Day 361: Norm Macdonald Made Himself Laugh
I don’t like writing obituaries and tributes. For starters, I’m no good at it. Nobody should have to be good at it. In a perfect world, it would never be necessary. Nothing I’m going to say is going to properly express how much that person meant to me and the world at large. But alas, I have to write today and there’s only one person on my mind right now. I find it both funny and sad that this writing project started with a tribute and now has another on the hone stretch. So with a heavy heart, here’s another fucking tribute.
Dirty Work made my 11 year old brain explode. It’s miraculous that I’m writing this right now, you know, with my brain not existing on the account of it exploding. You know, because I shouldn’t have a brain anymore. The doctors did something to fix it, but I don’t remember because my brain exploded. From what I heard after the fact, there was a lot of discourse about how my brain exploded. Because usually, watching box office flops doesn’t cause brains to explode. It’s not a thing that happens. But oh well. I have a brain now.
Okay, I’m done with the Norm schtick.
I rented Dirty Work the day it was released on video. Then I rented it again. And again. Then I bought the rental copy when Hollywood Video realized that I was the only one renting it. I had never seen anything like it and to this day, I still haven’t. It was crude, irreverent and existed in its own universe that made no sense. Nearly every scene had some sort of non sequitur joke in it. It brought out great performances in everybody, from Chevy Chase’s gambling doctor to Adam Sandler’s 20 second cameo as Satan. Nothing felt out of place in the film because everything was out of place. It existed entirely in chaos. Even though a lot of the humor is not considered PC these days, it was still one of my most quoted movies growing up.
But then I grew up and realized that I was kind of alone in my love for Dirty Work. As it turns out a lot of people hated it. Probably because it was crude, irreverent and existed in its own universe that made no sense. That’s a sophisticated way of saying that the movie is stupid. Because it is. The movie is really, really stupid. But it still made me sad whenever somebody talked shit about it. In fact, in my adult life, I only met one person that revered the movie as much as I did. And we annoyed the piss out of everyone else by quoting it ad nauseam.
One thing that I never realized over all these years is that the polarizing humor of the movie epitomizes Norm in a nutshell. He never became a household name because his sense of humor isn’t for everybody. His comedy is tailored for one person and one person only: himself. Whatever he was doing made himself laugh, so it didn’t matter what other people thought of it. Because after all, that’s what really matters. You can’t amuse people if you’re unable to amuse yourself.
He spelled this out for us on an episode of Celebrity Jeopardy. In between rounds, his Burt Reynolds character was suddenly wearing an oversized foam cowboy hat. When questioned about it, his [trying hard to have a] straight face response was “It’s a big hat. It’s funny. It’s a funny hat”. It’s that simple. You might not think it’s funny, but he thinks it’s funny, which makes it funny. It’s funny because the guy saying it thinks it’s funny. It’s a funny joke. A much better example of this would be the Letterman impression he did on SNL. He mentions that he saw the show, “Arli$$” and finds it hilarious that a line from the show was “Uhh, you got any gum?”. So he spends the whole episode asking his guests over and over if they have any gum and laughing hysterically. On paper, this is not funny. But it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in my life. The fact that he drove home how hilarious he thought it was made it larger than life. As a guy that hates gum, I still ask “uhh, you got any gum?” on a weekly basis. And when questioned what in the hell I’m talking about, I just say “Arli$$”, laugh to myself and change the subject.
It’d be a criminal understatement to say that Norm Macdonald influenced my sense of humor. He shaped the way that I processed humor. He taught me that if I found something to be funny, then I have to own it. If I can truly believe that something this universally funny, then that makes it so. If somebody else doesn’t laugh, that is their own fault. And frankly, they’re missing out. Because it’s really fucking funny.
I don’t get how he was able to keep his cancer a secret for 9 years. I don’t get how anybody can. I can’t even eat a good sandwich without making the whole world aware of it as soon as humanly possible. When I read about his passing on my way out the door, my heart shattered into a million little pieces. And I spent the whole ride to work watching YouTube videos of him. Laughing, crying, crying laughing. But mostly laughing. Because he was a funny guy. He told jokes that were funny. He was a funny joke teller.
So, he’s dead.
That’s it. Bye.