Norm Macdonald as Sully Sullenberger Is Conan O'Brien's Favorite Norm Macdonald Bit
Conan O’Brien says Norm Macdonald was at his best when he was impersonating pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger in a sketch filmed for his 2016 appearance on Conan, and it’s easy to see why — Norm’s jokes always had a way of landing weird.
During his decades of friendship with the freckled, gangly late-night host with saint-like patience, Macdonald appeared on Conan’s multiple talk shows a total of 25 times growing more unhinged and self-titillating with each successive spot. Macdonald was one of the last great late-night specialists in stand-up comedy, and, when Conan spoke at Macdonald’s memorial service following his passing in 2021, he called Macdonald “the best panelist in the history of talk shows and easily the most beloved guest in the 28 years of my career.”
While each of Macdonald’s 25 televised talks with Conan are individually deserving of examination and appreciation, there’s one that stands out to the surviving comedy legend. At a recent Q&A for his podcast Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, Conan revealed that his favorite spot from his late friend came in 2016 alongside the release of the Tom Hanks film Sully. Put simply, Norm did it better.
The sketch itself is such an iconic anti-joke, and learning that the wife character was cast with no warning or preparation makes it even more quintessentially Norm. The whole scene earned supportive applause and scant few laughs from the in-studio audience of Conan the night Macdonald unveiled his pet project — not that a lukewarm response ever bothered him. In the same speech at Macdonald’s memorial service, Conan recalled a story told to him about his late friend’s Saturday Night Live days, saying, “Jim Downey, Norm’s cohort on ‘Weekend Update’ and a speaker today, told me that Norm would bomb with a joke at dress rehearsal and then tell it again on air, when he knew, with certainty, that it would get nothing.”
Conan’s favorite Norm joke got few laughs when it aired, but, seven years later, it’s still stuck in Conan’s head as the best example of his best guest’s fearlessness. Tom who?