Norm Macdonald had died. He was 61. He was diagnosed with cancer nearly a decade ago. He kept it quiet – telling only a few close friends. He wanted privacy. He wanted the comedy to continue when and as it did. He wanted that untainted. Norm Macdonald was a comedy genius, a comedian’s comedian – the funniest joke-teller and writer. And yet you watch his Netflix special – or his Netflix show – and maybe you don’t get it at all. You see some of his cameos in films and they appear wooden, or flimsy. Unless you watched Norm enough to know that Norm was deeply sceptical and baffled by Hollywood then you might wonder if you were watching unintentional performance art. But it was intentional.
His was a unique gift.
He wasn’t aping anyone else; he was almost without influences. You can draw a line back to Garry Shandling, I guess. Sure. I’m sure Norm appreciated the shit out of Garry. But he didn’t copy him. Not for a second.
Norm wrote some of the best jokes on TV in the late 1980s – primarily via the sitcom Roseanne – then he was on Saturday Night Live where he was, without question, the best Weekend Update Anchor they ever had. He could nail a few impressions when he wanted to. And his ability to make brilliant actors and comics squirm with the worry of breaking – because of his delivery, his timing, and the way he saw the world, was often as good as any of his comedy.
That’s genius. That’s what you can never teach.
Norm Macdonald was the favourite comedian of so many working comics; so many superstar comics. Conan O’Brien talks about Norm on most of his podcasts. Macdonald is one of just a small handful of names that O’Brien goes to when naming the people that always crack him up. There are many other big name comics that will talk about Norm endlessly. There’ll be eve more after today.
His timing, his way with an anecdote, the way he looked at the world while he was constructing these stories, the way he looked out from his world. It’s all the stuff of rare genius.
And the comedy world lost one of its greats today. One of my all-time comedy heroes. Watching and listening to Norm was such a ride. You never knew where it was going. Because he made you believe that he wasn’t quite sure where it was going. But he knew. He always knew.
R.I.P. Norm Macdonald