While hosting the 1998 ESPYs, the late, great Norm Macdonald told what this writer considers the greatest joke of all-time. It’s also the one that likely sealed Macdonald’s termination from “SNL.”
“And there’s Charles Woodson! How about that? What a season he had. He became the first defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. Congratulations, Charles, that is something that no one can ever take away from you,” MacDonald said at the end of his monologue. “Unless you kill your wife and a waiter, in which case, all bets are off.”
Watch the video above.
Though we dislike explaining jokes even more than transcribing them, this one might require some context for the youngest adults. In 1994, O.J. Simpson was arrested and charged with the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.
The evidence seemed to overwhelmingly point to O.J. Simpson’s guilt, but the former running back was acquitted on Oct. 3, 1995. During the trial and beyond, O.J. was a regular target of then-“Weekend Update” anchor Macdonald. That irked Don Ohlmeyer, a friend of Simpson’s who was at the time the head of NBC.
Ohlmeyer fired Macdonald from “Weekend Update” (but not yet “SNL”) in January 1998, citing declining TV ratings and quality. Macdonald’s writing partner at the time, Jim Downey, was fired outright.
In February 1998, ESPY Awards host Macdonald had the platform for one last O.J. joke. It would turn out to be his best-ever.
Simpson won the Heisman Trophy in 1968 as a senior at USC. While his trophy was never actually rescinded — though it was targeted for auction as part of a restitution plan for the Goldman Family — there was a push at the time Macdonald hosted the ESPYs for the committee to revoke Simpson’s Heisman. (Ironically, in 2010, fellow USC star running back Reggie Bush had his 2005 Heisman Trophy taken back. That was due to violations of NCAA rules.)
Macdonald was let go from “Saturday Night Live” that same season, though invited back to host the following one. Rest in peace, Norm.