him. It was the one where Jimmy Fallon touched his hair. It was so weird, because the next day [the headlines] were like, “Jimmy Fallon throws softballs at Trump.” Like he’s supposed to be Walter Cronkite. … But anyway, he comes out, and I was the next guest, and I go, “Mr. Trump, can I get a picture?” And he goes, “Oh yeah, sure! I love this guy, he’s great, he’s funny. Just give me a minute.” And then he turns around with his Secret Service and they get on the elevator and leave.

You got ghosted by the president-elect? It was hilarious. It was like a Buster Keaton movie. I kept waiting for him to step into a room or something and come back. But he just got on the elevator and left. Everyone was cracking up it was so funny.

Did you like writing the book? Did anything surprise you about the process? Most of it was not fun. The only surprises were bad ones. I thought I could do it in a year, and I thought I could do it on the road while I was doing stand-up. Finally, I took like six months off stand-up, and during that time I probably lost about eight times as much money as the book paid, but I had to complete the book. I just couldn’t do it in my spare time. Buck Henry told me his favorite words are “the end.” I didn’t know what he meant until I did it. I’ve written sketches and stuff, but [this was] like a hundred thousand words. Geez.

You’ve talked a lot lately about how you hate confessional comedy. What do you think the next big evolution in comedy should be? I don’t know if we need one. I thought [Jerry] Seinfeld was fine, and I thought [Richard] Pryor was fine. I guess the problem with confessional to me is, it’s all about the person. ... To me, when you go out to be entertained, the last thing you want to hear is the person blathering on about their problems.

The New York Times described your book as “dangerous.” How dangerous is it? It’s not dangerous. The thing that really made me mad was, they published it in their nonfiction list, which really sucked, because I can’t compete with actual nonfiction about presidents and wars and stuff.

Norm Macdonald December 2-3, 9 p.m., $50-$175. The Joint, 702-693-5222.

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