Patterico's Pontifications


Norm MacDonald, RIP

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:29 am

I sure didn’t expect to be typing those words any time soon when I woke up two days ago.

Norm MacDonald is possibly the funniest human being who lived at the same time I lived. Back when he was running his podcast, I would listen to them as I would go to sleep — and then my wife (who generally goes to bed later than I do) would hear me laughing out loud until I could barely breathe and come into the bedroom to find out what was so funny.

Nobody else ever made me laugh like that.

We were fortunate enough to see Norm live a couple of times. On one of the last times we were going to see him, we were told that he was not feeling well and would not be performing. Hearing the news, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the cancer he had fought for so long was getting to him that night. But we did get to see him in March 2020, just as the pandemic was starting to shut everything down. Norm was great that night, doing a whole riff on the coronavirus. He looked at the room full of people — and in truth many of us were wondering if we should have gone — and said we had made a great decision to come and sit in a room right next to a bunch of strangers. “At least I’m up here away from you.” Waxing philosophical, he began talking about how you never know what is going to kill you — and then said, in an offhand manner, “well, of course, now we do. It’s just a matter of what order we go in.” He blamed the coronavirus situation on the failure of a guy in China to order the “Impossible Bat” in his bat soup.

The following clip is a good example of his humor. There’s cursing, which puts some people off, but it’s a great example of his surprising style. There’s the put-on where he pretends not to know that Ben Matlock is a fictional character, the bit where he says he doesn’t like books because they make him “sleepy” (the man read Tolstoy for fun), and then the end of the story, which is pure Norm.

Also by request of JVW is this bit, which is extra-special just because of the way Norm explains the joke at the end:

One overlooked reason I think virtually everyone liked Norm: he always smiled. Always. And he did not seem mean. Even when he was talking about a guy who fired him for making OJ jokes, he would smile and say the guy was a good guy.

He was one of a kind.


30 Responses to “Norm MacDonald, RIP”

  1. Norm will be sorely missed. Just picked up his audiobook as he narrates it. We all could use some of his humor in our lives.

    NJRob (eb56c3)

  2. Let us not bury Norm, but praise him, and remind everyone here that the most important lesson is that ‘working women’ are making absolutely sure that no Norm will ever have the opportunity to make it in comedy again:

    If we want to see such comedy greatness again, we must do what is necessary to remove the female from positions of power, as the average soul of the woman is less public-spirited than the type who’ll mandate contact tracing for everyone if she even suspects her husband is cheating on her.

    Not Norm (34e67a)

  3. Something about his MacDonald’s delivery, you’re almost laughing before he actually says something funny. Maybe he would’ve had a better film career if he hadn’t agreed to star in Dirty Work, which was almost as bad as Joe Dirt 2.

    Paul Montagu (5de684)

  4. He got me with the turtle in the shoebox joke. I expected the punchline to be be “I want to win the other slipper too”.

    nk (1d9030)

  5. My understanding from Conan O’Brian’s podcast is that Norm was very different one on one than on stage—extremely kind and polite.

    Patterico, I am not surprised you enjoyed his offbeat sense of humor. He was one of a kind, and I miss his voice.

    Simon Jester (c8876d)

  6. Anybody in LA (or Vegas) who has played a lot of poker had a good chance of sitting in with Norm. A very pleasant guy who was just one of the players, no airs or jokes, just enjoying the game and the talk. He also did fine work when he hosted High Stakes Poker.

    When he passed there was a very small amount of hate from the Alphabet People because he dropped truth about the term ‘cis-male’.

    Obudman (90b76a)

  7. ‘Norm MacDonald is possibly the funniest human being who lived at the same time I lived.’

    The certainty: Rodney Dangerfield. =mike-drop=

    Saw him live at his club in NYC.

    None better.


    Comedy is subjective. Never found Macdonald particularly funny. Certainly not when it came to so-called ‘deadpan humor’— Bob Newhart had him beat by that metric by miles [Jack Benny, too] – Newhart’s stand-up is the gold standard. But then, Lucy wasn’t particularly funny, either. Her ‘situations’ were.

    The time to cry is when Mel dies.

    “Sell my movie!” – Mel Brooks 1986

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  8. The Conan O’Brien Show’s YouTube channel has been putting up clips from Norm’s appearances over the past week. The Moth Joke has been trending on Twitter. Norm’s genius was to take a 30 second joke and stretch it out over four minutes. According to an interview with Norm, he extended the joke because he wasn’t expecting to be a part of that last segment but Conan had six more minutes left in the show and needed some filler.

    JVW (ee64e4)

  9. I would be hard pressed to rank my all-time favorite comedians from my lifetime. Norm Macdonald is certainly there, as are Rodney Dangerfield, Mitch Hedberg, Steven Wright, Dave Chappelle, Bob Newhart, Victor Borge, Sam Kinison, Joan Rivers, Chris Rock, and maybe Eddie Murphy. Probably missing one or two others, maybe Steve Martin, maybe Richard Pryor. But it would be tough to rank that group.

