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Norm Macdonald's emotional tribute to Letterman will always be one of the most honest moments on TV

Norm Macdonald got his first stand-up gig on TV on the Letterman show and it felt poetic for him to perform as the show winded up.

Norm Macdonald's emotional tribute to Letterman will always be one of the most honest moments on TV
Image source: The Late Show with David Letterman/CBS

Editor's note: This article was originally published on September 15, 2021. It has since been updated.

Very few are as gifted as Norm Macdonald was. An effortless performer whose brand of comedy was in a genre of its own. The stand-up comedian and legendary "Saturday Night Live" weekend update anchor passed away on Tuesday, September 14, 2021, and we are left with memories of his absurdist comedy style and deadpan delivery. There are never enough comedic clips, to sum up, the genius of the man but one moment that really shines a light on the big-hearted he was, is his tribute to David Letterman before the latter's talk show went off the air. Norm Macdonald was his usual funny self on that day as well, but then he got emotional and provided one of the most real moments on TV.

BURBANK, CA - AUGUST 03: Comedian Norm Macdonald on stage at the "Comedy Central Roast Of Bob Saget" on the Warner Brothers Lot on August 3, 2008, in Burbank, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Comedy Central)

It was 2015 and "The Late Show with David Letterman" was winding up. Norm Macdonald appeared on Friday’s edition of the show to perform stand-up one last time. It was poetic considering Norm's first stand-up gig on TV was also on Letterman. "There's nobody funnier," said Letterman as he introduced Macdonald to take center stage. "Listen, I don't want to brag or anything but me and Oprah are making the same money tonight," he started off with loud cheers from the crowd. He then delivered some great zingers on World War II and technology and had the audience in splits the whole time. 


After going through his comedy set, Macdonald got serious and spoke about what Letterman meant to him. “This will be my last time on the David Letterman show, I understand. We all know that David Letterman was the greatest talk-show host who ever lived," said Macdonald, as he chokes up. Here was a man, who had a way with words, struggling to string two together as he recalled meeting Letterman as a teenager. "But I remember Dave differently. The first time I saw him, I was 13 years old. I was living in Toronto, Canada, and I went to a talk show they have there, and David Letterman was the stand-up comedian on the show. I loved stand-up. David Letterman did this joke that I told everybody. I love this joke. It still stays with me as my favorite stand-up joke ever. I’d like to do it for you, if you’d like to hear," he said to loud cheers from the crowd. 


Macdonald starts, “I was on the street the other day and I saw a garbage truck, and on the back of the garbage truck there was a small sign that said, ‘Please do not follow too closely.’ Another of life’s simple pleasures ruined by meddling bureaucracy, ladies and gentlemen. Remember the old days, when dad would pile the kids in a station wagon and we’d all go and follow a garbage truck.” The crowd roared with laughter. With Norm, half the joke was always his deadpan delivery. 


He then grew visibly emotional as he said his final words on the night. "Mr. Letterman is not for the mawkish, and he has no truck for the sentimental. If something is true, it is not sentimental. And I say in truth, I love you," Norm finished, tears streaming down his face. Letterman walked up to him and hugged him. Letterman, said in an interview later, "If we could have, we would have had Norm on every damn week.” Macdonald described Letterman as being a father figure to him. 


Norm Macdonald passed away on September 14, 2021, from cancer and was 61 years old. He anchored the "Weekend Update" for three seasons on SNL and is still considered by many to be the anchor in SNL history. Letterman was among many who paid tribute to the comedian. “He is funny in a way that some people inhale and exhale,” said Letterman, reported The Washington Post. “With others, you can tell the comedy, the humor, is considered. With Norm, he exudes it. It’s sort of a furnace in him because he’s so effortless. The combination of the delivery and his appearance and his intelligence. There may be people as funny as Norm, but I don’t know anybody who is funnier.”






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