No one will ever accuse Norm Macdonald of “selling out.” He does not quite play well with others — he never got along, for instance, with “Saturday Night Live” castmate Chris Kattan. His takedown of Courtney Thorne-Smith on Conan is classic Norm Macdonald: unwarranted, bloodthirsty, wholly inappropriate and, one cannot fail to note, pretty damned funny. Norm was and is fearless, even blasting his corporate masters at NBC on their own airwaves. But it was his feud with Don Ohlmeyer, then-president of NBC’s West Coast division, that was legendary. Macdonald always claimed that he was taken off “SNL”‘s Weekend Update because of the glee in which he dug into O.J. Simpson, a personal friend of Ohlmeyer, during the infamous murder trial. “That touched off a nasty feud that had Mr. Macdonald appearing on CBS’s late-night show with David Letterman (another former NBC star who has a feud going with Mr. Ohlmeyer) and on Howard Stern’s syndicated radio show,” wrote Bill Carter in the New York Times in 1998. “Mr. Macdonald berated Mr. Ohlmeyer for dismissing him, saying that Mr. Ohlmeyer objected to his often vicious barbs about O. J. Simpson.” It is never a good look when the paper of record is doing stories on internal frictions between on air talent and corporate executives. As a result of his independent, uncontrollable nature, the television and film industry has not been kind to Norm Macdonald. Still, Norm has a special place in the hearts and minds of those of us who love our comedians with a rebellious streak. Norm Macdonald is a outlaw that happens to have something a cult following among comedians.
Podcasting is, of course, the natural logical progression for someone in the key of Norm. Norm Macdonald’s YouTube channel talk show, which is on every Monday night, had its premiere yesterday with co-host Adam Eget. The set is busy, with lots of clocks and Pop-ish art and sculpture about. The tone is highly informal — Norm wore a rumpled flannel shirt for the debut — as well as chatty and sometimes rambling. It is, one imagines, the sort of conversation comedians might have at a bar after a show, only without the adult beverages. “Norm Macdonald Live” had on Dave “Super Dave” Osborne (who also has his own YouTube channel) as his first guest. At about an hour and twelve minutes, Norm is still — though older, pudgier and grayer — a comedic force with which to be reckoned. He did not quite disappoint.
“Norm Macdonald Live” was a bit rough around the edges. This is, to be fair, what is to be expected in any debut effort. Young comedian Adam Eget, clearly a close friend of the star, has not yet established his voice on the show. Again, to be fair, Eget was on with two comedy legends: Super Dave and Norm. Any young comedian in the same position would probably opt to sit back and listen to the Wise Men speaking, absorbing their collective comedic wisdom. Unfortunately, in hanging back, in receding into the scenery when focusing questions needed to be asked, Eget comes across more as decorative set furniture than as co-host. Our loss.
It is interesting to see Norm working without a studio audience. His audience interactions and the peculiar way in which he navigated the crowd at “SNL” and, later, at “The Sports Show with Norm Macdonald” were an integral element to Norm’s success as a performer. His choppy, arrhythmic style — inappropriate jokes punctuated with measured pauses — played fantasically to an audience that wasn’t quite sure it should even be laughing at what was just said. Is it ever, for example, okay to laugh at an O.J. bloody murder joke? But what if the joke is laced with moral outrage over the fact that O.J. got away with bloody murder? “Norm Macdonald Live” did not have an audience and one could not help but notice that some of the old Norm magic was missing. Not that Norm needs an audience to be funny, he naturally is, of course. But “Norm Macdonald Live” would probably be a much more interesting experience with a studio audience in place. Then again, we are, after all, in an age of YouTube. And studio audiences themselves might just be a thing of the past.
Again, our loss.