Norm Macdonald doesn't take things too seriously, which is exactly what makes the new Sports Show so charming. Recurring segments include "What The H?" and "Wait, What?", which are cursory efforts to provide Norm with the chance to deliver a monologue. At one point in last week's episode, he headed to the lot outside the studio to try and recreate a viral video shoot—wherein Norm provided some pretty funny off-the-cuff remarks and many failed attempts to throw a football into a basketball hoop.
The jokes are boundlessly silly in their simplicity; last week, Macdonald said, about a coal-carrying competition: "This exciting sport combines the back-breaking work of heaving 44 pounds of coal with… nothing." The world of sports takes itself far too seriously, and Norm's playful deconstruction (even the commercial sign-off is no more than, "Next. More.") lends itself well to skewering the unstoppable juggernaut. He's willing to fully trust his instincts, too, because he himself thinks the show's going to fail, or so he told me in an earlier interview. If he already thinks he's lost, then really, there's nothing to lose.
Sports Show is foolhardy in all the best ways. Jokes go to gross and uncomfortable places just as often as they're unabashedly goofy. Often, the two things will come one right after the other, too: Tonight, Norm started by looking directly into the camera and saying, "See you in hell, Osama Bin Laden," to which the audience applauded wildly, then sat raptly, waiting for the "too soon" joke to follow. "Although to be fair," he continued, "I only coveted my neighbors oxen, so that doesn't seem fair." Most of the jokes tonight similarly started down one path, then abruptly changed directions. He showed a video of a Polish athlete doing an insane combination of flips, then remarked that it was less impressive because the guy was actually trying to run the 40-yard dash. That'd be his silly side. Later, there was a clip of a man with no arms throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game. "I was there, but I didn't see it," Norm said, "because I was wincing." That was his stickier side.
His effortless back-and-forth is hypnotic. The rhythm is fast, and he's not shy about reveling in a joke that doesn't work. In fact, he reserves the last few minutes of the show for "garbage time," where discarded jokes—ranging from stupid to possibly offensive—see the light of day. This is Norm's fourth episode, and it's become clear that he's very comfortable making himself the butt of just about every joke.
The set-up for each joke might be sports, but the pay-off is something even the most sports illiterate person can understand: self-mockery. Jokes about sexually explicit, shameful off-field athlete behavior ended with, "He's stealing all my moves" more than once tonight. There was an entire segment about Norm placing a (very real/large) bet on Saturday's big boxing match, which he kicked off by referencing his own gambling foibles. Even "garbage time" is a joke at the expense of Norm; these are rejected jokes for a reason, and you're about to see why.
Just because it's called Sports Show With Norm Macdonald doesn't necessarily mean it's going to feel like Norm Macdonald's show. Very often, these sorts of programs—especially on Comedy Central—are formed by committee, with the namesake comic merely acting as a figurehead and subject for press photos. But minus a few jokes that rang too obviously, Sports Show is an excellent vehicle for Norm. He's able to construct heady jokes about Khloe Kardashian (if ever there were any) and revel in how stupid it was that some lawyer demonstrated "bat sex" forever. He might not be taking it that seriously, but Norm's clearly having a great time doing it, and when he's having fun, we all are.