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Norm Macdonald: Genius In Disguise

Everything I do is for the bit. I’m not a stand up comedian, but as a delusional young man, I’ve always considered myself one on some level. Humor is what I’ve always used to deal with things. Comedy has always been what my friendships & relationships were based on, the people I love most are the people who have made me laugh the most, I always wanted to hang out with the funniest people, and any social situation I’m in is centered around cracking the most jokes. I've cracked jokes during emergencies, at funerals, and any serious situation you can think of, and it’s not even conscious, it’s just who I’ve always been. That's why I’ve always loved stand up comedy.

Dave Chappelle described comedy as “the alchemist fire that transforms fear and tragedy into levity and livelihood” and that’s definitely what I’ve always used it for.

I fell in love with stand up comedy as an 8 year old and it’s profoundly impacted my life in almost every single way since. Comedy is ancient & the best stand up comedians are the ones that go up on stage and articulate what we all feel in a way we’re not able to, that allows us to laugh at ourselves and our situation in the human condition. Comedians have the power to shape our worldview, they can make us look at the world differently, they can make us actually pay attention to things that we see everyday, all while being hilarious.

Laughter is ancient and evolutionary, and it has its necessity in the biological system as something that soothes us during times of duress and turmoil, laughter is a literal reminder that it’s not that serious, and it has healing properties.

People have a perception of what an intelligent person is and it's usually some nerd in a lab coat or some tech genius building an app, nobody ever looks at the people who professionally tell Shit jokes, but the best stand up comedians are usually the smartest person in the room.

Stand up comedy is a low art form, it’s accessible, it’s crass, it’s performed in bars for construction workers, it’s a true working class art form and an art form of the people because it’s deeply human. It’s what humans have always done when they gather socially.

People like Dave Chappelle, George Carlin, Louis CK and Chris Rock are some of the most important cultural analysts in modern times who used stand up comedy as the medium to shed some light on the human condition.

The top practitioners of comedy are usually geniuses that disguise themselves in the medium and use it as a way to philosophize, synthesize and analyze the things they see in society, while being able to feed, clothe and shelter themselves. One of the best examples of this intellect in comedy presenting itself is Norm Macdonald.

Norm Macdonald is one of my heroes. I was really messed up when I heard the news and I’ve avoided writing this article since his passing in 2021 because he means so much to me and I wanted to put it into the perfect words the way he always did.

Norm Macdonald was my secret treasure chest of comedy. I don’t share him with everyone cause most people don’t get him. His style of comedy is so weird that he himself is a genre. He’s the funniest person ever in the weirdest, most idiosyncratic way. His Moth bit on Conan is the perfect example of what I’m saying.

Norm Macdonald was the smartest person in every room he was in. He’s one of those smart people that’s so smart they pretend to be dumb, because if everyone knew how smart they were it would become a literal problem.

Norms bits were so well crafted, he worked on them so carefully, yet they appeared so effortless. He read all this russian literature like Dostoevsky as well as reading Mark Twain novels in his spare time, and when he went up on stage he’d use words you’ve never heard, this distinct voice and intonation, and this slight smirk that always lets you know he’s 50 steps ahead of you.

Norm lived outside of time, he was clearly well read which gave him access to all of history, and it showed in his work. He was a musician of words, he’d sample words, concepts & tropes from different eras of history and combine them with his unique voice, and come up with the most hilarious and perfectly weirdly worded bit you’ve ever heard.

Norm didn’t need props, he didn’t need to yell, he didn’t need to run around the stage, and I can honestly say there is no comedian that has made me laugh harder in my entire life. Norm always appeared like a man out of time, like he was born 50 years too late, but somehow way ahead of his time.

Norm would take the most mundane thing, or the most fucked up thing you’ve ever heard, and turn it into a bit. Norm Macdonald tells jokes, that means there’s a set up and a punchline, everything that happens between those two things is where the magic lies.

Norm is able to take you on these absurd rides while weaving in his own findings and perspectives in these insane convoluted stories he’d tell between punchlines.

He’d tell bits like his one about not being afraid of North Korea and instead being afraid of Germany because they decided to go to war against the whole world twice, that is so ridiculously obvious and funny that you can’t believe nobody’s ever told that joke before, but nobody could ever tell that joke because nobody ever saw the world quite like Norm.

His material was uniquely dark and cheerful, it was a fine line he was able to walk his entire career, even in his last special when he knew he was dying of cancer. Norm would talk about cancer, death and depression but it always seemed like a kid talking, and a lot of the time his facial expression’s and his boldness for even telling the joke ends up being even funnier than the punchline.

Norm had a connection to his inner child that was visible on stage, and even when he’s telling you the darkest thing you’ve probably ever heard about a psychopath who used to chop people up, he’ll have this boyish smile on his face cause he knows the punchline is coming. He never talked down to the audience, he knew how to take complicated ideas and simplify them in a way where a kid could understand it, and he made sure it was hilarious.

Norm was smart but he wasn’t like Bill Maher or anyone like that who’s entire bit is that they’re smart, Norm was a comics comic to his core. He wasn’t on that stage to preach, he was there to tell jokes and make people laugh and he wanted to be the best craftsman at that, and he literally was. Nobody understood joke writing on a technical level quite like Norm.

I’ve never laughed harder than watching Norm anti roasting at the roast of Bob Saget. That shit was so funny, but he wasn’t even being mean, and I think that’s the hallmark of Norms career.

Every comic thinks they have to go into a roast and say the meanest thing anyone’s ever said, people talk about all types of sick shit even if its not funny because it’s a roast, Norm went up there and decided to subvert the genre.

At the roast of Bob Saget Norm got some jokes from an old joke book and literally recited them on stage, the wording sounded like it came out of the 1930s, he’d call people Birds, say they were over the hill and tell them not to go into bathrooms that say Gentlemen, the audience was confused and most of the celebrities on stage looked around awkwardly, but the people who got it knew they were witnessing something special. Norm ended up telling Bob how much he loves him and gave him a hug to end off the roast, and I think that’s the hallmark of Norm Macdonalds career.

Everything Norm did was for the bit, he was like a purist punk rock type of comedian, he’s a comics comic to the point where the audience understanding or even laughing at the material never seemed important, as long as he knew the bit was funny.

Norm was mean as fuck when he wanted to be don’t get it twisted, but his jokes were never mean spirited even when they were mean. Like when he told Courtney Thorne-Smith that her movie Chairman of the Board should have been spelled B-O-R-ED, he wasn’t even trying to be mean, he was just witty & his brain moved faster than his mouth.

Throughout his career Norm was against injustice in some way, he just took it and made one of the funniest bits you’ve ever heard of it, to the point where you’re almost offended, until you realize he’s actually an activist for human rights, and the overall good in the world. When he’d go at OJ Simpson to the point where he got kicked off SNL, or when he called the Clintons murderers on the View, or when he's on a radio saying black people are poorer than white people due to systemic factors and every white person in the room got offended, Norm was the smartest person in the room & wanted to use his comedy righteously to a certain degree, and he did it while being one of the funniest humans who ever lived.

Norm was truly a once in a generation type of creative genius. He’d constantly just say things like Adam Eget would give handjobs under the queensborough bridge for 15 dollars a man, and I don’t know if it’s true, but he always said it, and he never said he was joking, and it’s one of the funniest things I’ve literally ever heard. Norm was just always in the bit. Rest In Peace to the goat, I’m grateful to have been alive a the same time as this man and to have seen the genius he’s exhibited over the last 60 years.

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