OKLAHOMA CITY, April 13, 2011 – During his polarizing three-year reign as Weekend Update anchor on “Saturday Night Live,” mellow funnyman Norm Macdonald splintered viewers into two distinctive factions: love him or hate him.
NBC suits ordered Macdonald’s removal from the fake news desk in late 1997, ultimately leading to his premature, mid-season exit from the show entirely, in early 1998. Since his “SNL” departure, Macdonald’s career has been full of bizarrely obscure projects, random cameos, and a peppering of stand-up comedy appearances.
Macdonald makes his triumphant return to the forefront of comedy with “Sports Show with Norm Macdonald” for Comedy Central, Tuesdays, 10:30 p.m. ET. It’s the perfect platform for Macdonald’s wryly hysterical comedic sensibility.
Unlike the self-described “fake” news he delivered on Weekend Update, “Sports Show” covers current, up-to-date sporting news delivered with Macdonald’s signature smirk and absurdist spin.
The Venn diagram intersection of informed sports followers and fans of eclectic, dry humor must be pretty narrow, but it’s a target that Macdonald nails dead center. The format lends itself to Macdonald’s strengths: topical humor, wacky field segments, and long form comedic rants in front of an enthusiastic studio audience.
Comedy Central needed a score after introducing “Onion Sports Dome” in Jan., which is the satirical news outfit “The Onion’s” spoof of ESPN’s franchise program “Sports Center.”
Complete with goofy corporate sponsored segments, ultra-serious deadpan delivery and out-of-left field type humor, “Sports Dome” is the type of show that works better in small doses, rather than full 30-minute form, not unlike most “Onion” print stories which usually deliver the laughs in succinctly satirical headlines, and tend to drag on as the full story unfolds.
Macdonald’s show does a couple things better than “Sports Dome.” Macdonald is a better host who comes with a built in audience. “Sports Show” goofs on real events and stories rather than farcical parodies, and Macdonald doesn’t seem to struggle filling a 30-minute block. “Sports Dome” would be better suited in the fifteen minute segments that Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” has adopted.
A life-long sports fan, Macdonald revealed in a phone interview last week he’s just happy he doesn’t have to cover hard, front-page news: “When I was doing Weekend Update, we were always watching sports, but then I had to go on and deliver jokes from this other part of the newspaper that was all about countries with names you can’t pronounce, have never heard of, that somehow have everything to do with your well being.”
On the basis of Macdonald covering politics on Weekend Update, director Milos Forman cast Macdonald in the film “The People vs. Larry Flynt.”
“The director gave me the part thinking I knew something about politics. I went out to dinner with him and his smart friends from Europe, and I don’t know if you’ve ever talked to guys from Europe, but they really know a lot of stuff. They’re really uninterested in talking about last week’s episode of “Lost,” quipped Macdonald.
When asked about fear of running into athletes he might poke fun at, Macdonald said, “it is a little unnerving to make jokes about guys that have three times your muscle tone. On Weekend Update I wasn’t that worried about running into Ricki Lake, unless she ate me, or something.”
No athlete is safe from the comic’s barbs; Macdonald even goes after the newly crowned Masters champion, Charl Schwartzel. “In the first episode I actually defend the great Tiger Woods, because I’m tired of seeing guys named Charl Schwartzel. I mean, I don’t want to name anyone by name, but Charl Schwartzel comes to mind as someone who destroys a five-and-a- half-hour broadcast there at the end.”
An avid social networker, Macdonald admitted that Twitter was about the extent of his electronic knowledge. “I’m always on Twitter, but I’m not very computer literate. There are five buttons I hit on my computer, and one has a bird on it. I’ll be tweeting all day, you can check out the w-w-w google net dot search dot gov.”
The premiere episode of “Sports Show” included several laugh out loud moments. The headlines segment featured the familiar feel of the comedian spouting off quick, topical one-liners at a desk in front of a video monitor, riffing on subjects like the “Dougie Dance,” the Masters Tournament, and Michael Jordan’s “Hitler moustache” from the Hanes commercial advertisements.
More laughs came at the expense ultimate fighting, of which Macdonald joked “mixed martial arts continues to be one of the fastest growing sports. This year the Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Extreme Cage Fighting have merged, forming a new sport called Murder.”
In a recorded segment, Los Angeles Clippers superstar Blake Griffin starred in a body-swap gag that was not only funny, but proved impressive that an athlete of Griffin’s stature would be game to play along.
The funniest segment came at the expense of golf announcer Jim Nantz, when Macdonald read some Nantz’ “unused” signature calls as the winning putts drop into the cup. “Stewart Cink, a historic victory for a deeply uninteresting man. Vijay Singh, does this count as a black guy? Rory Sabbatini, absolutely nobody was rooting for that.”
Macdonald wraps the impressive premiere episode with a segment called “Garbage Time”, which is nothing more than a hilarious lighting round of non sequitur jokes and random thoughts.
If “Sports Dome” is another foul ball for Comedy Central programming, Macdonald’s “Sports Show” is a grand slam. Macdonald’s snickering, low-key presentation, coupled with his charming anti-sports reporter delivery, make for unique topical news program that blends well with the meat of Comedy Central’s line-ups “The Daily Show” and “Colbert Report.”
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