Just For Laughs Canada’s Ben Miner Remembers Norm MacDonald

Norm MacDonald on The Tonight Show
Norm MacDonald during an interview on The Tonight Show wth Jay Leno from April 21, 2008.

Many years ago I was very fortunate to interview the great Bob Newhart. During the interview, I asked him who he thought was funny and he replied, “There’s one comic, I remember seeing him for the first time and thinking to myself wow he isn’t doing anybody. At that time, every comic had a hint of influence from other comics. Some would sound like Carlin, others like Pryor – but this comic was entirely his own thing. That comic is Norm Macdonald.”

I’m digging through files to find that audio but that was the gist of it. Norm MacDonald was one of the greatest stand-up comics of all time, end of discussion. Bob Newhart even thought so and he knocked Elvis out of the top spot on Billboard.

I am so sad right now.

I grew up in Ottawa, the same city Norm grew up in. When I was a kid in the ’90s the thing I looked forward to most was programming the VCR to record Saturday Night Live. Norm’s “Weekend Update” was so funny, so biting, and even as a kid I was able to realize this guy was unreal. There was no one else like him. He was for sure the best and my favourite cast member. Then I found out he was from Ottawa and my mind was blown. Comedy was a real, possible thing now. That combined with Jeremy Hotz’s “Canada D’uh” special are pretty much the reasons I became a comic.

A comedian could come from Ottawa.

Starting off as a comic in Ottawa means you spend a lot of time at Yuk Yuk’s amateur nights, and on every single one of those shows, the MC reminds the crowd that the great Norm MacDonald started on this very show. It’s a name you hear over and over again and as a comic, it sinks in. Norm is one of the most respected comics by peers, one of the greatest stand-ups to ever pick up a mic. And he started on amateur night in Ottawa. That keeps your fire lit, it makes you want to live up to the standard set. It got me going and kept me going.

After high school I studied TV broadcasting at Algonquin College in Ottawa, the same program and college Norm had gone to. I felt so confidant in my decision and was inspired by Norm again. Then I found out that one of my teachers, Randy, had been a classmate of Norm’s back in the day. Not only that, but he had held on to old stand-up videos and scripts they wrote together. Randy actually gave me one they wrote as a school assignment and it is a cherished possession.

I won’t ever post the full script because it’s not mine to do so with and I respect Norm too much to do that. If he had wanted it out there, it would be. My teacher Randy also gave me a VHS of an early Norm performance at Ottawa Yuk Yuk’s. And who was the MC? None other than Jeremy Hotz.

Norm MacDonald wasn’t just an influence to me, he was an inspiration. He put a dream in my head and in the simplest terms, he opened up a path I had never even contemplated. It’s weird how someone you never met can mean so much to you.

And yup, you read that correctly. Of all the comedians I’ve looked up to and have been fortunate enough to meet and perform with, Norm was the one I never got to talk to. I never got to shake his hand. To say thank you. To invariably have been made fun of when I would have no doubt started tearing up while explaining to him the impact he had on me.

It’s too late now, I know this.

But thank you, Norm.