I’ve been pretty open about my obsession with fame and the famous. I’ve made a fool of myself in all kinds of situations, from meeting U2 to John Mayer, Hugh Hefner to Michael Moore.
But I’ve never had a weirder encounter with someone famous than I did with Norm Macdonald.
Now, those who know and love comedy well remember Norm primarily from his several years in the early ‘90s on “SNL” and then from the 2 ½ years he spent with his own ABC sitcom “Norm.” He’s lovably cranky and sarcastic, and just couldn’t stop tearing down OJ Simpson in his “Weekend Update” reports on “SNL” – a fact that cost him his job with the show.
But apparently Norm is just as passionate about other things, as I learned when I went to see him one night in early 2003 at the Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena. While I went expecting random jabs at Germans for loving David Hasselhoff, I was surprised I got far more: the weird thrill of seeing Norm and some random Arab emigrant woman yelling at each other for about half an hour because of something Norm said (and that, well, is kinda true): “Not every Muslim is a terrorist, but it sure seems like every terrorist is a Muslim.”
The woman had gotten pissed and thrown a napkin at Norm onstage. He proceeded to harangue her about how she was out in a comedy club, wearing normal Western attire, blending in and having a laugh – all things she likely couldn’t do in her homeland as a woman. But she managed to fire back some solid volleys herself about what a disaster an Iraq war was about to be (this was during those halcyon days before the war when bombing the shit out of a foreign nation seemed like the solution to everything).
Norm and the lady screamed back and forth, with the lady even drawing some laughs, for about 25 or 30 minutes. It was exciting, dynamic, something I’d never seen before: a true breaking of the 4th wall and of the personality of a star stage performer truly revealing their inner self and anger out.
The next day I told my editor at the paper I was then freelancing with, Pasadena Weekly, (now I’m on staff there yippee!) about the fracas. He said to go back and see if it was a set-up – meaning another fight would take place – or if it truly was the innocent but fiery expression of ideas that it had seemed to be.
So I went back and there was no fight (sad to say). The shouting match that first night had been real, and both a chilling and thrilling example of crowd control at its finest. I was now determined to ask for an interview about the incident, hecklers, the war, the fragile state of life at that point in history, just about 18 months after 9/11 had occurred.
I got ahold of his very reliable assistant Lori and somehow talked her into getting me the interview. Norm was to call me at noon the next day, during my lunch break at a knuckleheaded, “Dilbert”-style day job, but NOT before noon. The company I was at was this ridiculously insane Internet-based prison that expected us to never take a moment off or our eyes off the screen throughout our luxurious days of earning $9 an hour. If Norm had called in to me before the precise noon moment that I was free to have a half-hour lunch, it could be cause for termination.
Well, sure enough, Norm calls in to my extension at about 11:30 a.m. – or actually calls through the operator, who loudly notes “Norm Macdonald on line 3 for Carl Kozlowski.” My fellow temp-whores in the room looked at me funny in slight recognition of a famous name, but also looked agog as I picked up that phone call that had come at a precisely inappropriate time!!!
I picked up nervously and said “This is Carl.” And the voice I heard back was unmistakable: loud, brash, sarcastic and totally and completely Norm’s. “Hey, howzabout that interview?”
I panicked and talked in as close to a whisper as possible: “I can’t talk right now, I told you to call me at noon!”
“What the hell kind of reporter are you, anyway?” he laughed. Or more accurately, chortled. He was a loud chortler, that Norm.
“Seriously dude, I gotta hang up. Call me at noon!” I shout-whispered. I hung up, drawing quizzical looks from my dismal peers, but largely seemed unaffected.
That is, until about 10 minutes later, when the operator made another pronouncement that Norm Macdonald was trying to reach me. I grabbed the receiver again.
“I said noon! That’s 20 minutes, not 10!”
“What kind of a fly-by-night operation do you work with, man?!” Norm asked. “You gotta go union!”
I hung up on him again, as he chortled loudly.
Finally, noon hit, and he, thank God, called back at an appropriate time for once – and my co-workers, this time allowed to express themselves while in the course of a break – took a perverse fascination in the fact that Norm Macdonald was calling me, with everyone wondering how a lowly temp on a 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift searching for text mistakes in online ads managed to have a Major Hollywood Celebrity calling him on the job.
I put Norm on speakerphone to prove myself to them and then sat down to give him the interview. 30 minutes went by quick – so quick, in fact, that I was stuck having to express the audacity of asking him if we could wrap it up with a few more questions at the same time the next day.
“What the fuck, man?”
I started to plead, and then he laughed manically.
“Just fuckin’ with ya, man!”
And so the next day, Norm was on his best behavior, calling me on the nose at noon as everyone in the room stood around listening again. And Norm was witty, passionate about America and the state of the world albeit from a fairly right-wing perspective, and said that his dad always taught him that if he couldn’t speak freely about his opinions then what kind of man would he be, and what kind of society would he be living in?
I hung up impressed with the guy. He also had told me I could get in touch with this assistant Lori Jo again to see about how to get a gig on the crew of his new upcoming Fox sitcom, “A Minute with Stan Hooper” that fall. They didn’t have a job open right then, but they invited me to come watch a taping and hang out, and stay in touch til the spring season.
So I went to the set, sat in the bleachers, laughed dutifully and then during a lengthy taping break, as the show’s crowd “warm-up” guy tried to rouse the crowd with a series of games, I found that someone kept messing up the lyrics to a famous TV theme song. The warm up guy said “no one wins if no one gets it right!” So I thought “What the hell,” and I waved my arm and got chosen to play. When the guy asked me to announce my name over a mic, I heard a cascadingly loud “Oh, Christ!!!” emanate from the back of the set.
Sure enough, it was Norm. And sure enough, he was pissed. I’m not really sure why, but he was. And at the end of the taping, I was the one audience member with whom he distinctly didn’t shake hands.
I thought I was toast. But I still hadn’t hit rock bottom.
The following fall, I’m visiting New York City and have passes to “The Daily Show.” In the excitement, I didn’t think to ask who was the show’s guest interview that day. I settled into the front row and was laughed at by the show’s warmup guy because I was holding an Entertainment Weekly magazine with Jon Stewart “The Daily Show” host on the cover. I just wanted an autograph, but then the warm-up guy decided to rip on me: “He’s gonna be right here in person in five minutes. So why does a grown man like you need a magazine?”
Right then, out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a familiar face. And sure enough, the warm up guy next announced that the day’s guest was “the one and only…Norm MacDonald!” I froze and looked, and saw Norm standing in the wings in the distance. I waved eagerly, hoping all would be well again.
Norm, however, looked like he was ready to vomit. He ducked out of the way and ran from sight. And the second he finished his interview with Stewart, he slinked off quickly to that same pseudo-hiding spot, and I then asked the warm up guy if he could see if Norm would like me to come say hi.
The warm up guy went off and asked. But it was not to be. The guy waddled back and gave me the answer:
“Someone said that Norm took off like a bat outta hell. Said something that he thought someone was stalking him.”
And there you have it - the one time I’ve ever been accused of stalking someone, and it can’t even be a hot chick.
It had to be Norm Macdonald.