Thoughts on Norm MacDonald

By Josh Muchly

As soon as I finished the episode of Comedians in Cars getting Coffee featuring Norm MacDonald, I found myself eager for more of the funny man. That episode aired on Netflix early in 2017, but I didn’t view it until sometime last year. Not long afterward, I came across Norm MacDonald Has a Show (also on Netflix) which became one of my Top TV shows in 2018. His interview with Chevy Chase had me breathless with laughter.

I was surprised that I connected with his show so much. Norm never struck me as a talk-show host. Or a host of anything really; I grew up watching him in movies — Billy Madison (1995), Dirty Work (1998) and Dr. Dolittle (1998). However, his sarcasm plus a tendency to both interrupt his guests and not finish his own thoughts makes for a sincerely fresh and down-to-earth take on the talk-show. This approach also came with some dry moments, however; the episode with M. Night Shyamalan didn’t go so well. When I had binged all those episodes, though, I quickly re-watched the aforementioned trio of films.

I was a bit too young for Saturday Night Live during Norm’s tenure, but I have seen a few sketches now, such as his stint as Burt Reynolds (aka “Turd Ferguson”) on Celebrity Jeopardy (with Will Ferrell as Alex Trebek). Accordingly, I wasn’t much aware of Norm’s stand-up; so when I ran out of nostalgic movies to re-visit, I put on his most recent stand-up special “Hitler’s Dog, Gossip and Trickery” (again, Netflix).

Then, to my delight, I saw he would be performing stand-up at the South Point Hotel and Casino from Jan. 11-13. I couldn’t refuse; what better way to cap off a year of rediscovering Norm MacDonald than to see him live?

Norm was on fire with jokes about addiction, aging, and death.

I don’t want to get morbid, but ….

He has a great bit centered on the word “manslaughter:” it sounds worse than “murder,” but legally-speaking it carries the softer punishment.

Do you know how long it’d take to slughter a man?

He also had some hilarious quips about religion and belief systems. Overall, I’d give his performance a B+.

His set went 75 minutes, however, which felt about 15 minutes too long. His stand-up special on Netflix was a tight 60 minutes, so that’s what I was expecting live. Norm relied too heavily on butthole and prison jokes; sometimes they landed, but they also fell short. His “ass doctor” bit worked. The “I’m going to commit manslaughter and then claim to identify as female so I can serve my time in a woman’s prison” didn’t: it was tired and unoriginal.

He intentionally said “ret*rd” beyond what was comfortable for me. The “R-word” might never be necessary, but if Norm had tied it to a statement about PC-outrage culture, censorship or something similar, it may have been more nuanced or justifiable. But he didn’t; consequently, it felt like a disingenuous attempt at shock humor than anything else. To be fair, he used “f*cking” and “motherf*cking” much more frequently, so it wasn’t as if foul language was absent otherwise (although, maybe using fewer cuss words throughout the set would have been a more effective strategy to shock when the time came).

That said, as far as I’m concerned, it was a mostly-successful set. He rounded-off the performance with his dad’s favorite joke, his son’s favorite joke and his own favorite joke; it was both funny and endearing.

Maybe to some people this isn’t Norm’s heyday. As his Turd Ferguson would say, “Well, that’s your opinion.” It’s his heyday to me. Norm, thank you. Come back to Vegas soon. Also, I’m eagerly awaiting Dirty Work 2.



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