Conan O'Brien says former NBC executive tried to ban Norm Macdonald from his late-night show
Conan O'Brien, who welcomed Macdonald as a guest on his late-night NBC talk shows many times throughout the years, tweeted, "I will never laugh that hard again" after news broke of Macdonald's death. O'Brien elaborated his thoughts on what made him so funny in a new episode of his podcast Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend — but he also revealed that a former NBC boss once tried to ban Macdonald from his show.
Macdonald hosted "Weekend Update" on Saturday Night Live from 1994-1998. His tenure overlapped with the O.J. Simpson trial, and Macdonald frequently made jokes about it, often calling Simpson a murderer (you can find plenty of hilarious compilations on YouTube). Those jokes did not sit well with NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer, a close friend of Simpson.
After SNL fired Macdonald, he credited Ohlmeyer as the culprit in subsequent interviews with David Letterman and Howard Stern. But it didn't stop there — as O'Brien details on the new podcast, Ohlmeyer also pressured O'Brien to stop booking Macdonald as a guest.
"The word came down: You can't book Norm Macdonald anymore. It came from the top, from Don Ohlmeyer," O'Brien explained in the podcast discussion with his longtime sidekick Andy Richter and producer Frank Smiley. "Don Ohlmeyer was the one who suggested me for Late Night — he gave me the job — so I had a lot of feelings of loyalty towards Don Ohlmeyer. I wouldn't be here right now if it weren't for Don sticking with me. I owe him that. So I wrote a letter to Don that said, 'I got this directive. You've hired me to do the best show I can do, and this is my best guest. So I need to do my job, which is the best show I can do.'"
O'Brien said that the reply he received from Ohlmeyer was along the lines of "I expected better from you." But O'Brien won the standoff and continued to book Macdonald as a guest on both Late Night and, later, The Tonight Show. On the latter, Macdonald told an infamous "Moth Joke" that continues to be one of his most-shared comedy clips online, a simple crack that becomes a miniature Dostoevsky novel.
"It is completely outrageous what he's doing," O'Brien said of the moth bit. "It's The Tonight Show and he's telling this very long story, taking all the time in the world. I love it because even though I was there, I'm delighted every time I see it. What he's doing breaks every rule. Brevity is the soul of wit! But like Picasso, he blew up the form."
NBC declined to comment.