R.I.P. Norm MacDonald

Wow. Did NOT see that coming. The opposite of the usual just happened. Normally you see the name of some nonagenarian (like Jimmy Carter or Betty White) trending on Twitter and you click and they WON’T be dead. I just saw “Norm MacDonald” trending, and clicked, with the attitude of, “What did that turkey say NOW to get himself in hot water?” and, nope, he has passed from the mortal realm at the age of 61. The cause was cancer.

MacDonald’s kind of been in my conciousness more than usual lately because I listened to his Marc Maron/ WTF interview a few months ago (the show was actually a decade old, it dates from 2011). He was a very peculiar comedian, and by all accounts a weird dude as well. I don’t say that disparagingly. He was just one of those people whose point of view seems to have been like NO ONE else’s. It wasn’t just the usual “skewed perspective” commentators often attribute (all too frequently) to lots of comedians. He GENUINELY didn’t GET what most people appreciate or just go with, and he dared to point it out — kind of an alienating thing to do. He wrote and spoke about how he couldn’t relate to people as a child, or as an adult either. It made him a little scary. Am I wrong? He seemed a bit intense, full of hostility, almost like a serial killer, only, he had comedy as an outlet, so he could just exorcise his demons out there in the world. His sensibility was dark, dark.

Like most people, I probably I knew him first and best from his SNL run (1993-1998), where he was the Weekend Update “anchor” after Kevin Nealon and before Colin Quinn. In that slot, he is best remembered for driving jokes about the O.J. Simpson trial into the ground, and he later blamed it for getting him let go from the assignment. But, like I say, he was really weird. I didn’t like him at first, but like most of the comedians who get that plum role, he gradually relaxed into it and made it his own. He was very much unlike the typical SNL cast member. He really wasn’t an actor and impressions weren’t his thing at all. I remember him doing Burt Reynolds all the time — didn’t look like him, didn’t sound like him, just chomped gum and mocked his attitude. Mockery — irony — that was his thing. He gave off a vibe like didn’t give a shit about the show, the jokes, or the characters he was supposed to play. It took some getting used to.

Of all the crazy things, he started off writing for Roseanne, this straight, very male Canadian dude, writing wisecracks for a working class midwestern housewife. Comedy writing seemed to be what he did best. Still he managed to star in several additional TV series: Norm (1999-2001), A Minute With Stan Hooper (2003-2004) and several talk shows: Sports Show with Norm MacDonald (2011), Norm MacDonald Live (2013-2017), Norm MacDonald Has a Show (2018), and Quarantined (2020). He also had recurring roles and guest shots on several other shows. He starred or co-starred in the movies Dirty Work (1998) and Screwed (2000), but most of his film work was in bit parts or cameos. A lot of it is comedy “in” stuff. He’s in several Adam Sandler projects, Rob Schneider’s Deuce Bigelow movies, the Dr. Doolittle movies with Eddie Murphy, and was a regular guest on all the late night shows.

MacDonald wrote his memoirs in 2016, wherein he revealed that he had lost almost all of the money he had made in show business due to a serious gambling problem. A grim button in the spirit of Norm: problem solved!