Norm Macdonald: Me Doing Stand-Up debuts tonight on Comedy Central at 11:30 p.m. Eastern.
For those of us reared on Norm Macdonald as "Weekend Update" host and pen-brandishing Bob Dole, his new special is something of a gently surprising re-introduction. The title, Me Doing Stand-Up, and his overall demeanor do nothing to address Macdonald's most famous work or trump up his persona. In fact, watching him, you could almost imagine he's a pleasantly nervous, promising newcomer slipping into his first patch of true confidence. He all but abandons that sour, side-of-the-mouth snarl that indicates he'd as soon be pissing sideways on his audience's shoes as talking to it.
The material follows suit—it's as if he's having fun starting from the basics. His opening bit on death stretches long in a way that gradually begins to pay off, as he reasons that your heart is actually the worst thing for you, and that defibrillators aren't for saving your heart so much as scaring it straight. (He says his father, ironically, was killed by his heart while "looking for fuckin' Arabs.")
It is, overall, the kind of show that doesn't make you feel lame for enjoying jokes about sex and nightly newscasts. If not for Norm's remaining love of the profane, it might resemble a good, solid set from the clean-working Brian Regan. The sex bit hinges not on how stupid men are about sex but how sheerly monstrous they can seem when doing it. (And apparently the fact that guys with small cocks make up lots of stupid rhymes.) Then again, the nastier bits don't make you feel like he's simply clobbering you with shock value. His bit about how he would kill "Janice" (a woman reported missing on the aforementioned newscast), after sadistically luring her into a creepy van by using cheese sandwiches, is quite delicately constructed and relaxingly paced, considering the material. The same goes for the bit comparing alcoholism to bowel cancer.
Despite the easygoing pace of the set, it's Macdonald's track record of stinging cleverness earns him enough deference to make it work. And it's clear he hasn't forgotten how to harness that, especially when pointing out the absurdity of Alcoholics Anonymous people who'll tell each other about "[blowing] a dog for a pint of gin" but then refuse to reveal their last names.
Me Doing Stand-Up isn't to be valued on the laughs-per-pound scale, and it doesn't even end with a big, punchy climax of a joke. (He trails off and shuffles away genially after an admittedly strong return to the O.J. Simpson mine, in which he points out that murder convicts are higher on the prison pecking order than "guys who steal their own shirts.") He succeeds in coming off as unassuming through the entire show and lays out a case that he's still a strong comedian. He may take a little time with his barbs, but that makes them stick all the better.
- "One guy said, 'He's in a better place.' I said, 'He's on the floor! Dead!'"
- Though this was filmed at The Fillmore in San Francisco, the setup seems like it's going for a smaller comedy-club feel, with people close in on either side of the stage and so forth. It doesn't look like a theater show in the usual sense.
- "Our top story tonight: A lady has vanished."
- "How hard is sex? ... It's not like darts or something."
- "If I was the police chief, I'd go, 'Listen, I want every shallow grave in the vicinity checked out!'"
- It's nice to enjoy someone's work this much after admittedly not really keeping up for years. And for different reasons than the initial enjoyment.
- For a guy I've always thought of as a crank, doesn't he look pretty damn healthy and fresh-faced here?
- Again, going in with no particular expectations one way or another, I thought this turned out well. Not to the bruised-ribs level or anything, but it was consistently funny with a mature and rather subtle delivery of his chronic-wise-ass style.