The Curious Continuing Comedic Appeal of Norm Macdonald

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Sports Show, Norm Macdonald's Daily Show-Sportscenter-1998 ESPYs awards hybrid, premiered on Comedy Central last night to strong reviews. "Quite good," said Sports Grid's Dan Fogarty. "A fine way to bring the terrific comedian back to weekly television, combining his SNL 'Weekend Update' news delivery with athletics." proclaimed Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly. In the weeks leading up to the premiere, Macdonald has been interviewed at length in Esquire and The New York Times.

He wasn't nearly as beloved in the spring of 1998 when then NBC president Don Ohlmeyer fired Macdonald from Saturday Night Live, citing the comedian's "unfunny" work as anchor of Weekend Update. (He also didn't care for his O.J. Simpson jokes). Two sitcoms and a film project, Dirty Work, failed to find an audience. Yet like Harry Truman, Macdonald's stature seems to grow with time, even if nobody can quite agree on why. A rundown of the more compelling theories and endorsements:

  • "Ask any late-night host who their favorite guest is," says New York magazine's Jonathan Chase, "and invariably Norm MacDonald will top the short list." They appreciate the willingness "seemingly unrehearsed, rambling, often obscene shaggy-dog tales that fracture and expand, hydralike — always teetering on the verge of disaster." The Wrap's John Sellers agrees with the sentiment, but disagrees with Chase on Macdonald's strengths, writing "throwing lines...are what Macdonald does best.".
  • Ken Tucker writes Macdonald's meandering delivery masks a precise use of language. Tucker points to a joke the comedian told last night about Tiger Woods (“[He was]leading a double life: He golfed by day and then laid down with ladies by night.”) "This is one of Macdonald’s unique comic strategies;" explains Tucker. "he’ll take a slightly arcane phrase such as “lay down with ladies” and repeat it with a (semi-)straight face, and it, kinda magically, becomes funny."
  • Split Sider's Colin Perkins agrees superior timing is Macdonald's greatest strength. "MacDonald’s jarringly-straight-forward comedic style — accompanied by flawless delivery — has a way of driving home the absurdity of his subject matter in an entirely unique way." It also might explain why the comedian has needed time to win people over. "MacDonald’s comedy is often a slow burn," reasons Perkins, "moving from humorous to hilarious the further from the joke you get and the longer he holds the trademark grin that punctuates a majority of his jokes." That, and Frank Stallone jokes.



This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.