Following the still-shocking death of Norm Macdonald after a nine-year battle with cancer, his fans shared their favorite videos of the comedian on social media. I went with the “Chairman of the Bored” clip, but many people went with another iconic Conan moment: the Moth Joke. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself favor and watch it now. It’s so good and so long — and as Conan revealed on his podcast, so unexpected.
In a special episode of Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend dedicated to Norm, Conan discussed the origin of the mythical Moth Joke. “I’m so happy that the Moth Joke is getting circulated so much from our The Tonight Show, because it is completely outrageous what he is doing,” he said (via Pajiba). “I love it just because even though I was there, I’m delighted every time I see it because what he’s doing breaks every rule. ‘Brevity is the soul of the wit.’ That is the rule. And man, he completely, like Picasso, blew up the form. He goes and he tells this joke forever, and he finally gets to the punchline and you can see that everyone is delighted. He has broken every rule in the book.”
The original plan was for Norm to only appear in one segment, but “I always wanted more Norm. So he didn’t know we were going to ask him to do a second segment. He had nothing planned, absolutely nothing planned.” Podcast producer Frank Smiley added that when they went to break, Norm remembered an old joke Colin Quinn used to tell. “It was a 20-second joke,” he said. “And he asked [Conan], ‘How long is the segment?’ and he was hoping [Conan] would say ‘20 seconds.’ But [Conan] said seven minutes. So it became a seven-minute joke.” A legendary seven-minute joke.
Conan went on to praise Norm’s gutsy brilliance:
“This has to be understood: he’s doing this on the fly. His way to slow it down, that he came up with on the fly, is that he invents a Chekhov play with Russian names and there’s an ineffable sadness in life weighing on the character’s soul. I’ve never met anybody who would take that chance and make that chance, and I’ll ever meet anybody like him again.”
You can watch the clip above, and listen to the episode below.
I felt a strong need to talk about Norm today and I was lucky that two good friends from my show joined me to share stories about what made this brilliant and complicated guy so unique. https://t.co/pfOk23nSHZ
— Conan O'Brien (@ConanOBrien) September 17, 2021