The podiatrist finally asks why the moth came to him when he clearly needs a psychiatrist.
After nearly four minutes, Macdonald finally delivers the punchline: “The moth said, ‘Because the light was on.’”
O’Brien stares down at his desk. You wonder if he’s going to cry, or maybe punch his old friend. Instead, he’s overtaken with laughter and says, “My congratulations to anyone who stuck it out to the end.”
Macdonald, who died Tuesday at 61, excelled at many things — from stand-up to getting fired from “Saturday Night Live” to texting (yes, really). His movies became cult classics, and his podcast defied convention. But the tributes that poured out for him this week reminded everyone that he was also an irreplaceable talk show guest, particularly when he appeared on any of O’Brien’s various late-night iterations.
“I am absolutely devastated about Norm Macdonald. 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,” tweeted O’Brien.
“Of the many addictive rabbit holes you can disappear down on the internet, the most pleasurable is ‘Norm MacDonald chat show appearances,’ ” tweeted Edgar Wright.
“I was a huge fan of Norm Macdonald and I essentially ripped off his delivery when I first started acting. I would stay up specifically to watch him on talk shows. He was the funniest guest of all time,” chimed in Seth Rogen.
Another classic moment finds Macdonald telling O’Brien another long-winded tale about “Jacques deGauquier,” the supposed pride of his Québecian town. When he finally reaches the punchline — which is simply a pun on the words purpose and “porpoise” — O’Brien just yells, “No! No!” while Andy Richter shakes his head and says, “I knew that was gonna happen.”
But one appearance on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” in 1997 stands above the rest.
It begins with Macdonald claiming to be sick after eating some shellfish and getting “stabbed with a rusty syringe.” (Was he actually sick? It was always tough to tell with Macdonald, the same guy who wrote a mostly fictional memoir.) For about 15 minutes, it’s standard Macdonald fare, which means absurdist, off-kilter jokes mixed with some proper ribbing of O’Brien (in this instance, Macdonald quizzes him on the names of his employees).
The best part, as it often was with Macdonald, comes when you least expect it: after O’Brien is finished interviewing him.
Macdonald moves a seat over as actress Courtney Thorne-Smith takes the interviewee’s chair. After Macdonald loudly announces that both he and O’Brien have crushes on her, he quiets down for a while. Eventually Thorne-Smith begins chatting about her experiences on “Melrose Place.”
After a minute, Macdonald suddenly chimes in and says, “Are you talking about ‘Melrose Place’?”
“You’re the biggest ass I ever met,” O’Brien says.
“No, because I swear to God, when I lived in L.A., I lived on the actual street called Melrose Place. There’s an actual street,” he says. “So, they open a restaurant called Melrose Place on it, and it’s right beside my house.”
Macdonald continues to complain about the stupid tourists “always taking pictures, standing in front of this restaurant!”
He then leans back in his chair, but the chess match between him and Thorne-Smith is on. O’Brien mentions that the actress recently made a movie with the often-maligned comedian Carrot Top, prompting another outburst from Macdonald: “Wait, she left ‘Melrose Place’ to do a movie with Carrot Top?!”
After a few more interjections from Macdonald, which can’t be mentioned in a family newspaper, O’Brien asks Thorne-Smith what the title is to her upcoming movie.
“I know what it’s gonna be called,” he says. “If it’s got Carrot Top in it, you know what a good name for it would be? ‘Box Office Poison’!”
“The girl sitting to your left is in the movie,” O’Brien shouts back, and Macdonald promises to see it “for Courtney.”
“I would see any movie with this girl in it. She’s a beautiful lady, and a talented, nice talk show guest,” Macdonald says.
Finally, Thorne-Smith announces the name of the movie: “Chairman of the Board.”
“Do something with that, you freak,” challenges O’Brien.
“I bet the ‘board’ is spelled B-O-R-E-D,” Macdonald fires back, leaving everyone onstage in tears laughing and O’Brien spinning around in his chair.
If anything could sum up Macdonald in a single YouTube clip, it was this appearance, which some Twitter users dubbed “the funniest late-night segment of all time.” “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane, NFL podcaster Dan Hanzus and comedian Paul Scheer were just a few who shared it in remembrance on Tuesday.
“I saw this @ConanOBrien when I was still in High School and I don’t think I ever laughed as hard as I did when I was seeing this live,” Scheer tweeted. "@normmacdonald was a genius.”