Recently Lost Comic Legends: Norm MacDonald, Gilbert Gottfried, Bob Saget & The Amazing Johnathan, Pt1

While this site obviously touches on death a lot (hey, ghost stories have to start somewhere, right?), I have made sure this hasn’t ventured into the waters of ‘what celebrity died today.’ No offense to those who do that type of work. In fact, I have great admiration for Scott Michaels and he was a huge ally of mine back when we were both operating our respective LA tour companies (LA Haunts for me, Dearly Departed for him).

That said, after having worked in comedy for about 8 years (also, RIP to the Vernon Hills Zanies, where I used to work), I’ve met these funny men and I’m overdue to pay my respects and celebrate who they were as people. They list of comedy heroes I’ve met who have passed on is getting way too long. A measure of growing up, I guess. People like my first ‘favorite comics’ Richard Jeni, Greg Giraldo, George Carlin all passed through the doors of Zanies before passing away (tragically in the case of Jeni, age 49, suicide, and Giraldo, age 44, accidental prescription drug overdose). When Mitch Hedberg played Zanies, it was apparent he was in a very dark place, surrounded by dark people. He died two weeks later at age 37. Robert Schimmel survived cancer only to later die in a car crash. John Pinette’s larger size eventually caught up to him via heart attack. Wow, this list kept growing as more names kept popping up.

Now, on to the sentimental and I will mix in comedy clips of Gottfried, MacDonald, Saget & “Amazing” doing what they did best – making people laugh. FYI – for a site that has remained very clean ever since it launched in the ’90s, the F bombs will be flying in these clips, so be advised: NSFW, so let’s get the ball fuckin’ rolling!

Norm MacDonald, Sept 2021
It’s wasn’t common for me to want to get a photo with a comic when I worked at Zanies (a look back at my old web site via the WayBackMachine indicates that, in addition to Norm, I got pictures with Dave Attell, Bobby Slayton & Jeff Garlin – pretty good company). But by the time Norm swung through Zanies, I was already a very dedicated fan, totally thrilled that he was performing two nights at our club. While he may have been most known as the former anchor of SNL’s weekend update, I was a big fan of his under-appreciated ABC sitcom, first called “The Norm Show,” then shortened to “Norm” for its second and third (final) season. It’s not easy to be edgy in sitcom storytelling, but Norm’s unique comedy voice shined through (PS – Netflix, or some streamer, please pick up this show as there is no place to view it!).

More than The Norm Show, I loved Norm’s ability to derail ANY talk show he was a guest on. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Conan O’Brien laugh has hard as when Norm was on his show, usually getting the biggest laughs when his set was over and he started taking over other guests’ interviews. The panel of hosts for “The View” didn’t appreciate his humor nearly as much and even a celebrity installment of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” didn’t play out the way anyone would’ve thought. Of course, one of his most memorable appearances was on a Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget. I’ve always viewed that comedy programming as impossible to up-end. I mean, this is a setting where shock comedy is welcome and even featured Ted Danson in blackface in the early ’90s. How do you upset something so edgy? Norm went totally clean, telling the corniest jokes possible. A good way to see how a comic is doing is to note how the other comics are reacting. In this case, while the audience was thoroughly confused, the comics were falling off their chairs in hysterics.

When Norm came to the comedy club I worked at, it quickly became clear that he had a connection to the northern Illinois, (if memory serves) due to his manager who was hanging out at the club through the weekend. When most headliners come to town, they just hunker down in their hotel room until showtime. Norm and his manager seemed to have their regular hangs and golf courses to frequent. Since he seemed to know Chicago well, I offered him a copy of my Chicago ghost story book, Voices from the Chicago Grave.

A much younger me with my book, Norm MacDonald & the books’ illustrator, Mary Gutfleisch

Once the weekend was over, I made the rare choice to stop him before I left so that I could take a picture with him. Moments before the photo was taken, he said, “stop – let’s make sure your book is in the photo too!” Maybe he was just sort of giving away a celebrity endorsement? I don’t know, but I certainly love the photo (pictured, left).

He was definitely a unique guy and I think one of the better, most honest ways to understand him is through the “WTF podcast with Marc Maron” where he touches on a number of philosophical topics including his fear of illness and death, living your life by looking out at the world rather than inward and also finding more happiness living a minimalistic life with almost no possessions. Enjoy the humor, but also the profound insight in that conversation below:

Norm also had a solid, yet largely overlooked talk show of his own called “Norm MacDonald has a Show” on Netflix, which started as a streaming series called “Norm MacDonald Live.” His final comedy special, “Nothing Special,” was recorded amateurly during COVID lock-downs and was released posthumously, very recently, on May 30, 2022.

Stay tuned as the following post on this site will cover Gilbert Gottfried, the Amazing Johnathan & Bob Saget.

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