The great Norm Macdonald has passed away after an extended and private bout with cancer. The world will be a lesser place without him.
Some comedians say funny things. Norm simply was funny. His delivery, his tone, his mannerisms, everything. He was also uncompromising in his approach, never playing by anyone else’s rules. He was a “comedian’s comedian” who didn’t care if the audience was right there with him or not. He just went for the joke, whether he was relentlessly bashing O.J. Simpson as the host of “Weekend Update” on “SNL” or skewering everyone in sight at the 1997 White House Correspondents’ Dinner or intentionally “bombing” at Bob Saget’s Comedy Central roast in front of a crowd that expected an ever-escalating barrage of raunchiness but instead was served one grandpa joke after another.
The best way to honor Norm is to bask in what he’s left us. He holds a special place in many of our hearts, and it isn’t just because of the comedy. He also seemed to be a genuinely decent and authentic person who was loyal to his friends and wasn’t afraid to express deeply felt admiration and gratitude to those who inspired him.
Happy trails, you old chunk of coal.
1. Norm with Courtney Thorne-Smith on Conan
The most iconic of Norm’s late-night appearances. There’s a special thrill that comes from comedic brilliance created on the spot. “B-O-R-E-D.”
2. His Animal Hospital Bit on Leno
Norm was always willing to play the dumb guy. Hence his apparent astonishment that animal hospitals are a real thing. It just didn’t add up for him. (Starts around the 3:45 mark.)
3. 1997 White House Correspondents’ Dinner
Norm’s self-effacing pose belies just how thoroughly he eviscerates the political and media class here. It’s worth watching for the savage Ted Kennedy joke alone. And the Dick Morris one. And the Larry King one. And the Matt Lauer one. And so on.
4. The Scrabble Story
The more Norm says, “old Harold Delaney,” the funnier it gets. That was the magic of his tone and delivery.
5. The Moth Joke
The ne plus ultra of “only Norm” jokes. As in, only Norm could’ve pulled it off, let alone conceived of it. His total commitment is what carries the day. “Sometimes I feel like I’m a spider even though I’m a moth.”
6. His Roast of Bob Saget
What more can be said about Norm’s legendary “roast” of Bob Saget except “what the h” was that all about? It really captures the man in full. He was a comedy genius and yet so full of heart, as displayed in his touching tribute to Saget (see also his appearance on Letterman’s last show).
7. The Send off for Conan on ‘The Tonight Show’
Another classic “only Norm” moment. Only Norm would’ve played Conan’s painful exit from “The Tonight Show” for laughs. “Miserable failure is not an option!”
8. On ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee’
This bit consists of Norm summarizing an episode of “Kojak” that, as it turns out, only exists in his imagination. The end result? Seinfeld doubled over laughing. “She was a huukah!”
9. Promoting his Book on Conan
Here’s Norm channeling Rodney Dangerfield, much to the delight of Conan and Andy Richter. “I tell ya, until I met my wife, I always felt incomplete. Now I’m finished.”
10. With the Boys on Conan
The title of the video (which features Norm alongside Adam Sandler, David Spade, and others) says it all. “Norm Macdonald steals the show.” But, again, he offers more than just laughs. After thanking his comedy buds for the pleasure of their company on tour, he singles out Sandler as “the most kind and generous man there is in Hollywood.” Their response: “We all love you, Norm.” Yes, we do. RIP.
Barry Lenser lives and works in the Upper Midwest. He loves the Lord, his family, and the Packers.