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When Norm Macdonald, one of the greatest stand-up comics of all time, was approached to write a celebrity memoir, he flatly refused, calling the genre “one step below instruction manuals.” Norm then promptly took a two-year hiatus from stand-up comedy to live on a farm in northern Canada. When he emerged he had under his arm a manuscript, a genre-smashing book about comedy, tragedy, love, loss, war, and redemption. When asked if this was the celebrity memoir, Norm replied, “Call it anything you damn like.”
Praise for Based on a True Story
“Dostoyevsky by way of 30 Rockefeller Center . . . the best new book I’ve read this year or last.”—The Wall Street Journal
“This book is absurd fiction. . . . Scathing and funny.”—The New York Times
“Hilarious and filled with turns of phrase and hidden beauty like only a collection of Norm Macdonald stories could be.”—Esquire
“Raucous . . . a hilarious, innovative work.”—A.V. Club
“Part personal history and part meta riff on celebrity memoirs, the book, it quickly becomes clear, is also just partly true (and all hilarious).”—Vulture
“Very, very, very funny! Thanks, Norm, for letting me be part of this Booker Prize–for–literature–quality effort.”—David Letterman
“Norm is brilliant and thoughtful and there is sensitivity and creative insight in his observations and stories. A lot of comics over the years have been compared to Mark Twain, but I think Norm is the only one who actually matches the guy in terms of his voice and ability. I seriously f**king love Norm Macdonald. Please buy his book. He probably needs the cash. He’s really bad with money.”—Louis C.K., from the foreword
“Norm is one of my all-time favorites, and this book was such a great read I forgot how lonely I was for a while.”—Amy Schumer
“I always thought Normie’s stand-up was the funniest thing there was. But this book gives it a run for its money.”—Adam Sandler
“Norm is one of the greatest stand-up comics who’s ever worked—a totally original voice. His sense of the ridiculous and his use of juxtaposition in his writing make him a comic’s comic. We all love Norm.”—Roseanne Barr
“Norm Macdonald makes me laugh my ass off. Who is funnier than Norm Macdonald? Nobody.”—Judd Apatow
“Norm Macdonald is more than a triple threat—he’s a septuple threat. He is smart, funny, wry, rakish, polite, rakish . . . no, wait. He is polite, insightful, and . . . aaaaah . . . warm. No. He’s exciting. Yeah. Exciting! You never know what he’ll do. Okay, then make that unpredictable. Add that up. He’s amazing.”—Alec Baldwin
“Norm is a double threat. His material and timing are both top-notch, which is unheard of. He is one of my favorites, both on- and off-stage.”—Dave Attell
“Letterman said it best: There is no one funnier than Norm Macdonald.”—Rob Schneider
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||6 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Job Interview
“Lorne will see you now.”
He was always Lorne, never Mr. Michaels. He was smart that way. I took a seat across the desk from him, and there was a container of pencils that had been sharpened that very day and a bowl of fresh popcorn and plenty of Coca-Cola.
“Swell office you got here, Lorne.”
“Thank you, Norm. I understand you’re from Canada?”
“Yes, sir,” I said, and I knew that even though we hailed from the same nation, we were worlds apart. He was a cosmopolite from Toronto, worldly, the kinda guy who’d be comfortable around the Queen of England herself. Me, I was a hick, born to the barren, rocky soil of the Ottawa Valley, where the richest man in town was the barber. Lorne was a bigshot and I was a smallfry, and that’s why I was planning on doing very little talking in this job interview.
First let me say that Lorne is often portrayed as an intimidating man, and he is. In some ways he can’t help it. He is quietly confident, smart, funny, and he always carries a dagger. These four qualities combine to make for an intimidating man.
