TV’s return to Normalcy

by Colby Cosh

Norm Macdonald has, after what amounts to a decade-long absence, returned to television as the star of his own show. I know many of you will greet this news with a “Who cares?” Macdonald is almost as polarizing and distinctive a comedian as Andy Kaufman, though it is easy to overlook this because of the pathological purity of his approach. He’s an intelligent man who would seemingly rather die than make a joke that was even slightly “inside”, and a fairly gifted mimic who wheels out an impression maybe once every three or four years.

The ultimate Norm Macdonald punchline is a simple statement of the obvious, delivered in a spondaic sort of way; the O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson jokes that defined his tenure as host of SNL‘s “Weekend Update” segment largely consisted of these, and if you appreciate the approach, you will probably love his Comedy Central Sports Show. (It turns out that Tiger Woods’ “sex addiction” is very, very amenable to this sort of treatment.)

Though Macdonald has a sizable cult, his continuing recognizability has relied, to an unusually large degree, on the reverence of comedy peers like Jon Stewart and Conan O’Brien. A person turning 18 today would have been four years old when Norm was fired from Saturday Night Live, and only 12 when he put out his lone comedy album, Ridiculous. There is a natural temptation to blame Macdonald—because of his diffident way of speaking and his love of gambling—for his own low profile. He doesn’t like letting evidence of special effort show in his comedy, so one assumes he doesn’t like to work very hard. Well, it’s more than an assumption: he has joked that he got into comedy because it seemed like the most congenial “of the unskilled labours”.

I find myself wondering whether Macdonald pushed himself back into a higher gear because of his friend Artie Lange’s bloody suicide attempt, which deprived us of a fast-improving talent in its prime. The fact is, though, that Macdonald has already taken several runs at creating TV and web projects where he sits behind a desk and cracks wise à la “Weekend Update”. Based on hints he has dropped about the conditions of his release from SNL, he probably has to be careful not to just do a straightforward “Weekend Update” clone. The sports theme of his new show seems like a Solomon-like solution, and if it succeeds, it could fill a nice little three-of-a-kind with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Comedy Central franchises.

I hope Canadians are pulling for Norm. Of all the Canucks who have gone south to seek fame and fortune in the entertainment business, Macdonald is in many ways one of the most Canadian. I still remember hearing his vertiginously raised vowels for the first time on SNL and experiencing a rare shock of recognition. He carries one passport, a Canadian one. And he has one of the stronger theories out there about why Canadian comics enjoy disproportionate success in Hollywood.




Browse

TV’s return to Normalcy

  1. And his brother is CBC Correspondent Neil MacDonald.

  2. I always enjoy reading your articles. And of course, being the seasoned journalist that you are, you know that what usually follows is the word But… A typo survived the final editing: «á la» does not take an acute accent, it should be «à la» (accent grave en français). If I recall my catechism from the late fifties, such a mistake is no doubt a form of retribution for having made fun of Gilles Duceppe's accent during the live blog/tweet of the English-language debate. Another one for the long list of proofs of the existence of God!

    • Dammit. I always mess that up, and then USUALLY catch it before I file/paginate/upload. Will fix a bit later, thank you.

  3. Never has reading with no inflection been so funny. Seriously, guy could read the phone book and make me laugh. Read the phone book.

  4. Norm Macdonald is my favourite Canadian comedian, hands down. Best of luck to him and the Sports Show.

  5. I loved Norm anyway, but that Super Dave thing had me in pain from laughing.

  6. Norm Rocks! Best SNL Weekend Update host ever. When he used to take the pi$$ out of OJ Simpson on Weekend update, that was pure comedy gold.

    • I believe that's why he actually was fired at SNL: somebody at NBC was a good friend of OJ and didn't like Norm's jokes.

      We love Norm — watched the new show, had a few laughs, but we though he looked like he was botoxing. Don't botox Norm! You're handsome and aging is normal.

      • Yeah, I think it was Don Ohlmeyer (sic) who was the NBC executive that was pals with OJ, golfing buddies or something like that. There's a good book, if you're a SNL fan, called Live From New York, which is an oral history of SNL told by the cast and crew members over the years. It recounts that and many other choice incidents over the years. I found it to be a great read.

  7. I dont know Norm is OK, but he isn't a legend, man. He is pretty funny

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *