For Norm Macdonald, Sports Are Funnier Than Politics

by | April 12, 2011 at 10:01 AM | Interviews

Norm Macdonald is the kind of comedian who can make you laugh merely by listening to the sound of his voice.

In his standup performances (such as the one-hour special he did just last month on Comedy Central) and his occasional late-night talk show appearances (he’s a favorite of David Letterman and Conan O’Brien), Macdonald has this deadpan delivery that comes across as slightly off-kilter and a tad bewildered when he comments on aspects of our everyday lives.

Starting Tuesday, April 12, Macdonald will turn his peculiar point-of-view and tone-of-voice to the world of sports, in a weekly sports spoof called “Sports Show with Norm Macdonald” (10:30 p.m./9:30c on Comedy Central). On the show, he’s the anchorman – as he once was on “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live” – “reporting” on the latest sports news. Comedy Central has committed initially to nine weeks of shows, each to be taped the day before airtime – on Mondays – to account for weekend sports stories (if any).

XfinityTV.com sat down with Macdonald in the Comedy Central offices in New York to talk about the new show and just listen to the sound of his voice. Here’s what he said:

Why are you doing a new show spoofing sports news? Why does that interest you?

Well, I really like sports. And, uh, like in the past, I’ve been asked to do political things and stuff like that. But I don’t know anything about politics and it sort of frightens me to have an opinion about politics because I don’t know if I’m right or not.

But opinions are not necessarily right or wrong.

But they can have consequences whereas opinions in sports . . . Like, I was always told it was impolite to discuss politics and religion, but you can talk about sports and just yell at each other and argue violently and then it’s all inconsequential, so I like that fantasy world more than the real world.

Are sports funnier than politics?

I think [sports are funnier] because of the inconsequentiality of it. To me, [sports are] easier to ridicule because it’s the same as show business – it’s so pointless and ridiculous that anyone’s fair game. Whereas in politics, maybe I’m naïve, but I actually feel like the public servants, that most of them are probably pretty good people.

Interesting take.

Yeah, people are cynical about it and I thought I should be too. [Laughs] Yeah, that’s why I’d never be good at [satirizing] politics.

What makes somebody a huge sports fan? Are you personally interested in all sports? Are you the kind of person who watches ESPN all day?

I watch ESPN all day but I’m not interested in every sport. I’m interested in traditional sports and I’m uninterested in new sports. Like, I don’t know sports where, like, a guy goes up and does a flip or something and the next guy does a flip and they look equal to me and then afterwards one guy gets an 8.6 – I don’t understand it. I like to be able to follow along.

Then one might say you don’t like sports where judging is involved.

I don’t like sports where judging is involved, exactly. And then, like, if you’re watching the Olympics and, like, all of a sudden you think you’re an expert, like: ‘8.1!? What kind of horse[bleep] is that?,’ and then you’re all, like, mad about figure skating or something.

Which traditional sports then would you say you like best?

Hockey, football, basketball and baseball. I love baseball. Like, I love the dimensions of the game. That’s what fascinates me about baseball, how you can hit a baseball to the shortstop and the guy runs to first and the throw barely gets him out, then the guy steals second and the catcher throws to second and he barely, like, gets there. I don’t know how they arrived at the certain length of the base paths. It’s nutty and it all seems to work out geometrically. I can’t figure out how they did it – I don’t know the history of it. It only works in pro, by the way, because I coached my kid in baseball and this was my thing, I told every kid to steal second and then third, on every pitch. Because it’s set up where a professional catcher is throwing it to a professional second baseman and little leaguers can’t do that. But a little leaguer can run and most of the time the catcher throws it in the field.

How old were these kids whose lack of ability you were blatantly exploiting?

They were nine. But we won every game. We won every game by, like, the fourth inning.

Does an athlete have to be the subject of some kind of a scandal, such as Tiger Woods or Brett Favre, to be the butt of a joke?

No, actually, I wish there were no scandals, I wish we knew nothing about their personal lives myself, but whatever’s in the popular – what’s that fancy word? Zeitgeist – whatever’s in the popular culture that people know about has to be what we make jokes about.

We enjoyed your recent Comedy Central special, “Me Doing Standup.” How much live performing do you do?

I do a lot. That’s mostly what I do, ever since I started. In the past few years, it’s been like real heavy, like 40, 45 weeks a year.

Would you say that you like the life of a nomadic comedian?

I love it. I do love travel. Like, I don’t like the physical pain of being crunched up in airplane seats and weird beds and stuff but I do love being in the sky. [But when] you’re on the road doing standup, you do feel weird because, like, aside from the standup itself, your life is the same as, like, a drifter or something like that. You’re just in a foreign town, you’re trying to find food – like other than that one hour you’re on stage, it’s pretty weird.

It’s great to see you back on TV. You’ve starred in “Saturday Night Live” and a handful of sitcoms. Are you glad to be back on TV?

Yes, I like this. I liked ‘Saturday Night Live,’ but I don’t like acting that much, but I like doing jokes.

You mean playing the character of Norm on “The Norm Show,” for example, was kind of a stretch for you?

It was just hard because I’m not an actor, so, like, when I had to pretend to, like, be in love with a girl or something I don’t know how to do that [bleep].

Who are your favorite comedians?

Bill Cosby, Kevin Farley [who happened to be in the room when we interviewed Norm], Louis CK, Brian Regan. Chris Rock is fantastic. Sarah Silverman is maybe my favorite. So many – it’s like a golden age of comedy right now. I don’t remember there being this many good comics in a while.

“Sports Show with Norm Macdonald” premieres Tuesday, April 12, at 10:30 p.m./9:30c on Comedy Central.

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