An absolute legend passed away today. Norm Macdonald was 61, and passed away after a long battle with cancer. (FUUUUUUUUUUUUCK CANCER).
I have seen a lot of great comedians perform in my lifetime. People like Chris Farley, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Jim Gaffigan, Eddie Murphy, Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, John Candy and so many more. All of these were great comedians and they all have their own distinct style and flair that make them unique and added something to the world of comedy. But fuck ‘em. Norm Macdonald was always special to me, and always my personal favorite, even if he wasn’t on the same tier as those mind blowing comics to the rest of the world.
Norm Macdonald had this way about him that seemed to encapsulate how I felt about being funny, about experiencing the world around me, and about experiencing myself. Jokes could be funny, but not for everyone (or anyone). They could even be bad, but that was part of the joke with Norm. Norm reveled in telling a bad joke. He loved when something was funny only to him, in the same way I litter my writing with things that aren’t funny to anyone (but me) or are just abjectly terrible (but for me that’s part of the fun) or both.
This joke sums up Norm Macdonald almost perfectly. This joke isn’t funny. Like at all. It’s entirely in the delivery. Norm cuts himself down right out of the gate. He drags the joke out for absolutely not reason, just to torment the audience (I loved tormenting the audience growing up, and would intentionally tell long “jokes” with absolutely no punch line). It is a joke at the expense of telling jokes. The meta experience of hearing Norm be “bad” at comedy was lost on a lot of people. I always felt growing up that I wasn’t understood. I relate to Norm so much in that I am so often content to cut down myself. To lean into terrible jokes so that I am one with the joke. I felt like I saw inside Norm to a person who struggled with who he was, but used that struggle to take himself places. Norm’s slow, laconic delivery was all designed as part of the set up to catch people off guard, and hide his wit and sharp comedic mind. Everything always seemed fine while this melancholic schlub went calmly about his line reading, until suddenly a dagger would fly out, brutally taking down it’s target. A quiet, calm comedian assassins’ mentality that I idolized, and, as my friends, family and enemies could all tell you, emulated.
Norm was also not afraid to get real. While he was “Norm the comedian” the vast majority of the time, he also felt things deeply and let that out.
Just kidding. See, Norm knew the world was a rough place and he didn’t shy away from biting back. As I have grown up and experienced all the awfulness the world has to offer, I learned my way of fighting back from Norm. When things hurt the most, a sharp line or witty retort takes the edge off of the awfulness for me. It softens the hurt for minute, and takes your mind someplace else, even if that someplace is just a different feeling of anger. I’m feeling pretty angry about Norm’s death and cancer, but I definitely won’t tell the 15 people who read this self-obsessed article that it sucked and was a waste of their time, because then the six that still read my next article will feel like assholes.