Conan O'Brien published a special episode of his podcast Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend to discuss his relationship with the late comedic genius Norm Macdonald, who appeared on O'Brien's shows countless times. If NBC got what it wanted though, Macdonald would have been banned from Late Night with Conan O'Brien, the comedian said. It all had to do with NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer's friendship with O.J. Simpson.
Macdonald's tenure on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" came during Simpson's trial, and Macdonald often called the former NFL player a murderer. Macdonald credited Ohlmeyer with his firing from SNL in 1998 during interviews with David Letterman and Howard Stern. According to O'Brien, Ohlmeyer also tried to keep Macdonald from appearing on Late Night.
"The word came down: You can't book Norm Macdonald anymore. It came from the top, from Don Ohlmeyer," O'Brien recalled in a discussion with Andy Richter and producer Frank Smiley, via Entertainment Weekly. Ohlmeyer gave O'Brien the Late Night job, so he felt some loyalty towards the executive, but O'Brien wanted to keep bringing Macdonald on. "So I wrote a letter to Don that said, 'I got this directive. You've hired me to do the best show I can do, and this is my best guest. So I need to do my job, which is the best show I can do,'" O'Brien recalled.
In response, Ohlmeyer told O'Brien he "expected better from you." O'Brien shook it off and continued booking Macdonald. After Macdonald died earlier this week, many of the clips that went viral came from Macdonald's appearances on O'Brien's shows. One of them was the "Moth Joke," in which Macdonald turned a short joke about a moth visiting a pediatrist into a marathon story about a moth listing all his troubles in life.
"It is completely outrageous what he's doing," O'Brien said of the moth joke. "It's The Tonight Show and he's telling this very long story, taking all the time in the world. I love it because even though I was there, I'm delighted every time I see it. What he's doing breaks every rule. Brevity is the soul of wit! But like Picasso, he blew up the form."
Macdonald died on Sept. 14 at age 61 after a long, private battle with cancer. He was diagnosed with acute leukemia nine years before his death, but he never told anyone but close friends and family. "He kept it quiet because he didn't want it to affect his comedy," Macdonald's brother Neil told CBC News. "He didn't want it to affect the way he was perceived... He wanted to carry on."
"I am absolutely devastated about Norm Macdonald," O'Brien tweeted after Macdonald's death was announced. "Norm had the most unique comedic voice I have ever encountered and he was so relentlessly and uncompromisingly funny. I will never laugh that hard again. I'm so sad for all of us today."