Last Friday I had the opportunity to watch a performance of Norm MacDonald at the Firelake Grand Casino in Shawnee, OK where he performed to benefit MDA. Most people have at least a cursory knowledge of Norm MacDonald as he was a cast member on ‘Saturday Night Live’ from 1993-1998, serving as host of Weekend Update for 3 of those years. He also starred in the 1998 comedy ‘Dirty Work’, which he also co-wrote. He had his own sitcom, ‘The Norm Show’, from 1999 – 2001. Lately he has been performing stand-up around the country, often choosing small, intimate clubs rather than large arenas.
MacDonald’s comedic style is best described as sardonic. He has a very distinct voice which almost never changes in inflection but only adds to the dry and sarcastic style of what he is saying. He is able to transition from topics that children would discuss to bawdy topics you might hear about from a more vulgar comedian. Fortunately, MacDonald’s very demeanor is what makes all of this possible. The way he talks with such earnestness makes him seem vulnerable. He is also visibly nervous on the stage which other audience members found “endearing” and almost gave an innocent quality to the things he was saying.
Unlike other comedians, MacDonald never delves into current events or pop culture. Rather, he talks about general topics and pretty much whatever comes into his mind. In this most recent performance he started off the show talking about how when you go out to eat you acught totally different from when you eat at home. For example, how many times are you cooking a meal at home and think to yourself “while I’m waiting for this to cook I think I’ll eat a giant loaf of bread.” This promptly turned into a rant on vegetarianism which turned into a critique of cannibalism and wonderment about why people would willing choose to fly over the Andes in the dead of winter. Although it is hard to describe his routine in a manner that would do it justice, Norm MacDonald seems to have an ability to make “unfunny” topics seem funny.
In the middle of his show the microphone broke and it was interesting to watch MacDonald in this situation. He looked at the audience and apologized for his inability to project which I doubt people in the back of the audience could hear. But, being a good sport, when a woman asked if he could take a picture with him he said “sure” and had her come up on stage. It was a very nice act on his part. Never one to do the predictable thing, as soon as the mike came back on MacDonald immediately went into his opening as about eating at restaurants, which he already done. At first the audience seemed a little confused but MacDonald committed to the entire bit and by the end the audience was in hysterics about a routine they had seen just minutes before. It was quite a sight.
MacDonald went on to finish his show covering a variety of topics that don’t seem to be related in any way. His topics varied from how he believes that all sexual acts are shameful (you wouldn’t close the shades and turn off the lights to make a pies for widows) to the naming of apples (specifically, how the guys that names their apples McIntosh and Fuji must have been furious at the guy that named his Red Delicious). He spoke on length about the difference between the sexes including an opinion that women are superior because they can “create life” (which would be an automatic winner in conversions – “Oh, you’re in law school? Well, I’m creating a human) and how he doesn’t believe women really get paid that much less than men (wouldn’t businesses just hire only women?) and a hilarious take on the WNBA. He would jump from topics like autoerotic asphyxiation to how he is a Christian yet fears death to how porn desensitizes people.
The way MacDonald speaks is very conversational. You almost get the feeling that he is talking directly to you. This is not entirely surprising as MacDonald always chooses to play very small night clubs rather than larger venues like arenas. Norm MacDonald’s speaking voice, inflection, and timing are half of his joke so it is difficult to fairly repeat or explain his material. One of the funniest things he does is tell stories (for example, the naming of apples bit) in which he plays the part of all the characters but they all end up being his same speaking voice. It’s hard to explain but very funny to see.
On the other hand, some people might get offended by some of his material. While he does not use profanity for shock value he does use profanity fairly regularly which some people may not like. More likely, some people could be offended by the way he casually discusses taboo topics and uses words like “retard” in the same manner Bill Cosby might tell one of his stories. He can say terrible things and not even draw attention to it. Although, he never seems to be mean spirited or like he is trying to upset people. Instead, he is just saying what he thinks is funny and you tend to find yourself laughing at the things that you wouldn’t think were funny.
Overall, the performance was superb. MacDonald performed for about an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half with no pauses or breaks (other than the microphone breaking). He went from one story to the next and closed the show by explaining to the audience the one thing he has learned in comedy which is to say good night right after a big joke so everybody is laughing before the laughter dies and the comedian has to slink away. He promptly made a really funny joke and waited for the laughter to die down and slunk away. It was really very funny in delivery. If you like dry, acerbic comedy this would be the perfect show for you. MacDonald seems to live by the concept that funny is funny and no topics should be off limits. However, if you tend to be easily offended ether by coarse language or are uncomfortable with taboo topics MacDonald may not be the choice for you.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate the performance a 9.5. I have been to a lot of comedy shows and have seen Norm MacDonald before but this was really the first show I had ever left with my jaw hurting from laughing. Catch him if he comes near you!
Review By: JM Charries