Norm Macdonald: Me Doing Stand-up deserves classic status

The late comic's first full-length special is currently on Crave and captures his sensibility perfectly


NORM MACDONALD: ME DOING STAND-UP currently streaming on Crave. 42 minutes. Rating: NNNNN


If the recent death of comic Norm Macdonald has left you depressed, the fact that his first full-length comedy special, 2011’s Me Doing Stand-Up, is currently streaming on Crave should make you feel a little better. It’s so good it deserves classic status.

Mind you, the show’s opening 10 minutes might seem eerie – especially when you consider how Macdonald died. He was living for nine years with cancer, and kept his diagnosis from the public eye.

“The reason it’s good to be alive,” he says near the top of the show (which was taped in San Francisco), “is because it’s so sad to be dead. My goal in life is not to die.”

Some of the best comedy deals with things we most fear. And here is Macdonald confronting the biggest fear of all: death. He questions why we use hearts as Valentines, and why we say things like “That guy’s got a big heart,” when the organ is so fragile and is apt to attack us. He then launches into a bit about the heart’s violent nature that is so well-constructed and funny it defies synopsis.

After this, he shifts to cancer, referring to an uncle who has bowel cancer. Macdonald sends up the tired expression, “He lost his battle with cancer.”

“That’s no way to end your life,” he says. “What a loser that guy was. The last thing he did was lose.” 

What’s so great about Macdonald’s act is how stealthily he sets up his jokes. A routine about a news story concerning a woman named Janice who’s gone missing takes him from indifference – why should he care about someone he doesn’t know? – to obsession, when he keeps seeing pictures and and friends’ accounts of her.

His relaxed delivery (he seldom grasps the microphone or walks around) and laid-back appearance (jeans, untucked-in shirt, suburban dad black leather jacket) make his comedy seem conversational and off-the-cuff. But there’s so much craft to his jokes. They’re like beautifully constructed short stories.

Whether he’s exploring the idea of alcoholism as a disease – which he contrasts with his uncle-with-cancer’s disease – or telling us how he would successfully plan someone’s murder, he’s in complete control, but there’s nothing contrived or calculated about his delivery. His bemused, dimpled expression doesn’t read as smug; he’s merely enjoying himself.

In his riskiest bit – all about how men and women act differently during sex – he seems to be making fun of his physical limitations as a live comic. When he impersonates men’s animalistic behaviour in bed, he growls, flails his arms about his eyes light up maniacally, as if he’s a kid pretending to be a monster or a bear. What makes this routine so brilliant is how he switches between the bemused narrator, the out-of-control dude and – in one brilliant sequence – the cool woman casually taking a phone call in that same bed.

The best artists make what they do look easy. I’ve watched this routine several times now, and I still marvel at what he achieves here, so effortlessly.

What a winner that guy was. The last thing he did was make us laugh.

@glennsumi

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