He had beautiful assistants that the writers had derisively nicknamed “the Lornettes.” These girls secretly loved Lorne and also openly loved him. In another room, the writers sat around and did impressions of Lorne that didn’t sound anything like him. This is the way it is with all bigshots and all smallfrys everywhere, and it’s been like that since the get-go. The boss is always a big joke, just dumb and lucky, and nobody’s afraid of him at all and everybody has a good laugh at him. Until he walks into the room, that is. It’s a different story then.
Lorne began the interview by telling stories, and I just listened and nodded and laughed when I was supposed to, the same way I did in every job interview I’d ever had. But this guy was different. First thing I noticed was that he was funny, really genuinely funny, and that is very rare for a bigshot. Especially a bigshot in comedy.
He had all these firsthand stories he was telling me about back in the day when he worked on shows in Toronto and then in Hollywood. And he smiled when he told the stories, the kind of smile a man gets when memory transports him to another place and another time. He had worked on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and a few Lily Tomlin specials. And there were famous celebrities in his stories, and all the stories were funny. And pretty soon my pretend laugh was turning into an honest-to-God real laugh, and I was choking on popcorn and coughing Coca-Cola.
We were having a grand old time until suddenly Lorne got down to business. “So, Norm, let me tell you how the audition process works. We go down to the studio and you show us two characters.”
I hadn’t expected this. I’d been told this meeting was a mere formality, that as long as I didn’t insult Lorne outright, the job was mine.
I’d been misinformed.
“Well, you see, Lorne, the thing is this. I’m a nightclub comic. Jokes, crowd work, that kinda thing. But I’m a hard worker and I catch on really fast. Besides, I understand I’ve been vouched for.” And I had been too. By Jim Downey, the head writer and second-in-command. By David Spade, the comic actor. Why, even by Adam Sandler himself!
“Yes, I’ve heard good things. But the thing is, you’re a stand-up comedian. We are a variety show and I have to be sure you will be able to provide versatility. I don’t want to waste your time or mine.” I wasn’t sure he cared about wasting my time, since I’d been left in his waiting room for four hours, waiting and waiting. And waiting.
“Tell me another story about Lily Tomlin, Lorne,” I blurted out. I figured if he could tell me another funny story, I could start laughing again, and we could go back to those great times we were having a few moments ago. But no dice.
Then he unsmiled his lips and got real plural on me. “We’ll let you know,” he said, and he looked down at a blank piece of paper on his desk. Well, you’d think he was a generous milliner and I was the tallest man in the whole wide world, the way he gave me the high hat that day.
I staggered to my feet, sweating hard, and chugged down the last of the Coca-Cola as Lorne meticulously studied that blank piece of paper the way I’d imagine a sculptor might study a mountain of rock. I had to think and think fast. But that’s not easy for me. I think slow. Real slow.
I felt like I was back in first grade and I’d just failed, as I always did. But that made me think of something else. You see, a lot of times, when I hadn’t finished my homework, I would bring the teacher a shiny red apple and present it to her. It would always work, of course. What would a teacher rather do, read scribbled nonsense from a five-year-old or eat a shiny red apple?
But I wasn’t dealing with a first-grade teacher here. This was the legendary Lorne Michaels, and he wasn’t known for changing his mind once it was made up. Was there a chance I could redapple the old man? I didn’t know. But I did know I was lucky enough that day to have a shiny red apple in my back pocket.
Well, I didn’t have an actual shiny red apple. That would have been perfect. But that’s not how things work in this here life. I did happen to have the closest thing to a shiny red apple in my back pocket. My actual back pocket.
“Listen, Lorne, I do have one character I’ve been working on, and I think it’ll be a big hit. The biggest. But I don’t want to do it down in the studio, where some bum might steal it and take it for his own. I want to do it just for you, right here and now.”
Lorne looked up at me with that stare of his that passeth all human understanding. “Go ahead, Norm.”
I reached inside my back pocket and pulled out a bag containing seven grams of government-grade morphine and two brand-new syrettes and tossed them on his desk.
“I call this character ‘The Connection.’ ”
“Norm, I confess that your antics are near amusing, but this is not what we at the show refer to as a ‘character.’ Do you know what we call this at the show, Norm?”
