Norm Macdonald wanted to make people laugh from the beginning. Anyone who knows the great comedian can tell you that Norm was a strong opinionated man, but with a healthy, relatable twist. He had a knack for tackling challenging topics and somehow got everyone laughing at once. Norm was always determined to avoid cheap, easy jokes and used his tact to create a hundred clean jokes in place of one obvious but distasteful punchline.
Norm Macdonald was best known for his years hosting the “Weekend Update” segment saturday night live. outside of SNL, Macdonald was the purest kind of stand-up comedian, able to relate to any audience and move groups of any size in the aisles, whether their subject was dark or light. On September 14, 2021, Norm MacDonald died of cancer at the age of 61, surprising the world as one more in a long line of tragic celebrity deaths. Norm never announced that he had cancer, we didn’t know he was dying, and that’s exactly what he wanted.
Norm Macdonald Didn’t Do “Confessional Comedy”
With comedians, we often assume that we know everything about their lives; Or everything worth sharing, anyway. It is the natural style of stand-up comedians to make fun of what they experience and then link those experiences to the universal truths that we all share. Norm Macdonald believed in the universal truth of comedy and was a king at engaging his audience with relevant personal opinions and stories, but not what he called “confessional comedy” or taking advantage of misfortune for personal gain. Looking back, we can see that this is true in his comedic style.
In an October 2016 interview, Norm gave Chris Hardwick some rough thoughts about using Cancer for humor routines.
“I once saw a one-woman show . . . and she says, “Well, my mom had breast cancer and now I have breast cancer.” And I’m like, well, that’s everybody. They think That it’s so special, when everyone gets cancer and they die. To think that you’re going to be so brave that you’re talking about it in person is almost the height of narcissism. Like, when what you’re doing is just getting sympathy for yourself. How is he brave? It sounds cowardly to me.”
Really Counting Your Last Years
In addition to not turning a personal tragedy into a confessional routine, Norm MacDonald also didn’t want to paint his final years in business with overly sympathies concerning his situation. He mentioned in the same interview that he greatly admired Richard Farnsworth, who kept his cancer a secret during the shooting of the 1999 David Lynch film straight story. He received an Oscar nomination for that role and died a few months later.
Macdonald says he understands why Farnsworth didn’t publicize his terminal cancer. Farnsworth won an Oscar nomination on talent alone, and that feat was more real than winning an Oscar because he was nominated without knowing he had cancer. Farnsworth did not even tell his family about cancer before he committed suicide at the end of his terminal case.
“So that, to me, is courageous. You’re not going to be a burden on your family. They don’t know anything about it and then, you’re gone. She wrote a nice letter to everyone in the family saying she did so.” Did it because he didn’t want to upset people. So I thought, Wow, how unbelievable.”
Norm Macdonald wants us to laugh with tears
In the end, Cancer didn’t take out Norm, Norm took out Cancer. In one of his most memorable and classic jokes on the subject, Norm Macdonald once said
“In the old days, they would go, ‘Hey, that old man is dead.’ Now they go, ‘Hey, he lost his fight.’ That’s no way to end your life! I’m pretty sure that if you die, cancer dies at the exact same time. So that, to me, doesn’t hurt; it’s a draw.”
Norm didn’t tell us about his cancer because he wanted his final years to be counted. He wanted his final years to be inspiring laughter and smiles, as he has done through a decades-long illustrious stand-up career. He didn’t want to be in tears with his final routine, and today, he wants us to find joy and humor even in the tragic event of his death. Maybe specifically. So, tonight, tell a joke in honor of Norm MacDonald. He wants to keep making us laugh.