Norm Macdonald died yesterday at 61 years young. Turns out he was diagnosed with deadly cancer nine years ago, one of those cancer doctors told him that, but he kept it to himself. Which is so Norm.
My first reaction to the news was angry disbelief. “What? Norm can’t be dead. He’s Norm!” Then I was sad that he’s dead, because he’s my favorite comedian of all time. Among many, many other achievements, he was the best Weekend Update anchor ever. If you disagree, you’re just wrong.
And then I became a little less sad, because Norm would think it’s hilarious that he’s dead and everybody has to think of nice things to say about him. What, like, some guy dies and suddenly it’s my responsibility to think of stuff he did that I liked? How did this become my problem? He’s the one who died, the ol’ son of a gun!
Norm would joke about pretty much anything, which always pissed off somebody or other. He told so many damn OJ Simpson jokes on Weekend Update that his boss Don Ohlmeyer, a friend of OJ’s, fired him. Norm outlived Ohlmeyer by four years as of last Friday, so who had the last laugh there, huh?
What’s your favorite Don Ohlmeyer joke? Exactly!
Norm wasn’t afraid to offend people, but he wasn’t a sociopath or something. He joked about a lot of edgy subjects, but he did have a line. Decades after his stint on SNL, he said he regretted joking about a man’s death in a train accident because it hurt the guy’s family. Norm realized that what he had done was needless and immoral. To him, it was just a silly punchline on a comedy show, but to the man’s grieving family, it was devastating. (That’s a lesson Jimmy Kimmel could use these days.)
Even the OJ jokes that led to Norm’s firing came from a place of moral outrage. The joke wasn’t that OJ is a murderer. The joke was that everybody knows OJ is clearly guilty, and yet our society allowed him to get away with it. Telling the plain truth about it — “Well, it’s finally official: Murder is now legal in the state of California” — was an act of courage. For a brief time in the mid-1990s, Norm Macdonald was the conscience of America.
Norm also hated doing roasts because they’re so mean and cruel. When he roasted his friend Bob Saget back in 2008, he did it completely, awkwardly clean. He went the other way with it and blew everybody else off the stage:
Okay, I didn’t get choked up about Norm dying until just now.
Jon Gabriel nailed one of the things I loved most about Norm, which you just saw:
Norm’s comedy stripped away all artifice, nuance, and insinuation. He hated making an audience clap since that action is voluntary. He wanted to make them laugh, involuntarily and sometimes against their will. And if he got neither, he would stare ’em down with the utmost confidence that the joke was great even if they didn’t get it.
He knew he was funny, even when the audience didn’t. And he was always right.
Even Norm’s commercials were funny. At first it was weird to think of him as Colonel Sanders. Now it’s weird to think of anybody else as Colonel Sanders, even Colonel Sanders himself.
That little shrug, man. Pure Norm. “Yeah, okay, so I’m not really that guy, who is long dead. So what?”
One of the dumbest things that happened to Norm, in what turned out to be the last few years of his life, was his near-cancellation for defending Louis CK and Roseanne Barr. A lot of stupid, humorless people were outraged, but what else was he supposed to do? They were his friends! Was he supposed to say, “Screw them, I hate them forever because otherwise a bunch of babies will cry”? No, he wouldn’t say that.
The outrage mob did force him to say this, but I’d like to think he didn’t mean it:
Whatever. A dying man was forced to grovel for forgiveness from a bunch of people who didn’t care if he lived or died anyway. Congratulations, jerks.
It’s kind of fitting that they attacked him on 9/11, though.
Norm meant a lot to me, not just for his comedy, but for his sheer willpower. He never bent to anybody who tried to tell him what to do, even when it hurt his career. He didn’t go along to get along. I felt an affinity with him because he made it to a certain level of fame, kinda blew it, and never really reached that pinnacle again. But he just kept going, whether people dug what he was doing or not. He honed and perfected his style of humor until there was no one better, even if most people never saw it. Every once in a while he’d get his own show or something, a sitcom or a talk show or whatever. It never lasted very long, but he didn’t seem to mind too much. He would just keep writing jokes.
My successes have been much more modest than Norm’s were, but I’ve always admired him for refusing to compromise his ideals, refusing to quit.
And now, knowing Norm spent his last decade living with cancer, it’s even more remarkable. He kept his diagnosis a secret for almost 10 years, probably because he just didn’t want anybody feeling sorry for him. He was a comic, after all, and comedy relies on surprise. Norm was never one to telegraph a punchline.
A lot of people just didn’t get Norm’s comedy, but fortunately for him, the rest of us got it more than enough to make up for those dummies. He was a great comedian, a surprisingly able long-form writer, and by most accounts a good man. I’m very sorry to learn of his death, and I’m still kind of hoping it’s some kind of joke.
Norm Macdonald might be dead, but there’s one thing he’ll never be: alive.
Now go over to the I’m Not Norm channel on YouTube and enjoy the countless hours of hilarious comedy this great man has left us. His legendary talk-show appearances, his chaotic podcast antics, his various feuds and running gags and other nonsense, it’s all there. It’s better than any of the drivel his mourners can manage right now.
If you don’t think God has a sense of humor, consider this: Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, and James Corden are all alive, and Norm Macdonald is dead.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez probably committed a House ethics violation by accepting tickets to the Met Gala, which cost up to $35,000 each, so she could swan around wearing a dress with “TAX THE RICH” on the ass. And it won’t matter, because she’s a celebrity. When you’re a star, they let you do it.
It’s a good gig, doing whatever you want and having an army of sycophants just itching to leap to your defense. That’s why I hate politicians almost as much as I hate their fans. Why the hell would a politician have fans?
Taking a page from the Trump-era #Resistance movement, the Washington Free Beacon is now relegating all AOC news to their “Entertainment, Fashion, Fantasy, and Young Adult sections.” Take that, HuffPo!
So it looks like Larry Elder won’t be governor of California. Libs sure are excited about keeping a black man out of office.
Ricky Gervais has written a comic book to protest bullfighting. The preceding sentence sounds like somebody took those little magnets with words and phrases on them and just threw a random handful at the refrigerator.
Thanks for reading. If you want to subscribe to this daily newsletter, I’d really appreciate it. If not, I hope you take your money and shove it up a copy of Based on a True Story: Not a Memoir by Norm Macdonald. It’s a really funny, weird book, and I guess it’s time to read it again. It’s not like he’s writing any new ones.