The Daily Iowan: 1997

UI apologizes for 'vulgar' show

UI officials apologized Monday for a performance by comedian Norm MacDonald.

By Kevin Ho The Daily Iowan

The UI Men's Athletic department issued a formal apology Monday following a "vulgar" performance by "Saturday Night Live" comedian Norm MacDonald. MacDonald, famous for anchoring "Weekend Update" on "SNL," performed at Hancher Auditorium Sunday night as part of a package of golfing and entertainment in Iowa City offered to raise money for the UI Men's Athletic Department.

The event was sponsored by the insurance company AEGON USA. About 80 percent of the 1,300-person audience left during MacDonald's performance, said UI Men's Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby, who was among those who walked out. Athletic department officials contemplated pulling MacDonald off stage, said Rick Klatt, UI assistant athletic director for external affairs. However, most of the audience members who remained laughed and applauded MacDonald's routine.

MacDonald frequently used the word "fuck," described his own masturbation habits and offered his opinions on anal sex between homosexual men. His jokes about women having sex with pigs also appeared to offend the audience. As parents led their teenage children out of the auditorium, MacDonald said, "What do you want me to talk about -- losing my luggage at the airport?" and, "What did they expect, for me to hold up a picture of Yassir Arafat and make a joke?"

"Norm MacDonald's performance was anything but comedy," Bowlsby said. "It was profane, vulgar, and off-color. The last thing I want to do is to suppress anybody's First Amendment rights, but I feel his material is inappropriate in the majority of venues in America."

MacDonald could not be reached for comment Monday.

The formal apology is unique because the UI has never faced a similar situation, said Ann Rhodes, vice president for UI relations. In the statement, the athletic department took full responsibility for bringing MacDonald to the UI.

"The selection of Mr. MacDonald to participate in the program at Hancher Auditorium was the sole responsibility of the men's athletic department," Bowlsby said in the statement. "Neither AEGON USA nor its many affiliated companies were involved in the screening or selection of program participants. " . . . We regret the inclusion of Mr. MacDonald in an event sponsored by our department."

AEGON, a worldwide financial management and insurance company with offices in Cedar Rapids and Baltimore, Md., sponsored the 1997 AEGON Advantage Golf Tournament, a two-day fund-raising event. MacDonald was originally scheduled to participate in the golf outing on Monday, but his invitation was withdrawn after Sunday's performance. AEGON's fourth annual tournament raised between $60,000-$75,000 for Finkbine Golf Course and futureUI athletic projects.

Klatt said the "inappropriate" subject matter of MacDonald's 50-minute performance came as a surprise. "We had been told in advance that MacDonald's act would be within our expectations," Klatt said. "It was a performance that we believe that was inconsistent with the image of the university. We expected there to be a program that would be more mainstream, what a reasonable person would expect in today's environment."

Bowlsby said AEGON officials were understanding about the situation. Five hundred audience members were guests of AEGON and the men's athletic department, Klatt said. MacDonald, a regular on NBC's "Saturday Night Live", was the fourth act in the three-hour show, which also featured two other "SNL" comedians, Darrell Hammond and Jim Breuer, and, Comedy Sportz, an improvisation group from Rock Island, Ill. Klatt said he and members of the athletic department left their seats during the performance and even discussed pulling MacDonald offstage.

"We were sitting in the audience and there's little you can do once the show is underway," he said. "It's obvious if people aren't laughing and if they're leaving, then you've got a problem," UI sophomore Brent Vanderschel said he found MacDonald's humor acceptable. "Yeah, he was hilarious -- he was just funny and deviant," Vanderschel said. "I think this is stuff people want to hear, at least the people that I went with wanted to hear this."

Many of the audience members who walked out on MacDonald's segment were golfers in the tournament and athletic department staff.

"I think people didn't like him probably because they were older," he said. Iowa City resident Mike Haight was also at the show and said MacDonald's humor might have gone over better with a different audience. "He might appeal to some people, but not to an Iowa crowd," he said. There was a significant number of children in the audience, and MacDonald's humor wasn't suitable for them, Haight added. It was hard to know what to expect from MacDonald's routine beforehand, Haight said. "I think the university wouldn't deliberately bring in someone that is vulgar," he said. "From what I understand, you don't know what you're going to get from this fellow, last night was not his night."

The other "SNL" cast members joked about consumption of alcohol and drugs, sex and undocumented Mexicans in the United States. But officials said they weren't offended by those segments.

"Clearly, this is not what we expected," Klatt said. "We would have never brought this performance to campus. The rest of the show was hilarious -- the other three acts were outstanding." Bowlsby said a complete review of the event will be conducted to ensure that a similar incident is not repeated in the future.

Title: UI apologizes for 'vulgar' show

By: By Kevin Ho

Page: 1A Date: 6/24/97