It was a bad Tuesday for Norm Macdonald. An interview in the Hollywood Reporter, where he was quoted supporting his friends Louis C.K. and Roseanne Barr and questioning the Me Too movement, got him kicked off “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and kicked around the Twittersphere. Macdonald apologized late that day, couldn’t sleep, and on Wednesday morning found himself on Howard Stern explaining himself.
First, he said his comments were “conflated” during the interview.
“If I could just say that I didn’t say that,” said Macdonald. “And I have great sorrow that people took it that way. Like that I have so many women in my family and so many women that I know that things have happened to them. I never said that the victims didn’t go through anything. What I was saying was the reason I put Louis and Roseanne together to talk, it was because only a few people in the whole world have gone through this new thing where everything is stripped from them and they can commiserate.”
Then he spoke about how “#MeToo is what you want for your daughters.”
Netflix confirmed that it will go forward with “Norm Macdonald Has a Show,” which premieres Friday with all 10 episodes available for viewing. And if several prescreened episodes are any indication, Macdonald isn’t likely to run into controversy when it airs.
The show is a throwback, shying away from politics and current events. It allows Macdonald to work to his strength, creating compelling conversations that take surprising and unexpected turns.
For example, in the space of 10 minutes with Jane Fonda, he asks the actress to talk about God (“Do you believe in the hypostatic Jesus?”), contrast her ex-husbands and rate herself against exercise icon Suzanne Somers. Are her thighs as powerful as yours? Macdonald asks at one point. “Well, her tits sure are,” Fonda shoots back.
Macdonald, 58, is most famous for his stint as “Saturday Night Live’s” Weekend Update anchor during the 1990s, but he’s pined for a talk show for years. During the long wait, Macdonald has done sitcoms, tweeted endless hours of golf play-by-plays and written a dazzling, comic novel.
But the Netflix show provides Macdonald a chance to remind a wider audience of his special gift for conversation.
Longtime appreciator David Letterman, who helped Macdonald pitch his show to Netflix content boss Ted Sarandos, is a guest on the program, part of a slate that includes SNL boss Lorne Michaels, David Spade, Drew Barrymore, Michael Keaton, M. Night Shyamalan, Billy Joe Shaver, Judge Judy Sheindlin and Chevy Chase.
Recently — but before the Hollywood Reporter interview — Macdonald and Lori Jo Hoekstra, his longtime producing partner, met at a restaurant in Los Angeles to discuss the program.
Q: At one point, your show had a staff of writers, including Steve O'Donnell, who was a key figure for both Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel.
Macdonald: We had the idea of kind of an inverse “Larry Sanders Show.” Where Larry Sanders had the backstage stuff and then the small snippets of the show. This was going to be the show with small snippets of the backstage. Then we realized there really isn’t any backstage when it’s just two people . . . and we were frightened that no one has any attention span. We were afraid if we went away for a minute or a minute and a half for a sketch, people would turn them off.
Q: Your guest roster. What went into those decisions?
Macdonald: We wanted diversity more than anything. Then it kind of became people we thought would be most interesting. I only know old people. Eddie Murphy was kind of my dream guy.
Q: Who else?
Macdonald: Steve Martin. Martin Short. Burt Reynolds I really wanted and I still think that would have been great. Burt Reynolds would be so much more interesting than a 25-year-old phenom guy. [This was before Reynolds’s death.]
Hoekstra: Jake Tapper, you mentioned him a lot.
Macdonald: He’s my favorite news guy.
Q: There are endless shows with comedians interviewing comedians. And so you do have Lorne, Spade and Letterman.
Macdonald: Definitely, we thought, that’s it for comedians.
Q: Why? Those seem to do really well.
Macdonald: We didn’t want it to be inside baseball. I really wanted to get this guy. The racecar driver. Niki Lauda. Oh, he’s just an incredible guy. His view of life right now. He almost died. He’s a burn victim. And he’s in the hospital. They had to take burned pieces of the car out of his lungs. But his thing was, his first thought after coming out of this coma, was, I’ve got to get back and race. The guys I’m interested in because they’re religious, I can’t do them. I wanted to get Jimmy Swaggart, I wanted to get Louis Farrakhan.
Q: What was it that interested you in Jane Fonda?
Macdonald: It’s like on “Saturday Night Live” when we had guests. When it was a guest like Martin Lawrence, it would be kind of hard to write a show. If it was Charlton Heston, you could do a “Ben-Hur” sketch, a “Planet of the Apes” sketch. They just bring so much with them. If you’re interviewing someone like Jane Fonda, it can be like five hours. . . .
And since I’m not up on other people, they’d say, you know who you have to get. I’d never heard of them, but they are the biggest comedy star alive. That really happened. Biggest comedy star, but I didn’t know who she was. It’s not her fault.
Hoekstra: Tiffany Haddish.
Macdonald: I’m sure she’s insanely funny, but I would really have to do a lot of research. That’s not her fault.
Q: You're a bit out of step.
Macdonald: Way out of step. These are the shows I haven’t watched. “Community.” “30 Rock.” The Amy Poehler show. “Seinfeld.”
Q: You've never watched "Seinfeld"?
Macdonald: But I’m going to.
Q: "Mad Men"?
Macdonald: I watched every “Mad Men.” Here’s the thing. It’s not them. It’s me. I’ve only seen a handful of those shows. But it’s because I have this OCD where I have to watch the first one to the last one. I’m watching the first to the last of “Comedians in Cars.” That’s why I go on YouTube. I’m there for eight hours because I go to Orson Welles and I want to see every single thing.
Q: That would be a pretty interesting interaction. You and Tiffany Haddish.
Macdonald: That’s what people are saying. I’d love to have her on. I don’t feel I want to interview anybody unless I educate myself on everything they’ve ever done. Because I’ve been interviewed like that. Where people keep up on what you’ve done. I’ve had interviews where the people have said, “What did you do after Update?” I said, “What?” And then I realized it’s a “Where Are They Now?”