Norm Macdonald has a reputation for being a fearless comedic voice who’ll say just about anything. From his days as arguably the best anchor on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” desk, when he’d regularly crucify O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson, to his frequent guest spots on late-night talk shows, where he puts the network censors to work, to his latest comedy special, where he muses in depth about how he might dispose of a body if he were a serial killer, the man seemingly has no internal editor.
For the most part, he gets away with it. Everybody loves Norm. Sure, he was fired from SNL, his movies have bombed, and every other TV vehicle he has tried has been cancelled, but he’s on almost every comedian’s list of favourite comics. It helps that his nasally northern drawl makes just about every utterance sound innocently hilarious. It’s as if he doesn’t realize the impact his own words have when they come out of his mouth.
But that’s a misconception. While the Canadian expat (and younger brother of CBC News reporter Neil Macdonald) may have a larger point to make in his comedy, his first duty is always to his craft. And in his world, his craft won’t allow every idle thought to be voiced.
“There’s this new thing in comedy that happened recently that’s to me a little flabbergasting, but I’m sort of an old man,” the 48-year-old standup says from his home in Los Angeles. “It’s this new style of almost confessional comedy where the idea is you go on-stage and you say how when you were young you blew a priest or some fucking thing. I’m old, and my dad taught me you don’t have to say everything of whatever happened to you. A person has dignity and doesn’t have to expose everything to the world. There’s a difference between being provocative and being outright pornographic about something. And I don’t think that pornography can ever be art.”
Self-indulgent wallowing is unseemly, he says. “You have to pick and choose [your material], and first and foremost make some comic point.”
So while he talks about digging shallow graves for his hypothetical murder victim, he’s not just trying to shock. That may be part of the fun, but he takes great care in the process, too. A lot of thought goes into how to present such dark material to the average fan.
“That was a very difficult piece to write, and I had to insert myself into it to make it work,” he explains. “It would not have worked had I used a third-person, omniscient voice. That just wouldn’t have worked. I had to be the person at the centre of that bit. So that’s the reason I chose to do it.”
The last time he was in town, he played the 950-seat River Rock Show Theatre. This time is a more intimate affair, as he plays five shows over three nights at Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club on Cambie. He claims he much prefers the club experience to the theatre, both as a performer and as a patron, having grown into the comedian he is today by cutting his teeth in clubs across Canada.
“In theatres you’re kind of disconnected,” he says. “Also, it’s way too big for the likes of me. Unless you’re Robin Williams or someone that can fill a stage with movement and energy, it just looks like a small man on a big stage.”
Norm Macdonald plays Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club from Thursday to Saturday (June 21 to 23).