Entertainment

The unlikely but enduring bond between Norm Macdonald and O.J. Simpson

As helicopters flew over Brentwood to watch OJ Simpson celebrate the first weekend since his acquittal in October 1995, Norm Macdonald took a seat at the Weekend Update desk of “Saturday Night Live” and delivered his opening line with a half-hearted smile.

“Well, it’s finally official,” he said. “Murder is legal in the State of California.”

For Macdonald, the former football star accused of murdering his ex-wife and a friend was more than a one-off joke. During his 1990s run as a fake SNL host, the comedian zeroed in on Simpson in his relentless search for the perfect punchline — one that likely cost him his dream gig.

“He said he would stay in this job forever,” said Lori Jo Hoekstra, Macdonald’s longtime producing partner and closest friend until his death in 2021. But “even if he would have liked, he was not willing to negotiate which he found it funny. »

Even when the subject matter was as macabre and polarizing as that of a former American golden boy implicated in the most horrific crime.

“Everyone was crazy about making jokes about him,” said Tim Herlihy, SNL’s editor-in-chief during part of Macdonald’s Weekend Update reign. “But Norm, I mean, he just couldn’t let go. Especially since the trial has started.

October 15, 1994: According to retailers, the most popular Halloween mask this year is OJ Simpson. And the most popular Halloween greeting is: “I’m going to kill you and that guy who brings your glasses, or a treat.” »

Macdonald’s model was SNL’s first real star, Chevy Chase, who first took the fake anchor seat. But it was still a surprise when Macdonald was chosen to succeed Kevin Nealon in 1994. Jim Downey, the comedy writer who oversaw Weekend Update at the time, remembers superagent Bernie Brillstein pushing client Bill Maher for the role , while Warren Littlefield, then chairman of NBC Entertainment, favored longtime writer Al Franken. Downey — an SNL legend who joined the show the same week as Bill Murray in 1976 — lobbied for Macdonald and got what he wanted.

“Norm was dry and deadpan. And more than anyone who did Update, he seemed like a real journalist,” Downey said. “And that’s how the jokes were written…to sound more like reporting than jokes.” We never got angry or yelled or, you know, “Wake up, you people, this man is a murderer!” » We would simply comment on what happened in court. “Was OJ Simpson on drugs the night of the murders?” Absolutely not and a simple test of his blood found at the crime scene will prove it.

From the start, there were more than just hints that a Simpson fixation might prove a problem for Downey’s small update team. Don Ohlmeyer, the NBC executive who oversaw SNL and its creator Lorne Michaels, was a longtime friend and golfing buddy of the accused football star.

Downey recalled an SNL reunion in which Ohlmeyer had to leave early. He had to go to the Los Angeles field jail during visiting hours to see his friend.

January 14, 1995: OJ Simpson’s lawyers say they don’t want the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in the courtroom during the trial. They fear that the presence of the family members will only remind OJ of how many killings he still has left to do.

As the Simpsons jokes piled up, Ohlmeyer never mentioned it directly to Downey. But Downey knew Michaels was absorbing his boss’s fury.

“And I always felt a little bad,” Downey said. “In order to protect us and his independence on the show, he had to fight for something he really didn’t believe in personally, like other things. He certainly liked some episodes of Update, but OJ’s jokes were never his favorite because it was, after all, murder.

The Update editorial team was aware that Macdonald’s obsession with OJ was causing friction at management level. But Downey gave them the right to continue writing jokes.

“If there was pressure, Jim would take care of it,” recalls writer Frank Sebastiano. “If you thought something was really funny, he usually didn’t care about the ramifications.”

Macdonald also didn’t particularly care what the public thought. He often seemed to enjoy it when a joke elicited a lukewarm or perplexed response at Studio 8H; Macdonald would pause, look at the camera, soak in the awkward silence. He didn’t need applause or encouragement. In fact, he didn’t want it.

“I don’t like it when the audience applauds because to me it’s like a cheap kind of euphoria,” Macdonald told the authors of an oral history on SNL. But that sensitivity may have undermined him among senior NBC executives. Weekend Update “was never a big party” during his tenure, he acknowledged. “So I think the network started saying, ‘This doesn’t seem as fun as it should be.'”

It all fell apart in the middle of the 1997-98 season. A tired Ohlmeyer decided to remove Downey from Weekend Update, although he told Macdonald he could stay if he made peace with a new team. Macdonald refused to be without Downey.

So it turns out he’d already told his final OJ joke on SNL.

December 13, 1997: After a Los Angeles restaurant refused to accommodate him, OJ Simpson demanded and received $500 in compensation. Additionally, the restaurant must now offer separate sections for “murderers” and “non-murderers.”

But his bond with Simpson endured.

In the late 90s, Macdonald and Hoekstra crossed paths with the acquitted star while playing golf. They kept their distance, especially for the sake of the third member of their group, none other than Kato Kaelin, the shaggy-haired prosecution witness who had stayed at Simpson’s guest house the night of the murders and who had gained notoriety special thanks to the affair. trial.

In 2011, while Macdonald was hosting a sports show on Comedy Central, he tried to persuade Simpson to do an interview with him. There was a stipulation that could perhaps only come from the mind of a comedian as dark and ironic as Macdonald: the only forbidden subject would be… murders.

For reasons that are still unclear, Hoekstra said, the interview never happened.

And then, in 2019, Macdonald made an appearance on David Spade’s short-lived Comedy Central talk show. There, he listened as another former Weekend Update host, Dennis Miller, praised his fearlessness in mocking Simpson in the face of executive annoyance.

With a straight face, Macdonald delivered what might have been his final joke to OJ.

He said he had changed his mind about Simpson.

“He was found not guilty by a jury of his peers,” Macdonald said. He noted that Simpson was “the greatest rusher in NFL history,” then paused.

“Perhaps,” he added, “I was most eager to judge.”

Was it a joke? If so, not everyone understands it.

Shortly afterward, Hoekstra told The Post this week, Macdonald received a text message thanking him for his gentler comments about the disgraced football star and inviting him to go golfing someday.

Gn entert
News Source : www.washingtonpost.com

Eleon

With a penchant for words, Eleon Smith began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class.After interning at the New York Times, Smith landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim.Though writing is his passion, Eleon also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
Back to top button