On Thursday night, Conan O’Brien dropped an impromptu episode of his podcast to honor the passing of his good friend Norm Macdonald. As regular watchers of the late night host know, Macdonald was easily one of Conan’s best guests, which is why Macdonald’s famous “moth joke” has been bouncing around regularly since the comedian’s passing on Tuesday.
However, Conan revealed during the podcast that comedy fans were almost deprived of Macdonald’s appearances due to the fallout of him leaving Saturday Night Live. As the story goes, top NBC exec Don Ohlmeyer repeatedly tried to stop Macdonald from making O.J. Simpson jokes while hosting “Weekend Update,” which Macdonald refused to comply with, possibly costing him his job. According to Conan, Ohlmeyer tried to take things a step further by blackballing Macdonald from Late Night. Via The Daily Beast:
“One of his bosses was friends with a murderer,” Richter explained on the podcast, as O’Brien joked, “Alleged! I’ve seen no proof, Andy!”
Macdonald famously refused to stop making jokes about the O.J. Simpson trial, which ultimately “cost him his job” at Saturday Night Live, as O’Brien put it. After that happened, he said, “The word came down, ‘You can’t book Norm Macdonald anymore.’ And it came from the top, from Don Ohlmeyer.”
As O’Brien tells it, Ohlmeyer helped him score the Late Night gig, so he felt some loyatly to the NBC exec, but ultimately, he knew the right decision and told Ohlmeyer as much in an email. “I got this directive. You’ve hired me to do the best show I can and this is my best guest,” Conan wrote. “So I need to do my job, which is the best show I can do.”
According to O’Brien, Ohlmeyer wrote back, “I expected better from you,” but Macdonald was allowed back on the show resulting in the now classic “moth joke” appearance.