At the Molson Canadian Theatre at Hard Rock Casino Vancouver on Friday, November 18
Norm Macdonald is funny. Maybe even the funniest. That we know and can agree on. But it runs deeper than that. He’s funny to the bone. From the odd cadence and nasal delivery to the willfully controversial alternating with benign material, the guy is just hilarious through and through. But he’s also a wise, wise man. He says he’s seen more sunsets than he will. With each passing sunset, he gets wiser, it seems.
His set at the Molson Canadian Theatre was vintage Norm, from when he set foot on the stage at 8:57 to when he said goodnight at 10:46. It was a touch long, considering he had two openers, Stevie Ray Fromstein and Harry Doupe, both old friends from his Toronto days, but no one was complaining.
The wisest philosopher, Socrates, said, “All I know is that I know nothing.” That’s Macdonald’s credo, too. This professed ignorance allows him to attack all manner of subjects with logical precision and without fear of offending. If he touches a nerve, the listener can excuse him for he knows not what he does. He looks at a given topic from a fresh, naive point of view that cuts to the core.
As a standup, the former SNL news anchor despises simple reportage in comedians. You won’t hear him taking overt sides in politics, even so soon after the weirdest election in U.S. history. His only take on it was that it was the first election he’s seen “where only one guy ran”, adding, “Doesn’t seem fair at all.”
He used the occasion to go into a large chunk of material on the intricacies of the Canadian parliamentary system, where you don’t get to vote for the actual prime minister, but just “some motherfucker who lives down the street from you”. In his family, there was one rule: vote for the candidate who was not French.
From there, he joked about learning French in school and the craziness of gender-specific nouns, and Canadian TV shows The Beachcombers, Chez Hélène, and The Friendly Giant. It was material he only gets to do in the land of his birth. But was it material at all or simple off-the-cuff meanderings? Hard to tell with Macdonald. His act is as natural as breathing and his passing improvised asides are funnier than many comics’ finely crafted punch lines.
He also talked about the Book of Genesis, his lazy cock, existential angst vis-à-vis aging, giving to the homeless, unconditional love, and Hitler’s dog. It was enough to keep the Normophiles sated until his next visit a year or two from now. For those who can’t wait, there’s always his groundbreaking “memoir”, Based on a True Story. Ostensibly the story of his life, it’s more comic novel than anything else. It’s a story told with facts and lies, as Leonard Cohen might have said. Or “truthful hyperbole”, as Trump might have it. It’s hilariously fanciful and Kafka-esque (his fictitious ghostwriter metamorphoses into Norm) and will keep Macdonald with you until you can see him for yourself next time, many sunsets from now.