“Death is a funny thing. Not funny haha, like a Woody Allen movie, but funny strange, like a Woody Allen marriage.”
- Norm MacDonald, Based on a True Story
Celebrity deaths aren’t supposed to hurt.
The reality is that we don’t know these people, and they don’t know us. They have no tangible impact on our lives, and being upset about their deaths often says a lot more about us than any tribute we make can say about the celebrity. Which is why it was surprising to be experiencing feelings of sadness Tuesday afternoon, when word got out that Norm MacDonald had died of cancer.
MacDonald eschewed the kind of overtly political “comedy” that plagues today’s entertainment scene. He hardly waded into politics at all, which was a welcome, refreshing breeze.
His comedy was different because you had to be thinking to catch all of it. His was not the bombastic anger of a George Carlin or Lewis Black, nor was it the over-the-top antics of Bill Cosby or Dave Chapelle.
MacDonald’s was an everyman bemusement at the world around him, word play with biting.
Check out his bit on death and heart attacks.
There was a satirical quality to MacDonald that would even make Jonathan Swift applaud.
He tackled things that today would cause someone to be cancelled. To be labeled a sexist, a bigot, a non-ally. But he did it in a way that wasn’t unapologetically political, nor was it so wildly PC as to render the comedy useless. Don’t believe me? Check out his bit on men, women, and scientists.
He wasn’t afraid to tackle things that were making major headlines. That was originally about OJ and murderers, but it stayed all the way to the end. Check out this bit from just over a year ago, when he riffed on the Coronavirus.
MacDonald wasn’t a celebrity in a lot of ways. He acted normally. He always seemed approachable and affable, essentially unaffected by the changing world around him. In some ways, perhaps this one hurts because he was so much like us.
He talked about golf on twitter, sometimes even with us.
He seemed utterly bewildered at celebrity culture.
He understood that at our most basic level, humans are pre-programmed to be selfish creatures.
He even fantasized about killing someone once or twice.
Norm was a regular guy. A successful and very financially secure guy, but a regular guy nonetheless. We rarely got glimpses into his personal views, because he understood they weren’t relevant to good comedy.
We all get satirized alike.
Maybe Norm was like us, but looked up to because he had managed to fully transcend giving a damn.
How many of us would have succumbed to temptation to validate the MeToo movement if we were in entertainment? How many of us would have given in to Hollywood fame and fortune, instead of being happy just to do well doing what we wanted?
There’s often a pursuit of more, and MacDonald is perhaps lastly a lesson in embracing what you have, and loving the life you make out of it.
Surely MacDonald had his flaws; his gambling was legendary in the poker world and he was, after all, human.
Those things should not, ultimately, detract from our memories of MacDonald, because we weren’t his family. We were his audience.
Here’s to you, Mr. MacDonald. Thanks for being an example of what humor should be, and for giving us such wonderful laughs along the way. You’ll be missed, but I’ll be coming to the first show I can later on.
In the meantime, I guess we can ask God why he left the light on.