The Time Norm Macdonald Got His Ass Kicked on ‘Star Search’
Too young to remember the show Star Search? The late Norm Macdonald has you covered with this description in his not-a-memoir, Based on A True Story: “Star Search was a show where they searched for stars,” he helpfully wrote. “The show had different categories such as junior dancers, spokespersons, singers and comedians.”
It’s also the show that introduced Macdonald to America. “Once a year they would do a special International Star Search, where they would gather up a bunch of foreigners and try to make them stars. That’s why they contacted me. I was a foreigner,” explained the Canadian comic. “The good news was, if I won, I’d go from a nobody to a star.”
The host of Star Search was Ed McMahon, a man best known for sitting on the couch beside Johnny Carson and laughing hysterically at all his jokes. Sam Kinison had told Dennis Miller that Macdonald was a funny guy, and Miller had passed on the word to McMahon. That was good enough to get Macdonald a spot on the international show.
On international night, Macdonald found himself up against the Bushman. “He was very funny, and backstage he had us all in stitches,” Macdonald wrote. “He was from Africa and wore a multicolored tribal robe with a matching hat. He couldn’t have looked more out of place in America, and I couldn’t have looked more in place.”
At first, the Canadian comic thought that gave him the advantage — but did it? This was the show’s international night, after all. Macdonald seemed about as American as any of the show’s usual comics. None of his material felt foreign. He told his agent that he believed he was in big trouble. His agent told Macdonald he was being ridiculous and that he should relax.
That’s just what Macdonald claimed he did via a series of meditative exercises, physical stretching and a couple of Xanax washed down with a flask of Wild Turkey. He was ready for his two-minute routine.
The Based on a True Story version of the performance isn’t entirely what you’d call “accurate.” Macdonald claims his routine on answering machines got little response, so he berated the audience. “So, you’re saying you don’t have an answering machine? None of you? I find that very hard to believe. I think you are liars, and I implore the judges to ignore the boos and jeers and hisses that are filling this auditorium and drowning out my voice. These people are filthy foreigners and wouldn’t know funny if it bit them in the ass. Show some guts, for once in your life, and don’t be swayed by this transatlantic mob.” (Maybe this was simply the internal monologue happening in Macdonald’s head.)
But Macdonald did see what was coming. McMahon brought Bushman, Aussie comic Vince Sorrenti and Macdonald to the stage. After lamenting this was “another hard decision for the judges” (a line that Macdonald facetiously says got the biggest laugh he’d ever heard in comedy), the night’s prize was awarded to the Bushman.
Macdonald got his ass kicked, but one could argue he had the last laugh, landing a spot on Saturday Night Live and in other comedy movies and TV shows. As for the Bushman? He put together a video in 2006 letting Macdonald know that he was ready to kick his ass a second time.
“I remember that night on Star Search. I remember you were very nervous,” the Bushman said, wagging his finger at Macdonald while challenging him to Round Two. “You want us to get into a comedy bout? I would take you on anywhere — in Canada, in London, in Australia, in L.A., on the beach. It does not matter where I am, I’m not afraid of you, man. Guess what, I’m gonna knock you out!”