The Fascinating Friendship of Norm MacDonald & Billy Joe Shaver
“People hate country. And sometimes people go like, ‘Ah country music, it’s just your dog died, and your wife left you, and you’re a drunk.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, it’s life.'”
Comedian, Canadian, and true country music fan Norm MacDonald died on Tuesday (9-14) after a private battle with Cancer. The long-time stand-up performer, comedic writer, and host of Saturday Night Live‘s “Weekend Update” along with podcasts and a Netflix program was 61.
There will be plenty of obituaries written for Norm MacDonald with warm remembrances and list of accomplishments for this often misunderstood, but incredibly revered and talented man composed by people much more qualified to compile such things than myself. But I would be remiss if I did not use this somber occasion to highlight one of the most curious and beautiful parts of Norm MacDonald’s life, which was his love for country music, and most importantly, his sincere and devoted friendship to Outlaw country legend Billy Joe Shaver.
They were strange bedfellows indeed—a Canadian comic steeped in the upper crust world of entertainment often sequestered on the two coasts, and a hardscrabble Outlaw songwriter who frankly was often overlooked even within the country music industry. But there was a close kinship between the two that you couldn’t measure in regular “friendship” terms, and when they got together, both the hilarity, and the honest contours of both of these characters were revealed.
The friendship appears to have been sparked simply by Norm MacDonald being a Billy Joe Shaver fan. A professed devotee of actual country music—especially the Outlaw era of which Billy Joe Shaver was so seminal and critical to—Norm MacDonald first signaled his Billy Joe Shaver love and appreciation when he included Shaver’s song “People and Their Problems” as the opening song on his 2011 comedy special, Norm MacDonald: Me Doing Standup.
At some point the two became so close, they would regularly call each other when they were on the road performing, and would meet up for wild romps out on the town, so wild in fact one time when Norm suggested (probably in jest) that Billy Joe change one of the lyrics to one of his his signature songs “Georgia On A Fast Train,” Shaver punched MacDonald in the face. Pot shots to the noggin or not, the authenticity of Billy Joe Shaver is something Norm MacDonald revered, while also cherishing his songwriting as some of the best to be found, and Billy Joe just seemed to love to go along for the ride.
Norm MacDonald would regularly bring up Billy Joe Shaver on his podcast, including one time when Norm mentioned his efforts to write country music, and specifically a song he once penned for Shaver personally when interviewing Billy Bob Thornton in 2013.
“My dream is to be a country music writer,” MacDonald said. “So I write all this country music. And then once … I’m friends with Billy Joe Shaver, and I wrote … it took me like two weeks to write this song to send to him. And then I didn’t send it. Because his songs are so fuckin’ good, and then I felt weird sending this graffiti over to him. I cowarded out.”
In 2018, Norm MacDonald was given a Netflix series simply called Norm MacDonald Has a Show, and you just knew at some point Billy Joe Shaver would materialize on it. That’s exactly what happened for the 9th episode of the series released on September 14th, 2018, interspersed between episodes with people such as Jane Fonda, David Letterman, and Judge Judy.
The Netflix episode is just about the most entertaining 32 minutes you can find on the planet, and Norm MacDonald introduces Billy Joe Shaver as a “founding father of Outlaw country, and my best friend.”
Billy Joe Shaver left us in October of 2020 at the age of 81, and now Norm MacDonald has checked out on us as well. But the enduring friendship between these two really helps underscores a few critically important things, including how similar we all are inside, how two people can find friendship now matter how disparate their backgrounds are as long as there’s a mutual respect, and how much a mutual love for country music can facilitate this through the shared experiences it speaks to.
RIP Norm MacDonald, and Billy Joe Shaver.
September 14, 2021 @ 2:15 pm
Nice post. I had no idea.
September 14, 2021 @ 2:37 pm
I’m gonna miss that old chunk of coal
September 14, 2021 @ 2:38 pm
September 14, 2021 @ 2:38 pm
Thanks Trigger, didn’t know they were buddies, its a big ole goofy world, RIP Norm and Billy Joe!
September 14, 2021 @ 2:58 pm
Trigger, this was a brilliant obituary and eulogy.
September 14, 2021 @ 3:33 pm
Norm was greatest comedian of the last 50 years, possibly ever. At first glance, he and Billy Joe seemed to little in common. With a deeper look, however, they had the most important things in common. Both were raised in rural areas with strong, rooted cultures and communities. Both were at the top of their creative fields. Most importantly, both were uncompromising, professing Christians. Requiescat in pace.
September 15, 2021 @ 2:37 pm
What rural community was Norm raised in? I know he lived in Quebec City and then Ottawa as a kid.
September 15, 2021 @ 3:52 pm
From an interview in Harper Collins Canada:
“I was born in Quebec City, English, where everyone was French. I was raised in rural Ontario, on a farm between Avonmore and Monkland.”
I have seen numerous interviews where he mentions that he grew up in a rural farming area. Looks like its about an hour SE of Ottawa. Not far from the US border.
September 15, 2021 @ 4:08 pm
Norm talks about growing up on a farm and having to use an outhouse on the Netflix episode with Billy Joe Shaver.
September 15, 2021 @ 6:52 pm
You ever seen a double seater, Trig?
