Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Obvious Child, featuring Jenny Slate as a struggling comedian, has us thinking back on some of our favorite stand-up specials and comedy concerts.
Norm Macdonald: Me Doing Standup (2011)
As a comedian, Norm Macdonald is known for delivering one stand-alone joke at a time. Even his fans might presume that the purest form of his comedy would be his one-liners and asides as a “Weekend Update” anchor on Saturday Night Live, or maybe the sketch-like vignettes that make up much of his feature film Dirty Work. Macdonald didn’t do much to counter this impression when he called his most recent comedy special Me Doing Standup—a title that recalls the deadpan honesty of his best one-liners.
But Macdonald subverts those single-serving expectations with a well-developed and surprisingly thoughtful set. He opens by talking about his preference for life over death—the former looks good “compared to being smothered in earth”—and discussing his father’s passing, along with the questionable assertion that dying brought him to a better place. (“On the floor, dead,” he clarifies.) From there, he progresses into an extended riff on local news stories and into a dark walk-through of how he would abduct and murder someone, were he to attempt it. Throughout the special, Macdonald uses a slightly slurry, mumbly delivery to sound more off-the-cuff than he did on “Update” or in earlier stand-up (he often punctuates his storytelling with phrases like “and shit like that”), and his laid-back vibe gives the observations a sharper cut.
The superior first half of Me Doing Standup contains some of Macdonald’s strongest punchlines ever. His wealth of material revolving around death is unsparing, hilarious, and far from sentimental—yet it seems to come from a place of real grief and fear. The second half of the hour falls back on some of the weaker aspects of Macdonald’s faux-common-sense persona, especially in one ill-advised bit about gay pride parades that has some funny lines but is a few hairs away from asking, “What about straight pride, huh?” The special might play better in its Comedy Central airing, where it was cut by 10 minutes or so to fit an hour-long time slot. The DVD makes up for some weak patches by including his segment from the “Comedy Central Roast Of Bob Saget,” in which he uses cornball jokes to single-handedly destroy the concept of a roast’s vulgar one-upmanship. As a result, the DVD of Me Doing Standup is a Conan O’Brien segment or two short of representing the best of Macdonald’s post-’90s career.
Availability: Me Doing Standup is available on DVD, and to rent or purchase through Amazon Instant Video and Google Play.