This Guy Wasn’t a Real Jerk
What a terrible name for a blog, it reminds me of that tragedy.
There’s a rule in comedy called “The Rule of Three.” It’s a way that comedians will lead a story or joke to the punchline. For example, I have three ways of dealing with stress: therapy, exercise, and beer (terrible joke, but you get the idea). Almost every comedian does this; Norm Macdonald was not one of those comedians.
Norm Macdonald had an ability to make people laugh in a way that very few could. He played the part of the dumbest guy in the room, pointing out things that were nonsensical and almost stupid, but managed to make those observations so hilarious that you realized he might have just been the smartest. Norm would tell a story that was so long and drawn out that you laughed at how crazy it was, just waiting for the punchline, which sometimes never even came.
For example, this is an actual Norm joke:
“A moth goes into a podiatrist’s office, and the podiatrist’s office says, “What seems to be the problem, moth?” The moth says “What’s the problem? Where do I begin, man? I go to work for Gregory Illinivich, and all day long I work. Honestly doc, I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore. I don’t even know if Gregory Illinivich knows. He only knows that he has power over me, and that seems to bring him happiness. But I don’t know, I wake up in a malaise, and I walk here and there… at night I…I sometimes wake up and I turn to some old lady in my bed that’s on my arm. A lady that I once loved, doc. I don’t know where to turn to. My youngest, Alexandria, she fell in the…in the cold of last year. The cold took her down, as it did many of us. And my other boy, and this is the hardest pill to swallow, doc. My other boy, Gregarro Ivinalititavitch… I no longer love him. As much as it pains me to say, when I look in his eyes, all I see is the same cowardice that I… that I catch when I take a glimpse of my own face in the mirror. If only I wasn’t such a coward, then perhaps…perhaps I could bring myself to reach over to that cocked and loaded gun that lays on the bedside behind me and end this hellish facade once and for all… Doc, sometimes I feel like a spider, even though I’m a moth, just barely hanging on to my web with an everlasting fire underneath me. I’m not feeling good. And so the doctor says, “Moth, man, you’re troubled. But you should be seeing a psychiatrist. Why on earth did you come here?” And the moth says, “Cause the light was on.”
He was not a conventional comedian by any means. His jokes were almost purposely bad. He would perform a joke and sometimes the only person laughing would be him.
Another rule in comedy is, if you have to explain the joke, it means the joke failed, but Norm would often tell his jokes and later explain them.
The thing that most people remember and loved about Norm, myself included, was his deadpan delivery. He always spoke in a very slow, serious way. What he said was ridiculous, but he said it with such confidence, almost like he was telling an important story with a purpose.
He once went on The Late Show with David Letterman and spent 6 minutes talking about how he stayed in a Bed & Breakfast and played scrabble with the owner. There were no jokes or punchlines, and the story went nowhere, yet it was hilarious.
I was introduced to him as the voice of Lucky the Dog, in the Eddie Murphy Doctor Dolittle movies. He was also Adam Sandler’s friend in Billy Madison. I knew he was on Saturday Night Live, but I didn’t know much about him otherwise.
On SNL, he did several different celebrity impressions including Quentin Tarantino, David Letterman and arguably his most famous impression as Burt Reynolds, in the Celebrity Jeopardy sketches, where he had Reynolds change his name to Turd Ferguson, just because. The real Burt Reynolds loved the sketch so much that he asked Norm if he could come on the show during one of the sketches, punch him in the face, and take over. But it never happened.
During his stint on SNL, Norm also served as host of the Weekend Update segment. During this, he often made jokes at the expense of controversial celebrities, most famously Michael Jackson’s divorce from Lisa Marie Presley. He once said, “According to friends, the two were never a good match. She's more of a stay-at-home type, and he's more of a homosexual pedophile.”
He also often made jokes about OJ Simpson, once opening his segment with a picture of Simpson, after his acquittal and said, “Well, it is finally official: Murder is legal in the state of California." These particular jokes got Norm fired from the show. (In case you were wondering, this is why Burt Reynolds never made it on the show.)
After SNL, Norm continued to perform stand-up, made a few films, and even had his own short lived sitcom simply titled: The Norm Show.
In 2013, he started a podcast called Norm Macdonald Live. This was how I became a fan because it was without a doubt the funniest podcast I ever heard. He would have on guests and they would riff about everything with no boundaries. Every episode was pure Norm insanity and the guests, who ranged from names like Jim Carrey, Gilbert Gottfried and Jerry Seinfeld, were often struggling to keep up with the craziness. I have seen every one of the shows more times than I can count and yet I still find each one hilarious. He also had a short lived Netflix talk show titled, Norm Macdonald Has a Show, which featured interviews from Michael Keaton, Jane Fonda, and M. Night Shyamalan.
Norm was very private about his personal life. He talked about his son and how he was born in Canada, but he hardly ever discussed his family or anything personal. He didn’t want people knowing much about him. All he wanted to do was entertain the audience and make them laugh.
On September 14, 2021, at 61 years old, Norm Macdonald died from a private 9-year battle with acute leukemia. He never told anyone because he didn’t want it to affect the way people saw him and didn’t want to garner sympathy. Needless to say, this shook me and so many others.
Norm’s fan base were not as wide or large as Robin Williams’, but those who loved Norm REALLY loved him. A YouTube channel was created called I’m Not Norm, which is filled with compilations of Norm Macdonald discussing all different topics.
After his death, his friend and podcast partner, Adam Eget, posted a lengthy tribute to him, and at one point says, “Norm fans feel like we’re a part of something special. A community. A cult of sorts. We can share cryptic and fragmented sentences with each other that would be a mystery to anyone else, yet make us laugh harder than any other fully formed jokes or others. A language based on cherished quotes and memories.”
Even the title to this post will only make sense to those who know him best.
He told the jokes that he knew his fans would love, even if the vast population didn’t. That was Norm. He didn’t do it to be the funniest, he did it for his fans.
Norm was a favorite of mine, and it’s so sad to me that we will never have more of him but I’m grateful to have seen his genius first hand.
We all love you Norm, and we will miss you.