While in the Bahamas to cover the PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC) I had the good fortune to speak with and interview legendary stand-up comedian Norm MacDonald. The Canadian funnyman has long held a love for the game of poker, with experience stretching back over three decades, to his days showing up at New York’s underground Mayfair Club.
In our talk, Norm spoke about what poker variants he loves most and what it is about the game of poker that draws him to the felt in the first place. He also spoke about what it means to him to be a celebrity, have vast influence, and how that influence ought to be used.
Norm’s a true pleasure to sit with, and I hope you enjoy watching our 10-minute interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it. A full interview transcript is also provided below.
Norm Macdonald Interview Transcript
Thanks a lot. OK, so. Norm….
Hi. What was your name again?
That’s right. So this is your…?
This is my blog. CardplayerLifestyle.com.
That’s pretty cool.
Thank you very much. You also have a poker blog?
Congrats. No, but me and Johnny are trying to figure out the computer stuff. And you’re doing it, this is from your computer, that thing is taping us?
I know I sound like I’m from another time.
But you are correct, though.
I’m like I’m frozen. But that, that’s the camera.
Well, I have to say, to start off, in preparation for this interview I watched like eight, nine hours of your footage and stuff, so how long did you prepare for?
For the interview? Well, I… wait, what was your name?
Robbie. What was your last name?
Yeah. But what was the .com?
You know how to plug my site. That’s very good; I appreciate it.
I got it. I’ve got a lot of… I watch the Cardplayer Lifestyle.
It’s all good. What is your favorite poker variant, Norm? And why?
I don’t know what that means.
Like Hold’em, Omaha, Stud…
Oh. Probably lowball.
Deuce-seven? Nice. Single draw, triple draw?
Well, I usually play triple draw, but I’ll play either.
But you do play single-draw. That’s tough. That’s the real poker…
When I started playing, nobody played Hold’em. There was one, in the Mayfair in New York where I played. There was one Hold’em table, and I mean there was limit Hold’em; everyone else would play Omaha or whatever. There was one table of limit Hold’em. So then, once in a while someone would go all in. And we’d all get up and go to the table…
It was probably like, $300. The guy would take 20 minutes looking at his phone, everyone’s like “what is he gonna do?” He called for three hundred! You’d be talking about it for days…
Do you like cash games or tournaments more?
Well, I’m learning tournaments. I like cash, I’m good at it, and I was never very good at tournaments. So I’m finally learning tournaments, but it takes a little, you know. You know what I say about Hold’em? It’s a game that takes five minutes to learn, but 10 minutes to master.
Right. Well, I did look at your Hendon Mob results — that’s where they record all of the tournament results and stuff — and your last one was a result, you won a $125 Aria nightly back in 2013. So you’ve done obviously very well for yourself in life, and you’re entering $25Ks. So my question is, what is it that possesses you in the first place to register for a $125 event?
Well, I started playing poker because I was a degenerate gambler, so I’d be in the casino all day, just blowing money, and then I’d go play limit Hold’em, and you can only lose so much because you can’t suddenly go “I’m betting everything!” It’s not no-limit, so you can’t suddenly just go on tilt and bet everything, ’cause there’s another guy that’s got to call you. So it was just to get–
To limit the losses.
To stop the bleeding, and so on.
But you won $2,200. So that was pretty cool.
In that one, yeah, sure. You were there, right?
I guess; I don’t really remember.
So you were born in Quebec City, and you were raised in Ottawa.
How was that?
Well, Canada is separated into — people think Canada’s French. But it’s actually half of it’s English, half-French. Everything but Quebec’s English. I was born in Quebec City, which is French.
Interesting. Do you speak any French?
No. French and I did not get along well at all.
Neither do I.
We do now, but we didn’t when I was younger. You know, we had a war with the rest of the country.
Canadians at war is kind of a strange concept.
When you’re not playing in private games, do you often feel pressured to sort of be “on,” and “the famous Norm MacDonald” at the table, or do you sort of let your hair down and be yourself with everyone sitting around you?
Yeah, I don’t try to joke. But the funny thing is people are always expecting me to joke, so they’ve got this eager look on their face, as if you’re about to make a joke, and then you say something and they go “oh, that wasn’t very good.” But it wasn’t a joke!
What do you enjoy most about being on camera and performing?
Well, I mostly do stand-up, so I don’t have to do it on camera. That’s my favorite, is that. So really I’ve done stand-up ever since I started about 25 years ago. And then in between, I’ve done TV once in a while, and when I’ve done stand-up, people come to that because they know you, so they know you from TV. But I don’t mind TV. You know, stand-up you get spoiled because you can say whatever you want, and you get full credit. It’s like this! It’s like your thing. You get full credit for playing, or whatever you do.
It’s totally under your control, sure.
With TV shows, people will go, like, “you were great, but then there were their bits, but it was the greatest thing ever,” everyone says that. And then of course it was bad.
You’ll be headlining a big comedy stand-up event tonight, or tomorrow night, right? Definitely looking forward to that.
Are you going to go?
I hope so.
I hope you do.
You’ll get me a front-row seat, right? Awesome. So, the question is, have you ever performed for an audience of poker players before? They’re experts at being reserved and not showing emotions. Have you prepared a little bit differently for this type of an audience?
Well, they’ll probably read my panic, and I don’t know if I start losing them they’ll realize that and read it and attack, so I, you know, I might have a panic attack.
Good. Obviously you know from ad-libbing.
Well, it’s like poker, you know what I mean? If I they raise me I’ve got to go all in.
There you go.
I’m going to push all in on them and crush them.
You’ve been well known and a celebrity for quite a while, you’ve done obviously all the stand-ups, and so many things. When people come up to you and ask you questions, do you like it more when they talk about the stuff you did 20 years ago that was just so legendary, or more like Norm MacDonald Has a Show, which is relatively new?
No, I like new stuff. Because I don’t really remember the old stuff, people do, so I guess they watch it or something, but I don’t watch it. And a weird thing happened where I used to do a show on the talk shows all the time, we’d go and do the talk shows and go to the studios with Letterman and Conan, so they would just as me whenever they didn’t have a guest. So I was on there all the time.
I watched a lot of those, it was awesome.
But now they’ve taken all those old ones and put them on the computer so they’re around forever. But when I did them they were only around for a day. If you didn’t see them, so the weird thing is that people go hey, I like that thing you did, but I haven’t seen it and I don’t remember it as well as you do. So I like the new stuff, just because I know what they’re talking about.
Interesting. You’re obviously very well known, have a lot of followers, a good following, people know who you are. Obviously.
Do you think I’m over a million?
A little bit. Just happened this morning; it was awesome… Do you feel the obligation to use your notoriety to do something a little bigger than the comedy and make statements or try to influence people?
Yeah, I do, I think that, you know, it would be bad to only use your fame to get something for yourself, you know what I mean? I think you should give and have a message, you know. Like I try to tell people to give to charity, and the charity I tell them to give to is the Palm Beach Tennis and Golf Resort in Palm Beach… because the courts are getting a little shoddy.
Nice. Well, you heard it here first at CardplayerLifestyle.com, here again with Norm MacDonald at the PSPC. And last message you want to leave our audience, you want to plug something?
Yes, just write the check out to Ray Rio, care of the Palm Springs Golf and Tennis Resort, CC: Courts are getting a little shoddy.
That’s Norm MacDonald, thank you very much. This has been a lot of fun, thank you. I appreciate it.
Thanks, this was fun. I love this.