Care Package #1 - Norm Macdonald
It's hard to single someone out as being exceptional when superlatives have all but lost their value. Certain words should only be used in accordance with their heft, but everything is 'awesome' and everyone a 'legend' regardless of whether they've done something incredible or ... well, let's just say the bar is criminally low.
I say this because I'm about to exalt Norm Macdonald and my love for the man is such that I don't want to seem anything other than sincere. I can't claim to be a long-term Norm fan, but after hearing Louis CK ("Norm is brilliant and thoughtful"), Doug Stanhope ("If Norm's the guest, then I'm listening") Bill Burr ("he's so f*cking funny") and Mark Maron ("I...have a great deal of respect for him") all talk fondly of Macdonald, I wanted to find out what all the fuss it about.
At first I didn't 'get' Norm, but after watching his stand-up, his Saturday Night Live appearances and his short-lived TV ventures, I now find everything he says and does hopelessly amusing, even Dirty Work. He isn't my favourite stand-up comedian; it's bigger than that ... I think he might be my favourite person. It's got the point where if he says something and I don't laugh, I blame myself, not him.
Comedians are often praised for their 'bravery', but if ever a person deserved this accolade it's Norm. He doesn't have a 'searingly honest' take on parenting (Louis CK) tackle gun control (Jim Jeffries) or overshare his neuroses (Marc Maron), but Norm is always true to himself, even it it's held back his career, and more importantly; he's willing to bomb regardless of where he is or how many people are watching.
Whether he's featuring on Saturday Night Live, Letterman or the White House correspondents dinner, there's moments where his audience are silent save for handful of people - but their laughter is loud and totally heartfelt.
Telling you that a comedian is good because he doesn't make many people laugh isn't the finest recommendation; but give him a chance, then another one. From what I can tell, there is no undecided Macdonald fans, you either love the guy or you don't - there's no half-measures.
I've made Norm Look What it Means to Him's first care package feature because his low-key style is ideal for background listening while you work (which sounds like a veiled criticism; I recommend you give him your undivided attention at some stage).
1. "Kick boxing is great, it combines the style & grace of boxing, with kicking" - Norm & Stand-up Comedy
He's starred in films, TV and made countless appearances on Letterman, Conan and Leno, but first and foremost Norm Macdonald is a stand-up comedian. Below I've taken a selection of his brief appearances over the years, but I recommend you watch his comedy specials in their entirety; his most recent of which is on Netflix, but pirated content can unfailingly be found on YouTube, but obviously no-one watches stuff they didn't pay for.
For a more comprehensive selection of Norm's stand-up, check out this playlist (not my work).
2. The Original 'Fake News' - Norm on SNL's Weekend Update
Regarded by many as the greatest host of SNL's 'Weekend Update' (the show's longest running sketch) Macdonald, together with SNL writer Jim Downey not only coined the phrase 'fake news', they revelled in hammering controversial, high-profile targets of the time. As Downey later recalled; "we did, like three solid years of, like, 60 shows of O.J (Simpson) jokes in a row".
Unfortunately, Macdonald's fondness for skewering O.J would come back to haunt him. In early 1998, Don Ohlmeyer, President of NBC's West Coast Division and close friend of Simpson, fired Macdonald from Weekend Update and removed Downey from SNL completely. As neither a fan of sketch comedy nor his own ability as an actor (despite his sterling turn as Burt Reynolds), Norm soon quit SNL.
NOTE: Some of these videos are poor quality / have been formatted to side-step YouTube's copyright laws, but a visual element isn't essential; you can just listen.
3. "One of the basic requirements of being a sprinter, is having legs" - Norm on Letterman & Conan
Late night chat-show hosts love Norm Macdonald. This much is evident from the sheer volume of appearances he's made on Letterman and Conan and from the fact they seem to genuinely enjoy his company. Chat shows can often be stale affairs, with the latest generation of host (Fallon / Corden) more focused on going viral and laughing at nothing, but Norm's appearances are consistently odd, messy and utterly likeable.
Below are two beefy compilations of Norm on Letterman and Conan, and his famous 'moth joke'.
4. "Let's see what sad Bill Cosby thinks about this..." - Sports Show with Norm Macdonald
After losing his regular gig on SNL, Macdonald featured in (or lent his voice to) a number of TV shows including: The Larry Sanders Show, Family Guy and My Name is Earl, while also appearing in his own sitcom: 'The Norm Show' (later retitled 'Norm') that ran for three seasons on ABC. Personally speaking, it wasn't until 2011's 'Sports Show with Norm Macdonald' that the Canadian seemed to find a show that made best use of his talents. Tragically, the series only lasted for one, nine-episode season on Comedy Central.
With Macdonald assuming the role of news anchor in front of a live studio audience, Sports Show resembled Weekend Update but with more time to fill, it gave greater creative licence to its host and its writers. Sports Show had the right combination of affection and disdain for modern sport and its stars, and despite focusing on American sports, the show has a universal appeal that enables you to laugh at Barry Bonds jokes without knowing who the hell he is.
5. "He confessed to killing over 700 children ... I mean, this guy was a real jerk" - The Norm Macdonald Show
YouTube is jam-packed with narcissists, attention-seekers and nerds with bad concepts desperately trying to monetise something, anything, to avoid working in a cubicle. Fortunately, in amongst the twats and the pranksters are talented, funny or interesting people who, perhaps due to their eccentricities, could never find a 'place' on conventional media. With the freedom to do whatever he wants The Norm Macdonald Show enables it's titular host - together with co-host, straight-man and victim, Adam Eget - to put on a show that's suited to his low-key, slightly shambolic style.
Each hour-long episode features a special guest (commonly a comedian, a comedic actor or Russell Brand) but there's no pretence; it's just three people able to say what they want within the loose structure of an interview, making it ideal for background listening while doing something else. Unfortunately, as with all things Norm; there's just not enough content - but there's rumblings that more might be on the way - anyway, here's three of my favourite episodes:
6. Assorted interviews and podcast appearances
I was going to include a potted history of Norm, but it's much better if you listen to the man in his own words rather than read my second-hand information. There's quite a few interviews with Norm out there, below is a selection of some of the best. If you're looking for more, have a look at this ridiculously comprehensive playlist.