My favorite Norm MacDonald memory happened when I joined a scarce handful of people who showed up in 1998 to see his sole starring role in Dirty Work. There weren’t many of us — the movie was a bomb in theaters but grew a following later on — but all of us were laughing so hard and loud that we kept falling off of our chairs. We didn’t care that we were embarrassing ourselves, because Norm was just that funny.
Norm never became a movie star, but his prolific appearances on SNL, in Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider films, on talk shows, and even as a weird alien on The Orville made him a fixture of comedic pop culture even so. Not everyone liked or got him, but those who did — like myself — adored his laconic and whip-smart delivery that was his and his alone. He was like a dorky dad, pushing out groaner humor with that trademark twinkle in his eye, and you couldn’t help but laugh. Sometimes Norm could just look at the camera, and that’s all it took.
In the days after his passing last week, there’s been a whole lot of love and admiration pop out for Norm MacDonald. It’s surprising for the fact that most people didn’t tend to be huge vocal supporters of him during his life. You kind of took him for granted and liked him, but it wasn’t like he had a rabid following the way his friend Conan O’Brien does.
I was always a big fan of his three-season sitcom, The Norm Show. It was a good platform that let him deliver those sarcastic and sometimes crude lines to see if he could get a rise out of his co-stars and audience. That’s the thing about Norm, he never was mean the way some comedians are mean. He’d press buttons with language just to play with his listeners, but it never came from a nasty place. He simply wanted to make people laugh.
It’s often been noted that Norm MacDonald was one of the smartest men in the room, but he’d never make a big deal about it. He really was humble in his life, which comes out in his appearances on Letterman and O’Brien. He didn’t care to get the credit or to push someone down to elevate himself. And I always respected that he didn’t care much for political correctness or appeasing the crowd with what was expected in comedy. He often outright broke the rules of jokes — see his famous “moth joke” that went on and on while Norm improvised Russian names to pad it out — and he’d usually tell the stuff that he thought was hilarious even if most other people didn’t.
Mutant Reviewers salutes Norm MacDonald this week. Now it’s time to give Dirty Work a watch in his memory.