2022 – Norm McDonald’s Nothing special: A pause says goodbye | comedy

aAfter two years of closed-doors and Zoom comedy shows, I’m in no hurry to watch the absentee audience videos again. But I’ll make an exception for Norm MacDonald, for whom there’s nothing special on Netflix today. Like the set her parents introduced to Maria Bamford on their own, it’s one of those specials where the ringing silence is a compelling part of the point. The point is that MacDonald died last year of cancer. He recorded this special at home in the summer of 2020, as a precaution before undergoing a medical procedure. “He didn’t want to leave anything on the table,” a pre-show caption reads, “in case something went wrong.” The group now has the feel of a last will and testament, and is led by a hex group with the accompanying commentary posted by McDonald’s buddies on the stand.

Given that, there is consistency in the game as the first viral comedy group from the coronavirus era was Macdonald’s at Hollywood Improv the day before the US shutdown. “It’s weird that we all know now how we’re going to die,” he joked — which sounds especially bittersweet considering he’s been known for years and (characteristically) kept a secret from everyone. And now here we are with another Macdonald videobook ending the Covid years, hopefully the last discontinued show we’ll have to watch. Which is worthwhile, for Norm fans interested in seeing their hero “reconcile his death before us,” as Dave Chappelle described it in a post-show conversation; Normally my uninitiated curious as to what all the fuss was about when MacDonald passed away last September.

What the figure focuses on, with MacDonald’s closeness to the shoulders, is the comedic value of his face. It was one of those rare comedies with “funny bones,” David Badel praised — but in the face (laughs that flash around the lips, expressive eyes) that’s that comedy. (“When he smiles,” Chappelle says, “I can picture him as a kid.”) It’s a face that prevents us from taking it seriously, from ever forgetting that this is comedy, that the parts themselves seem real, or that most casts are delicate, designed constructions. To make us (or McDonald’s) laugh.

Funny bones..a face that prevents us from taking it seriously. Photo: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Some may be concerned about this – the “it’s just a joke” defense has been used and abused over the years to justify all manner of harassment. You’ll find no shortage of hateful MacDonald clips online, praising him for his “brutal” burns against OJ Simpson, Michael Jackson, Hillary Clinton and others during his tenure as host of Saturday Night Live’s fake Weekend Update. MacDonald sure had that diabolical line common to many comedies that make them even more anxious when decency can make us hold back. As Chappelle, David Letterman, and colleagues discuss on Netflix, the true gambling junkie had one player’s motives on stage as well, going all out for the jokes he liked, even when audience reaction threatened with a bad streak. “His happiness about a failed plane was heroic,” Letterman says.

There aren’t a lot of duds in his final set, although there are sections that might be designed to intimidate the faint of heart. Defame slut, racist, and transgender – it addresses them all, and we know things don’t always go well when the big male comedians do it. But MacDonald is taking a softer approach here than he did at the height of SNL. His “Hey Dad, I Think I’m A Girl” material sparks the pace of change (and poisons) surrounding gender thinking and leaves trans identity itself alone. There’s a routine for Down syndrome that’s a bit simple, and another about reminiscing about trauma, that’s trivial but irresistibly fun.

All frankness, as always, is tempered by the popular McDonald’s method. Not only is his smile boyish, but his expressions touched but unmoved, with a delightful innocence and clear in the face of a bewildered world.

There is, of course, some sadness about the whole affair – because of the silence, because we know what’s next for MacDonald. Because jokes are sometimes sad. Hier wird dieser geheimnisvollste aller Comics (für ihn nicht der Trend zur Bekenntniskomödie) nostalgisch für eine Zeit, in der von den Menschen nicht erwartet wurde, dass sie Meinungen haben – was chen wiiffum erkirk eren widn störk ” I don’t know”. Again, several passages about death: how can we not pretend we don’t see it coming (“You made your hair white,” God says to Norm, “What do you think about it? I told you you should settle your affairs!”); What will it be like when our days, besieged by the wall, at the mercy of a clumsy family or shepherd, come to an end.

Then there’s the closing scum, which makes the joke disappear incomplete after the gag turns into a stopped expression of his love for his mother. There’s also a lot of emotion in the comedians’ discussion (it’s really an awakening) that concludes the show as Conan O’Brien, Adam Sandler, and others talk about their late friend. He suggests that the outpouring of emotion that greeted MacDonald’s death may have had as much to do with his personal qualities — kindness, compassion, and loyalty — as it did with his work.

But this last special is worth watching. It doesn’t just show how good MacDonald can be without an audience — in partnership with whoever did his best job (says Letterman). It also addresses the following question: What will standing look like when death breathes down the performer’s neck? You’ll get a different answer from the self-confessed comedians whose work is notable today. In Nothing Special, watch what happens when a constitutionally special man uses comedy to both process and challenge his impending death. This is a group, not to mention McDonald’s disease, dancing suggestively on the brink, adjusting a nose of horror (in Blackadder’s imprint) and withdrawing with a laugh, albeit sometimes sad, that forever plays on the lips. It’s a laugh that lasts as long as the audience sees McDonald’s comedy.