One of the funniest people to ever live died on Tuesday. After a lengthy (and reportedly private) battle with cancer, Norm Macdonald passed away at age 61, with seemingly everyone in the world of comedy taking some time to celebrate a man who managed to take just about anything and somehow make it hilarious.
There may not be a better example of this than Macdonald’s tenure as the host of Saturday Night Live‘s Weekend Update. Macdonald hosted the segment on his own in the midst of the OJ Simpson trial, and he never exactly held back his belief that Simpson was guilty of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. In classic Norm style, he took this remarkably serious topic — one that, as ESPN’s acclaimed documentary series on the trial showed, was far more than just a trial involving a football player — and ripped joke after joke about it. Famously, on the first episode of SNL after Simpson’s acquittal, Macdonald welcomed viewers by saying, “Well, it is finally official: Murder is legal in the state of California.”
"Well, it is finally official: Murder is legal in the state of California." – Norm Macdonald, SNL, 1995. pic.twitter.com/igIhoqMEE1
— art tavana (@arttavana) June 15, 2019
One enterprising YouTuber put up a compilation of Macdonald’s work during the trial. They combine to be more than half an hour long. Both videos are painfully uncomfortable, occasionally gasp-inducing, and also, some of the funniest things you will ever see.
It is speculated that Macdonald’s constant ragging on Simpson played a role in his departure from Weekend Update and, eventually, SNL. While he denied this was the case, former NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer was close to Simpson and expressed support for him during the trial, and there was a pretty widespread belief that Macdonald’s relentlessness led to him getting the hook.
That touched off a nasty feud that had Mr. Macdonald appearing on CBS’s late-night show with David Letterman (another former NBC star who has a feud going with Mr. Ohlmeyer) and on Howard Stern’s syndicated radio show. Mr. Macdonald berated Mr. Ohlmeyer for dismissing him, saying that Mr. Ohlmeyer objected to his often vicious barbs about O. J. Simpson.
Mr. Ohlmeyer, a friend of Mr. Simpson’s who stood by him during his trial and acquittal, has said that had nothing to do with the decision to remove Mr. Macdonald. He pointed to the innumerable monologue jokes that NBC’s biggest late-night star, Jay Leno, has delivered about Mr. Simpson, without drawing any reaction from Mr. Ohlmeyer.
While he originally expressed support for this belief, Macdonald eventually came to the conclusion this was not the case and expressed some doubts in recent years that Simpson committed the murders. Now, because it is Norm Macdonald, it is extremely plausible that this was a bit, but this is purely speculation on my part. Anyway, let’s remember one more time he told an OJ joke: during his legendary monologue as host of the ESPY Awards in 1998.