25 Trivia Tidbits About Norm Macdonald's ‘Dirty Work’ on Its 25th Anniversary

25 Trivia Tidbits About Norm Macdonald's ‘Dirty Work’ on Its 25th Anniversary

Apologies to Tony Stark, but despite his unwavering support of the band, the best use of AC/DC in all of cinema was in Norm Macdonald’s comedy Dirty Work. The 1998 film introduced us to Macdonald’s Mitch and Artie Lange’s Sam, two best friends who start a “revenge-for-hire” business where people can pay them to get back at those who have wronged them. In a classic sequence, Mitch and Sam delightfully vandalize a building by sticking fish in the walls, blowing up toilets and burning down doors, all to the tune of “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” by AC/DC.

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It’s just one of countless memorable and hilarious scenes in the cult comedy, which marks its 25th anniversary today. To celebrate the occasion, let’s get into the down-and-dirty tidbits...

It’s Similar to a Short Story by Roald Dahl

Dirty Work’s premise of a revenge-for-hire business shares some plot points with the short story “Vengeance Is Mine Inc.” by Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author Dahl. In the short story, two men open a business offering services like a black eye, a punch in the nose and putting a rattlesnake in someone’s car.

Macdonald’s Gambling Affected the Writing Schedule

Co-writer Frank Sebastiano said in an interview that writing the screenplay revolved around Macdonald’s gambling habits. 

Macdonald Didn’t Know Lange Before ‘Dirty Work’

The studio was struggling to cast the role of Sam when Macdonald saw Lange on an episode of MADtv. Macdonald thought he was funny and that he reminded him of John Belushi. 

Macdonald was Unsure About Bob Saget Directing

In addition to being Macdonald’s first starring role, Dirty Work was the feature directorial debut of Saget. At first, Macdonald resisted Saget being hired, but he was convinced when he learned that Saget went to film school and had won a Student Academy Award.

Saget Was the First Comedian Macdonald Ever Saw

When Macdonald was 17, he attended his first comedy show in Ottawa, Canada. The first comedian he saw perform there was a then 22-year-old Saget.

Howard Stern Almost Made a Cameo

In the film, Mitch eats a hallucinogenic brownie and imagines seeing the devil. The role of the devil was initially offered to Stern, who declined. Instead, Sandler played the part. Two years later, Sandler would play Satan’s spawn in Little Nicky.

Rodney Dangerfield Was Almost in It, Too

The original choice for the insulting movie theater manager was Dangerfield; however, Saget instead went with Don Rickles since he was so well known as an insult comic. Saget later got into trouble with MGM for wasting an entire week’s budget on filming a day’s worth of Rickles’ riffing.

Rickles Wrote His Own Stuff

When Rickles arrived on set, he was given a script with insults written in to be thrown at Sam and Mitch. Rickles didn’t like them, so he made up the insults himself. 

Julia Sweeney Kinda Has a Cameo

While the character of Mitch’s mom is mentioned many times in the film, she never appears except in a photograph. The photo is of Sweeney.

There’s a 60-Second Still Shot

During the scene where Mitch and Sam are planting fish in a house, several people come to the house to conduct a drug deal as Mitch and Sam are in the next room. The main buyer reacts to the smell of the fish, and the seller believes that the buyer is wearing a wire. What proceeds is an unseen shootout between the buyers and sellers as Mitch and Sam hold fish in absolute terror. The scene was Norm’s idea, saying he wanted a completely static shot for a full 60 seconds.

It was Chris Farley’s Last Film

Macdonald’s friend and fellow SNL alumni Chris Farley makes a cameo in the film. He plays Jimmy, a guy whose nose was “bit off by a Saigon whore.” It would be his last role, as he would pass away six months before the film’s release.

It Was Originally Rated R

The film was shot with the intent of making an R-rated comedy, but it was switched to PG-13 in post-production, with some edgier scenes being removed. As a result, Macdonald occasionally voiced disappointment with the final product. In November 2021, Saget was on Lange’s podcast, where he mentioned trying to assemble the R-rated version but struggling to find the footage. 

Dirty Donuts and Stunt Cock

One of the cut scenes involved Mitch and Sam delivering donuts that had been previously placed around their penises. One of the deleted lines had Jack Warden — who played Sam’s dad — brag about having been a “stunt cock in stag films.”

‘SNL’ Writer Cameos

Saturday Night Live writers Jim Downey and Fred Wolf both cameo in the film as homeless guys. Wolf was also a writer on Dirty Work along with Macdonald and Sebastiano. 

Macdonald’s Feud with NBC Affected ‘Dirty Work’

During the production of Dirty Work, Macdonald was still on Saturday Night Live and making frequent jokes about O.J. Simpson on Weekend Update. This infuriated NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer, who was a friend of Simpson, which would eventually lead to Macdonald being fired from SNL. But it didn’t stop there. Ohlmeyer also refused to allow advertising for Dirty Work on NBC.

Macdonald Spoiled the Plot Twist — More Than Once

While doing promotional interviews for the film — on both Howard Stern and Good Morning America — Macdonald gave away that Mitch and Sam aren’t just best friends, but also brothers.

Jack Warden Teamed Up with Macdonald Twice

The vulgar father of Sam and Mitch was played by the veteran actor, who had tons of memorable lines like, “Back then, they didn’t have these fancy birth-control methods — like pulling out.” Warden would re-team with Macdonald on the sitcom Norm, where Warden played the gay father of Macdonald’s friend who was trying to seduce Norm.

The Best Revenge

In a Comedy Central interview, Macdonald was asked what he thinks the best kind of revenge is. He said it was a tie between “living well” and “putting dog crap in a bag and lighting it on a dude’s front porch.”

Macdonald Bit Chevy Chase’s Penis During Filming

For Dirty Work, Macdonald filmed an old-timey silent movie with Chase (who played Dr. Farthing in the movie). The short was about the two men fighting over who got the taller chair. At the end of the sketch, Macdonald appears to give Chase oral sex, but he actually bit Chase’s penis through his pants.

Critics Hated ‘Dirty Work’

The San Francisco Chronicle called Dirty Work “a stupid lowdown vulgar comedy,” and the Los Angeles Times said it was “a tone-deaf, scattershot and dispiritingly cheesy affair with more groans than laughs.” It didn’t do well at the box office either, earning just $10 million from its $13 million budget. However, it would gain cult status in the years to come.

MGM Dropped Macdonald’s Next Movie

Macdonald was scheduled to do another comedy with MGM called Ballbusted, but the lackluster performance of Dirty Work caused the studio to cancel the film. Eventually, Universal bought the film, which became the 2000 movie Screwed with Macdonald, Dave Chappelle and Danny DeVito.

Kevin Hart Loves ‘Dirty Work’

In a May 2021 podcast interview with Saget, Hart said that Dirty Work is one of his favorite movies. He also jumped at Saget’s offer to do a cameo in a potential sequel.

There Were Indeed Talks of a Sequel

After gaining cult status, Saget, Macdonald and Lange discussed doing a sequel, with Saget apparently telling Lange he had written a script for it. As recently as July 2021, Saget said in a radio interview, “We’re talking about, and thinking, there could be a sequel. ... I talk to Norm quite a bit, and Artie, and it’s a pretty cool thing if it goes, which is looking very nice.” 

Unfortunately, Macdonald and Saget both passed away in the following months, leaving fans wondering how to seek their vengeance against, well, God.

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