    JVW (ee64e4)

  10. Anybody in LA (or Vegas) who has played a lot of poker had a good chance of sitting in with Norm.

    I read that he unfortunately had somewhat of an addiction to sports wagering and that his three bankruptcies were largely due to that issue.

    JVW (ee64e4)

  11. This is my favorite Norm bit.

    felipe (484255)

  12. @9. Time is a good metric.

    George Carlin’s humor has longevity. He’s in a league w/Dangerfield.

    And, of course, always, Mel Brooks is king.

    Caught Rickles’ act in Vegas years ago– not particularly ‘funny’ either; the insult ‘shock’ humor genre- a la Joan Rivers- and such wears thin. Have a friend who swears by Garry Shandling’s delivery- -he’s been gone a few years now and his comedy wanes quickly, too.

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  13. Conan who?

    His only two funny bits- the day he started The Tonight Show; the day he left The Tonight Show.

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  14. I agree that time is a good metric. The comedian who still makes me laugh is Buster Keaton.

    felipe (484255)

  15. This is my favorite Norm bit.

    “I don’t know if you guys are history buffs or not. . . ”

    Cracks me up every time.

    JVW (ee64e4)

  16. And, of course, always, Mel Brooks is king.

    Did Mel Brooks even do stand-up after he started writing movies? I mean at some point you go from being a stand-up comedian to just being a actor/producer.

    Not a huge Rickels fan either (I saw him open for Sinatra once), but Joan Rivers was so quick-witted that she deserves her place in the upper echelon. Just check out any of her talk show appearances.

    JVW (ee64e4)

  17. @16. Are you kidding? Start w/t ‘The 2,000 Year Old Man’ he did w/Carl Reiner.

    And he was actually in those movies. He goes all the way back to Sid Caesa’s time.

    “Don’t be stupid; be a smarty; come and join the Nazi Party.”

    That’s his writing and his voice.

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  18. @16. Are you kidding? Start w/t ‘The 2,000 Year Old Man’ he did w/Carl Reiner.

    Remember, the premise is “in my lifetime.” The 2000 Year Old Man is almost a decade older than I am. I’ve only known Mel Brooks as a movie actor/producer.

    JVW (ee64e4)

  19. @16. Brooks did ‘BIC Banana’ TV commercials back in the early 70’s too. You can find them on youtube. Can give Macdonald a nod for his few recent KFC spots– but that’s about it.

    But it’s likely when he heard the news, it made OJ laugh. 😉

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  20. @18. ‘Get Smart’ oozes Mel. He crosses every medium. We were marking some of his movies back in the 80s and he was on the speaker phone and w/every interaction he’d end it with,’ Sell my movie! Sell my movie!’ We couldn’t stop laughing.

    Will weep for weeks when he passes.

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  21. JVW: “The 2000 Year Old Man is almost a decade older than I am.”

    Now THAT’S funny!

    Well done!

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  22. “I read that he unfortunately had somewhat of an addiction to sports wagering and that his three bankruptcies were largely due to that issue.”

    He often said that the reason he wasn’t wealthy was ‘sports’.

    He also had a nice joke about the average poker player winning the WSOP:

    “We’ll you just won $5 million dollars, what are you going to do with all that money?

    To be honest, I’m going to pay back a lot of people I owe money to”

    “What about the rest?”

    They’ll just have to wait”

    Obudman (90b76a)

  23. @14. Agree totally. His body of work is better than Chaplin’s.

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  24. Norm himself would laugh that a thread about his death would have distractions about Mel Brooks or Carl Reiner.

    IMO Norm’s humor was as offbeat and original as it was hilarious. Since I don’t watch a lot of comedy, I have listened to more NM material in the past 24 hours than I had before he passed and am amazed at how consistently funny his stuff is.

    I saw someone say that one of the best things he did was the joke where the punchline is not the real punchline, that came later and his telling Andy Richter “You weren’t gay, you were raped” was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on late night TV.

    Obudman (90b76a)

  25. Bob Elliott & Ray Goulding humor was pretty funny, too– in a league w/Newhart.

    Most younger people today are more familiar w/ Bob’s son, Chris. Wrote a radio spot for a client specifically w/Bob & Ray in mind back in the day– when they were semi-retired [their offices were in the Chrysler Bldg., in NYC] and they had final say on content- had to be clean, witty/funny in their cadence and parlance and so forth- they loved it and agreed to do it for only $5,000. Was ecstatic! Then the client balked on paying the fee. Bummed. But kept the script because it made the grade w/them.

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  26. @24. It’s OJ who gets the last laugh on Norm.

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  27. “It’s OJ who gets the last laugh on Norm”

    Norm would tell you that would make a great t-shirt for you to wear, just in case folks weren’t quite sure.

    Obudman (90b76a)

  28. Jim Gaffigan is always entertaining….Lewis Black can be funny when he doesn’t get too political or is equal opportunity

    AJ_Liberty (ec7f74)

  29. @27. Listen and see…

    =fade to black=

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  30. ‘Norm MacDonald is possibly the funniest human being who lived at the same time I lived.’

    Uh– you spelled his name wrong in the obit; lower case “D.”

    He’d probably laugh at that.

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

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