Norm Macdonald’s 1998 ESPYS monologue remains one of the most famous pieces of content to air on ESPN. But it lives in infamy with ESPN executives.
Macdonald was handed a microphone to host the ESPYS in 1998, and the late comedian promptly roasted unsuspecting professional athletes at the event. Whether the audience was laughing at a joke, contemplating where he was going, or cringing over where it landed, Macdonald always seemed to get the response he wanted.
It’s hard to imagine a monologue like Macdonald’s happening today and Rich Eisen all but confirmed that this week when a clip from the ’98 ESPYS circulated on Twitter. The clip featured then-Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson.
“There’s Charles Woodson, how about that?” Macdonald said as the crowd applauded. “He became the first defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. Congratulations, Charles. That is something that no one can ever take away from you—unless you kill your wife and waiter, in which case, all bets are off.”
And while the athletes in the crowd shook their heads in disbelief, Eisen confirmed that behind the scenes, ESPN executives were even more shook by Macdonald’s sense of humor.
“I was there. Can confirm,” Eisen tweeted. “This is not a tweet saying Norm wasn’t hilarious. Just confirming the freak-out of ESPN executives and lack of appreciation by the athletes in the Radio City house.”
I was there.
This is not a tweet saying Norm wasn’t hilarious.
Just confirming the freak-out of ESPN executives and lack of appreciation by the athletes in the Radio City house. https://t.co/CNSitg9HBZ
— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) July 13, 2023
Unsurprisingly, the late Macdonald never received an invite to return as host of the ESPYS, despite the fact that it would have given the sports awards show a much-desired ratings boost.
Pat McAfee was fine filling in to provide an ESPYS monologue earlier this week, in a year where they didn’t have a host amid the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike in Hollywood. You can even make the argument that McAfee was impressive, considering that he’s not a professional comedian and was a late add to the show. He attempted to push the envelope, maybe as far as an ESPN employee could push it, by calling out Brett Favre and Skip Bayless, but it was nothing like Macdonald. There will never be another ESPYS monologue like Macdonald’s.