Norm Macdonald Revealed His Pre-Show Standup Comedy Ritual He’s Used To Calm Nerves For 20 Years And It’s Incredible
Norm MacDonald’s autobiography Based On A True Story: A Memoir just hit the shelves yesterday, which promises to give more insight into the mind of a man whose see-sawed back and forth from great success to general obscurity.
The 56-year-old Canada native came into fame by anchoring SNL’s “Weekend Update” for three years in the 90’s before being fired by NBC executive named Don Ohlmeyer. The firing came out of nowhere and there is speculation that it was at least in part due to MacDonald’s frequent skewering of O.J. Simpson, a dear friend of Ohlmeyer.
Since then, Norm’s had some shining career moments wedged between failed TV failures and his spoiled dream of becoming a late-night talk show host.
In an incredible profile done last month by the Washington Post, Norm admits that there is nothing more professionally important to him than being the greatest stand-up comic of his time. Comedy Central pinned him as the 83rd on its list of 100 Greatest Comedians Of All-Time.
In his memoir, MacDonald describes the pre-standup routine he’s run through over his 20 year career doing standup,
Since I started stand-up, I have used the following pre-show ritual as a way of controlling my nerves and centering myself. First I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Then I create a picture in my mind. It is always the same picture. I am lying in a glade near a brook while a gentle breeze licks my face and makes me smile. Birds fill the sky with song as I lounge beside the brook with my golden Lab and watch the fish as they jump out of the water and back in again. I walk leisurely to the water and take a long, deep drink of it, and it is always clean and cold and slakes my thirst. Then I lie down again on the grass and let my golden Lab lick my face, and then I wrestle with him and laugh. Then I open my eyes. This part of the ritual takes about fifteen minutes. It never fails to clear my mind, as an eraser clears a busy chalkboard.
I feel like I’m right there with you, Norm. Let me be your disciple.
Then it is time for my body. I stretch, beginning with my calves, and then, without hurry, add to the stretch so that it spreads all the way up my body and finishes with the neck. This is crucial, since I hold most of my stress in my neck. I make sure each stretch is slow and deliberate, and as I perform the stretches I listen through head-phones to the calming strumming of the zither, the most relaxing of all musical instruments. With my mind in a state of cheerful slack and my body loosed, it is then time to work on my soul. I take out six two-milligram bars of Xanax and slowly swallow them. Then I reach into my back pocket to find my flask, which is always filled with Wild Turkey 101. I upend it into my mouth and drink until I have to stop to gasp for breath. Then I vomit. Then I close my eyes again and think about the dog and the stream and all that shit. Then I end my pre-show routine by punching my agent in the stomach.
If you want to become a performer in show business—and that includes modern dance—I strongly advise this pre-show ritual.
Norm, I think the two bars of Xanax would do the trick any way you slice it. May want to cut out all that other shit next time.
Read more about how Norm MacDonald’s pre-show routine couldn’t save him from bombing at an International Star Search competition over at Deadspin.
And if you haven’t seen MacDonald’s emotional stand-up performance on David Letterman’s last show, it’s an instant classic.