Comedian Norm Macdonald plays it unsafe

Comedian Norm Macdonald credits the success of his web talk show to the fact that it’s free, and the geezers who’ll say anything

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      As a comedian, Norm Macdonald is the ideal candidate to headline a festival. He’s honest and fearless, has a unique perspective, and exudes hilarity. As a pitchperson, though, you could find better.

      When the startup Northwest Podcast Fest invited the 50-year-old Canadian to bring his vehicle, Norm Macdonald Live, to the festivities, he couldn’t even wrap his head around such an idea.

      “They wanted me to do the podcast and I’m like, ‘I think it would be a gyp,’” he said on the phone from his home in Los Angeles. “I know some people tape their podcast on the road and stuff, but it seems like it would be very hit-and-miss to charge people. Then I’d also have to find a guest. It seemed like an awful lot of work. I’d be really nervous that nothing would happen.”

      Instead, Macdonald will be the only performer at the festival doing straight-up standup. Either way it’s a win, though. His video podcast (also available in just audio format) is one of the most consistently enjoyable passive endeavours on the web. He’s released two seasons’ worth of shows, all 25 episodes in the traditional talk-show format, complete with big-name guest and bumbling sidekick (Adam Eget is his Ed McMahon), only sans fans.

      “When we do our stupid little podcast, it’s way more fun without an audience,” he says.

      His producers were toying with the idea of charging two bucks per program, but Macdonald is a man of the people. He thinks the idea is “ridiculous”. Ditto soliciting donations “like you’re a communist or something”. So it will remain free for all.

      The show is on one of its occasional hiatuses, leaving fans wondering if it’s ever coming back. It is, but not for a few more months, when Macdonald has wound down his standup commitments. The last episode, featuring nonagenarian entertainer Jack Carter, aired in early August.

      If you’re getting the sense Macdonald just talks to geezers, you’re not far off. He has young guests, too, but he much prefers the older ones.

      “They wanted young guys, so they got this guy from The Big Bang Theory,” he says of actor Simon Helberg. “He was nice enough but completely uninteresting. And then no one watched it! Like, no one cared. My idea was to get guys as old as possible, like before they died. Because I find those old guys will say anything because they’re not in show business anymore.”

      Of course, that doesn’t stop Macdonald, who says pretty much whatever the hell he feels like. He never goes for the obvious, no matter what the masses are saying.

      While other comics use Rob Ford as a punching bag, Macdonald took to Twitter last week in support of the ailing Toronto mayor. In a series of mawkish tweets, the former SNL news anchor wrote, seemingly unironically, such inspiring words as “I love you, @TOMayorFord, and you will be in my prayers until you are fully recovered and sit in City Council. God is with you, sir.”

      See, you never know what you’re going to get with Macdonald. And you never know just how much of what he says he believes. But one thing is certain: he’s much funnier on-stage than in the Twittersphere.

      Norm Macdonald headlines the Northwest Podcast Fest at the Vogue Theatre on Saturday (October 4).



      Jacob Russell

      Oct 2, 2014 at 10:02pm

      Another excellent article Guy, you seem to be one of the few writers who gets what Norm is up to. Love your work in general but your work on Norm is especially great and that podcast you did with him was brilliant. His explanation for why Brian Regan is as important if not more so than say a Hicks type figure was amazing and no one, from what I've seen, has ever got that out of him before. Thanks. I'm looking forward to this show and hoping for some new material.

      Jack Downey

      Oct 3, 2014 at 10:07am

      No one watched the Simon Helberg episode?? The video has over 106,000 views! Norm just prefers older, out of showbiz guests because they are non-threatening.

      Ralph Wiggum

      Oct 6, 2014 at 8:05am

      I went to the show on Saturday night. It was great. He was up there for 1.5hrs straight. I was a little nervous bc he does a different kind of stand-up. It's very casual. But probably one of the best comedy shows I've ever been to. His podcast is hilarious too


      Dec 16, 2014 at 4:57pm

      Norm Macdonald live is the only things that's gotten me excited in the past 10 years. I appreciate Norm's love for older comedians, at least in theory. While they are interesting they haven't really been able to keep up with him on the podcast resulting in a lot of awkward moments. Norm has been developing a style where he fucks with his guests which is great when it works, but unfortunately the older guys can't quite keep up. I really liked the Simon Helberg interview and have seen it twice. I'm super happy to hear that the podcast isn't dead and hope it turns into something more permanent. I'd gladly pay a reasonable subscription fee to keep getting more episodes.