The death of Canadian comedy legend Norm Macdonald Tuesday after a prolonged battle with cancer has generated an outpouring of tributes from fans, friends and other celebrities around the world.
The Saturday Night Live star, 61, is being remembered for his unique delivery, his ability to spin a lengthy yarn with an unexpected, hilarious payoff, and his reputation as a ‘comedian’s comedian’ — someone who made his peers laugh even if the audience didn’t always ‘get’ the joke.
“(There are) stories of him going on stage not wanting to do his act — because he’s heard his act a bunch of times — so he would go on stage and he would do something that he knew he had no control over, just to provoke the audience in that kind of Andy Kaufman way,” longtime Winnipeg comedian Dean Jenkinson told 680 CJOB.
“He’d go up and he’d do his act in the voice of another comedian that he worked with, just to make everyone else laugh and confuse the audience.
“I think the fact that people were confused by it is something that tickled him immensely.”
Jenkinson, executive director of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, said his social media feed has been filled with fellow comedians praising Macdonald since the news broke.
“There was always something Norm would do onstage that would surprise you.
“You would never say, ‘I know where this is going, I know where he’s headed with this, I know his angle’… it was just a magical thing to watch. He had total command of his craft.”
Pat Dussault, who worked with Macdonald as a writer for Just for Laughs and the Canadian Screen Awards, said although comedy is subjective to the listener, he’d rank Macdonald in the highest echelon of comedy minds Canada has produced.
“With Norm, it was just that combination of so smart and dark and irreverent,” said Dussault, a Montrealer who is also writing for the Winnipeg Comedy Festival.
“That’s the thing — he wasn’t a one-trick pony. Whether he was feeling impish and mischievous and just sort of silly with his observations … or then it could be a really long walk like that wonderful moth joke he did on Conan.
“Also, just the confidence and authenticity of his voice. He was never trying to put on a persona or be what the audience wanted … sometimes to the point of telling the audience that if they didn’t like a joke, they’re wrong. I just love that.”
Macdonald, a noted sports fan — who often treated followers to real-time commentary about games on his popular Twitter account — was frequently spotted in his later years wearing Winnipeg Jets gear, something the team acknowledged when they expressed their condolences Tuesday.