Based on a True Story

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Long-time readers know that I’m a student of comedy. Observant, long-time readers will know that I’m particularly a fan of Norm MacDonald. Most people know him from his tenure at SNL, but good Lord, that was a quarter of a century ago. Personally, I think his finest work was on his now-defunct podcast, Norm MacDonald Live. Sadly, the original episodes were all scrubbed at the command of Netflix, since they got him to do a new (and far lamer) show called Norm MacDonald Has a Show. I wasn’t surprised to learn that it wasn’t going to be renewed.

In any case, I’ve been aware of Norm’s book, published a few years ago, but I only bought it recently. It met my expectations, which were high. You may not be able to articulate the definition of the word “wry”, but this book is just that. It is the wry’s wry. It’s impossible for me, who is fairly well acquainted with the nuance of Norm’s humor, to know what’s true and what’s false. As the cover declares, this it not a memoir. It is a curious pastiche of fact, fantasy, and sleight-of-hand.

Here are a couple of examples of my favorite Norm bits. They are both extemporaneous. The first is perhaps one of the most beloved Conan clips of all time.

The second is The Moth Joke. The story is that Norm was scheduled to be on Conan for about four minutes longer than he anticipated, so he had nothing left to say. So, on the fly, he took what is normally about a 12 second joke and, totally off the cuff, padded it out to a brilliant four minutes.

The curious thing about Norm is how, as a SNL vet, he has met with neither post-SNL failure (fill in the blank here with any of dozens of former SNL players whose name you wouldn’t recognize) nor post-SNL success (Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Mike Myers, etc.) He’s in this strange Norm-only middleground, with his former fortune long since squandered on a gambling addiction.

Yet the man is a genius. And genius is never understood in its own time. I found Based On a True Story to be engaging, touching, lyrical, and impressive. Deep down, Norm seems to be happy. I hope he remains so.