September 15, 2021 @ 8:57 pm
Yes, but not side by side. At Boy Scout camp, I took a few rides on a “pilot & bombardier” style outdoor latrine, where you had two holes, but the seats were back to back.
September 16, 2021 @ 4:26 pm
Thanks. I know he graduated from a city high school, the farm years must have predated that.
I know the area well.
September 14, 2021 @ 4:37 pm
This is the most poignant and compelling article i have seen in 2 and 1/2 years here.
September 14, 2021 @ 5:54 pm
Funniest guy ever
September 14, 2021 @ 6:04 pm
That’s a great read
I LOVE comics RIP Norm
September 14, 2021 @ 6:30 pm
I always liked Norm MacDonald, he’s great comedian and great human being. I continue to miss Billy Joe Shaver big time, he was such a pillar to the outlaw country movement and he deserves more than what the Nashville establishment ever did for him. I knew Billy Joe and Norm were good friends, wish I could of hung out with both of them
mouths of babes
September 14, 2021 @ 6:59 pm
Note to self: No matter how bad life gets, there’s always beer.
September 14, 2021 @ 7:34 pm
Norm’s death was one of the few celebrity deaths that really got to me and actually caused me to shed a few tears.
Norm MacDonald’s love of outlaw country music was also shown in his bit about “Tex Hooper”, which I would recommend that everyone check out on YouTube.
September 14, 2021 @ 8:05 pm
One of my all time heroes ever. Also I’d like to say “attention e cigarette users, you look fucking stupid”.
September 15, 2021 @ 6:30 am
I only smoke the analog ones
September 15, 2021 @ 1:49 am
You can watch Norm interview Billy Joe Shaver in full here. Billy Joe performs a little too. Get around it while you can.
September 15, 2021 @ 9:02 am
I hadn’t seen that in a couple years. Thanks for sharing. What a shame those two are now gone.
September 15, 2021 @ 6:19 am
Truly sad. If anyone needs me I’l be under the Queensboro Bridge.
February 26, 2022 @ 10:47 am
Don’t forget to bring your $15.
September 15, 2021 @ 6:35 am
Love them both 💔
September 15, 2021 @ 6:35 am
Saw the alert on my phone, which started out with his name and highlights from his career. I said to myself, “oh, no” and let out an involuntary groan when I saw the news in the full article. Just wasn’t expecting this. What a loss. Norm’s comedy was a gift that kept on giving. There’s numerous bits and talk show spots of his that I’ve watched over and over.
It always warmed my heart when Norm would refer to himself as “an old chuck of coal.”
September 15, 2021 @ 8:07 am
I’ve heard this sentiment expressed a lot online, but truly, this was the first celebrity death I ever cried for. I’ve spent days and days worth of time watching Norm on YouTube. My friends were messaging me about Norm saying how sad it was because they knew how big a fan I was. There was nobody funnier, and just as importantly there was nobody who was as good at making fans feel like they were a part of some community of people who just get it. Look at the comments under the “I’m Not Norm” videos on YouTube and it’s just a community of people commenting a bunch of inside jokes and having fun. Norm will be missed. Also his love of country music made him even cooler to me. His joke on Letterman was great where he was talking about how excited he was to meet Randy Travis and that George Jones was his hero, and when Letterman asked if he liked the new country, Norm said “the new is gay” in a way that only he could have made funny. RIP to a legend.
September 15, 2021 @ 9:40 am
Makes me long for the days when SNL was funny and edgy, Rolling Stone was an actual journalistic publication, CNN was only about news and not an agenda, MTV only played music videos and country music wasn’t afraid to be country.
Glad I got to grow up during peak America in the 70’s and 80’s.
Wish all the kids today could too.
September 15, 2021 @ 3:29 pm
Thanks for this. On one of his later appearances on Conan, he refers to himself as ‘an old chunk of coal.”
September 15, 2021 @ 3:47 pm
Or so the Germans would have us believe….
September 15, 2021 @ 4:57 pm
You guessed it… Frank Stallone.
September 17, 2021 @ 6:26 am
As far as I’m concerned, Germany shouldn’t have even been allowed to a country anymore after WWII, on account of them repeatedly attacking THE WORLD.
September 17, 2021 @ 11:03 am
The more I learn about that Hitler guy, the more I don’t care for him. I don’t care what anyone says, he was a bad man
Goddamn, he’s gonna be missed
September 17, 2021 @ 11:18 am
Hitler’s not my idea of a silver tongued devil
September 16, 2021 @ 12:05 pm
Real recognizes real.
He was great as Uncle Rusty on The Middle.
September 16, 2021 @ 9:33 pm
The song Norm got punched over is called “Georgia On A Fast Train.” These things matter.
September 16, 2021 @ 10:31 pm
For sure. Not sure how I duffed that up. It happens.
September 20, 2021 @ 5:45 am
It’s likely because that’s what Norm calls it in the interview featured in this post!
September 17, 2021 @ 7:04 am
“you just new at some point” I did no.
September 18, 2021 @ 10:23 am
Great to learn of this friendship. It makes perfect sense. Both had an incorruptible integrity, a genius with words and side-ways senses of humor. Honest humility, too. Two of the very best at what they did.