“No, sir. What?”
“A recurring character.”
I was in.
A Debt Unpaid
I’ve been on the road a pickler’s fortnight and I’m dog-tired.
A great deal of time has passed since the girl with the bright-yellow hair and the bright-red lips told me that my writing a book wasn’t the worst idea she’d ever heard. Since then, I traveled all the way to New York City to meet with a publisher. The publisher is a girl, and it’s about time, I say. Her name is Julie and she has brown hair and red lips. She got me a secretary who’s good at typing and I’ve been working nonstop. I spent a month in New York to begin writing the book. I’m two paragraphs into my second chapter and I’m looking forward to being a bigshot author. And why not? New York City was the site of my great success. I made it there and then I didn’t make it anywhere else. I guess Frank Sinatra isn’t so smart after all.
I’m finally home in Los Angeles and I’m at the very back table of The World Famous Comedy Store. I sit alone, surrounded in black. That’s what I like about this place. The walls are black and the floors are black and the tables are black, and that suits me just fine. Everybody looks pretty much the same in the black. On my table sits a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 and there is a glass beside it. The glass is bone-dry—just there for appearance. The bottle is half full. There’s a guy up onstage and I think he’s saying some pretty important things, because people are clapping a lot and shaking their heads sadly.
“Why don’t you do a set?” says Adam Eget.
“Nobody wants to see me do a set.”
“Sure they do. They love you! They’ll get a big kick out of it.”
Adam Eget is the manager of The World Famous Comedy Store. As always, he has a lit cigarette stuck to his bottom lip, he shifts his eyes from side to side, and he looks like he wants to be anywhere other than here, all of which conspire to give him the look of a getaway-car driver. And he doesn’t know it yet, but soon he’ll be just that.
Adam Eget always wears a suit, the kind of suit a poor man thinks a rich man wears. He’s a man who acts like a bigshot but he knows I know what he is. He was a smallfry when I met him and he’s a smallfry now. I’ve known him for a right smart spell, since my days at SNL in New York City, New York. That’s where I found him, making a living underneath the Queensboro Bridge, jerking off punks for fifteen dollars a man. He said he was eighteen at the time, and he looked considerably younger, but he had a car so I made him my assistant. I figured I’d let him work at 30 Rockefeller Center, where his job was to do whatever it was I said—to make all my wishes real. He was good at it. Some men are just born to do other men’s bidding, and Adam Eget is such a man. It’s a gift that pocketed him plenty in the shadow of the bridge. And he can wear his big man’s suit and order around waitresses and busboys all he wants, but it doesn’t impress me one bit. Like I said before, I know what he is and he knows that I know it.
“Why don’t you sit down and have a drink with me?” I say.
“Norm, I’ve been sober for five years, three months, and twelve days. You know that.”
“Well, then it sounds like you’re due,” I tell him. And then, to punctuate my fine joke, I take a comically oversize swig from my bottle.
The plain truth is that Adam Eget is an alcoholic and that’s why he doesn’t drink. Me, I’m not an alcoholic and that’s why I do drink. Life sure is funny that way.
But my heart goes out to Adam Eget because an addiction is a deep hook, and sometimes the harder you wriggle to escape her, the deeper she goes. I should know, because I’ve got one of my own. I like to gamble—gamble money on games of chance. And some have said that it’s been the ruin of me.
“Go up and do a set. They’ll love you. They’re a great crowd.”
“So you’re saying they’re such a great crowd that they’ll even love the likes of me?”
“No, you know that’s not what I’m saying. C’mon, Norm, as a favor to me. I promise they’ll get a big kick out of it.”
There’s a lady up onstage now and she’s saying the most unladylike things, quite shocking. The folks in the crowd are looking at each other, astonished. They can hardly believe what they’re hearing and I can tell that they don’t know what to do, so they decide to laugh.