IIt was Frank Skinner who first drew my attention to Norm Macdonald. Years ago – can’t remember how, like it was before YouTube – he showed me a clip of a man looking like an idol in the morning at the Montreal Comedy Festival, doing a bit of a lie. . But a very specific element of lying. “Have you ever lied for no reason?” He said, in his incredibly upbeat, North American roots voice – which was so much a part of his performance, of his ability to charm but also to make the things he was talking about, often very familiar, get weird and new. “Someone says, ‘Did you see that movie with Meryl Streep and the horse? And you say, ‘Yes.’ »And there he stops, and does another very Norm thing: he stares at the audience for a long time, without nerves, making them understand, just by pausing, that it is a lie, and that it is funny. , before saying: “And then you say to yourself: what am I lying over there?” I have nothing to gain from this lie.”
I was addicted. As much as I love American stand-ups, Norm – who was Canadian – had something that I found unusual in this world. American stand-ups are often clever and insightful and satirical and possess extraordinary staging, but not many of them are what I would call funny boneless: By what I mean, Eric Morecambe boneless, the ability to make you laugh while doing next to nothing. Norm totally was. Watch him in Weekend Update on SNL, the gig that made him most famous. He often does nothing. He says the joke, then leaves – on live American TV – the longest silence, letting the laughs build just by the force of his incredibly sparkling eyes. Of course, the joke in Norm’s case was often something that most people not to say. That too was part of his technique, the juxtaposition between his extreme comedic touchstones – “crack whore” was practically one of his catchphrases – and his apparent softness. This sweetness is also present in his amazing TV appearances – only Billy Connolly comes close for the grandeur of those – most notably in his legendary Conan crop of an old joke about a moth as if he s ‘was from a Dostoyevsky novel.
I have never met him. We had a conversation on Twitter, after I wrote something nice about him in that same diary, and he asked if he could see my show about my family. I told him he should come to London, but I really hoped he would be okay. He never did, but like all great comedians, I felt like I knew him anyway. Later in his career he said things that flirted with what we now call cancellation. I’m not sure he’s ever been so bothered. It had been canceled before the cancellation was a thing, sacked from SNL after refusing to stop making jokes about OJ Simpson. And that’s the key thing I love about Norm. A deep commitment to comedy: a Shit this engagement in comedy. We live in a complex time for comedy, where it’s more under scrutiny than ever before, and some of that has value, but some of it may not be conducive to pure funny. Norm was completely funny. Writer – also very funny – Simon Blackwell told me that watching Norm gave you that “glorious feeling where you are suspended in this comedic register and all can be said. Not in a shock jock of the “Did I trigger you?” Track. Shit, but like attending a secular mass. As long as I live and laugh, I – an atheist, a super fan – will continue to pray at the altar of Norm Macdonald.