Today I found out that Norm Macdonald died. I discovered it, as I often do, in the Slope comments section, and the news hit me very hard. It reminded me of when I learned George Carlin died. It was truly a JFK moment for me. I remember precisely where I was and what I was doing when I read the news.
I have written about Norm many times, and even a simple search of Slope will reveal many posts with him as the topic. I suspect the following clip will be widely shared, since it’s the equivalent of showing their Ed Sullivan appearance whenever the Beatles are discussed.
There are dozens of top-tier comedians out there, so why was Norm so special to me? Why was I practically in tears when I found the news? Well, off the top of my head………….
- His intellect – I am drawn to smart comedians, such as George Carlin (a Mozart-level genius, in my opinion). Norm played the sweet, dumb, goofy guy, and I don’t think he even had a high school diploma, but he was exceptionally intelligent.
- His attitude – He wasn’t a people-pleaser. Probably the main reason he never broke out into huge stardom was because he just didn’t want to play the game. Hell, the man didn’t even bother learning how to drive a car.
- His heart – As shown near the end of the clip below, where he had the honor of being the last comedian on Dave Letterman’s show, he felt his emotions deeply (it’s at the 8:25 mark if you want to zip right to it):
Norm became famous by being the news anchor on Saturday Night Live. He was famously fired because he made so many jokes about the murderer O.J. Simpson, and the top dog at NBC was a buddy of the double-murderer, so he fired Norm.
The rest of Norm’s career was a bunch of standup comedy and some shows that never quite made it. I personally think his very best work was actually Norm Macdonald Live, which was a free show on YouTube (until Netflix had it scrubbed off the web since they did a replacement show). The only reason I’m a paying member of the Internet Archive is so I can watch old NML clips over and over and over again. I consider the NML show with Gilbert Gottfried to be one of the funniest things ever made, and remember, this was all impromptu conversation.
Norm was an extremely literate man, with a particular fondness for 19th century Russian literature. He wrote his own book, Based on a True Story, which is Exhibit A, as far as I’m concerned, regarding the man’s intelligence and wit.
I’ll share with you a very specific portion of that book by way of the clip below, which I’ve queued to the relevant portion. The audio is very, very soft in this video, so you’ll need to crank your speakers, but listen to Norm read from his book for about two to three minutes a passage that is touching and, sadly, extremely relevant on this very day.
Rest in peace, Norm Macdonald. You were a shining star, and we loved you.