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Norm Macdonald has died (deadline.com)
701 points by coloneltcb on Sept 14, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 165 comments

I'm gutted on hearing this. I’ve been on one of my regular Norm YouTube binges, and was watching a ton of them just last night. His dedication to comedy was legendary, and his complexity was intriguing.

Norm’s fake late gift to Conan for The Tonight Show, given after Conan was leaving, is a great example of his sort of expectation-bending humor.


His appearances on The View are legendary examples of his ability to be uncontrolled and play the dumbest guy in the room at the same time while actually being the sharpest. His intentional subversion played off as uninformed is a seemingly one of a kind talent. There are videos of interviews where he describes some of the background to things he did on the show.



“Not everything has a point” just gets me. It’s amazing how the hosts just want to jump from talking point to talking point and just refuse to let the guest actually talk, which Norm really plays off of.

And lastly, the moth joke remains a shining example of his anti-jokes.


His monologues at roasts, awards shows, and the correspondents dinner were examples of not being afraid of anything.

This is a great summary of what made him stand so far apart from other comedians and entertainers. He was fundamentalist in his dedication to the art of comedy. He could easily tell a clean dirty-joke or a dirty clean one and he never pandered to the audience.

The other part about Norm that I'm not sure everyone knew was how compassionate and well read he was. This came out on his podcast frequently. Not only could he deliver a multi-layered joke on the fly but could casually pull references to art & literature.

I always appreciated his reverence toward his guests. Even during Jim Carrey's infamous and awkward flame-out on his show, he was never fazed or allowed it to affect his conduct towards his guests. Unless he had extra special reverence for them, in which case he might give them a harder time.

He's the only celebrity loss I can remember being brought to tears over. An absolute legend.

As a fellow binger, may I contribute this one that I never see on YouTube or shared around much, but is a long-time favourite of mine.


(If outside the US, you'll need a VPN.)

That was great! I hadn’t come across that one before. Really shows Norm’s irreverence but at the same time his practical approach to life, all while being hilarious.

> the dumbest guy in the room at the same time while actually being the sharpest

He would've won top prize on Millionaire but backed off before answering the last question from nerves.


What a legend

Yea, Regis really flustered him on that question and made him second guess himself even though he had the right answer.

What's extra funny about that is that one of his The View appearances (linked above) was the day of or soon before his Millionaire appearance. One of the hosts said something along the lines of "you think he's dumb here, just wait until his appearance on Millionaire", and of course they all cackle at that. Then he goes and gives a great performance.

He said that one of his fav quotes was from Letterman, something along the lines of "People hate you if they think you're smarter than them". He always played the idiot which made him more likeable, but he was always the sharpest cat in the room. RIP to a true legend.

My favorite joke of his is the one where a salesman is convincing him to buy a pit bull.

"If you die, the cancer also dies at exactly the same time. That to me isn't losing a battle, it is a draw."

He was one of the funniest people ever and there is probably no one who was a more entertaining talk show guest. I can spend hours just watching whatever comes up after plugging "Norm Macdonald talk show" into Youtube.

That is a University of Science worthy medical fact.

Downvoters didn't probably realize the phrase was from his joke: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hh3TI3iMb1E

From this I can infer you know the dog house joke

idk it depends on the definition of dying and where exactly the tumor is

I wonder if he ever heard of Henrietta Lacks.

I’m not sure what survives to this day in that case is more Henrietta or more cancer. To this day the genome is becoming less and less human.

So perhaps a draw still in the long term since eventually the corruption could terminate itself.

"Who writes these?!"

RIP Norm.

That is the single most comforting statement I’ve ever heard about cancer.

This year has been the absolute worst.

Is that actually a quote of his?

Yes it is. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMRd-n_s4c8

From his special: Me Doing Standup


Interesting in context -- wonder if he knew at the time, it would be right at the limit of the time-window described in the article I guess.

In the TMZ article it mentions a 9 year battle with cancer.

Yeah, at least from my quick glance it looked like the special came out in 2011, which would put it around there. There's fuzziness on either side -- on one hand there was presumably some editing time, on the other he seems to have kept it private, presumably whoever told TMZ found out a little bit after he did, and their memory might not have been perfect. It is just in the ballpark.

Yea definitely, it's a bit in his standup

Yeah, TFA even uses the phrase "battle with cancer" and that's where my mind went...

I literally gasped when I heard this. There is something uniquely sad when one's favorite comedian passes away.

There were many things that made him special, but one thing stands out right now:

I don't think I've ever seen a comedian pursue Truth so rigorously. So much of his comedy was him shining a light on a given topic and giving 100% unflinching attention toward it, even if everyone else wanted to ignore it or "move on". This often made the "joke" the audience, in that we found ourselves laughing when we thought we shouldn't be. But why shouldn't we be laughing? Why shouldn't we be discussing this? Wait, why is this uncomfortable in the first place? Have I thought about this enough?

Norm MacDonald and Patrice O'Neal's comedy should be studied by every comedian as they pursued comedy and nothing else. No social saintness or political hackery.

If there were a Michelin star, we just lost two three star Michelins in about a decade... There aren't many (perhaps even any) left to fill this void.

Thank you for mentioning Patrice O'Neal and Norm MacDonald in the same breath. We really lost comedy greats that cannot be filled by anyone anytime soon.

Yes! I’m beyond thrilled to see someone mention Patrice here. He is, by far, the most cerebral comedians of all time.

Doug Stanhope and Dave Chappell will tell you the truth.

I had the same reaction. So many comics are fast with a joke but Norm was the master at drawing out a joke out and exploring the Truth as you say.

To me I was never a huge Norm Macdonald fan, but that clip just shows how great of a comedian he was. I mean, the joke itself isn't anything special, but his delivery is so good that he has you just waiting with anxious anticipation throughout the whole thing that when he got to the punchline I really lol'ed. Mad respect.

Yeah, it is tempting to think Norm is very dim-witted given his deliberate choice of slower tempo and buildup, but you see things like his Larry-King-interviews-Larry-King skit https://youtu.be/7A6ba43XuOg?t=122 and like he immediately cracks a situational joke without missing a beat and actual-Larry-King catches it immediately and falls over laughing, and only then do I process it and start laughing myself.

I kept thinking about clues to figure out the punchline:

podiatrist, going to be something about feet... psychiatrist vs podiatrist, some kind of pun incoming...

...then you both want to strangle him and fall on the floor laughing simultaneously.

I never dove too deep but always liked him a lot, and I have to agree his delivery was exceptional. I knew about 10% of the way in this was a shaggy dog joke, but he kept me second guessing that the whole time. And he had such a dopey style of speaking, like he was just as surprised and amused by what he was saying as if he was out of body listening to himself. Which is totally disarming when done well.

I respected his comedy, but a lot of it was "comedy for comedians" which highlights the level of his craft. I think his fatal flaw was he never wanted to stoop to the general audiences too much.

Unfortunately his comedy is held up by way too many people as a gatekeeper to "true appreciation of comedy" which is ridiculous. That always seemed part of the self-destructive aspect of top comedy, which almost always is a public face of deep depression.

Norm was a tragic figure, much like many of the comedic greats.

His book has an even longer, more beautiful version of that joke. I highly recommend checking it out, he spends something like a chapter on the joke. It's executed like serious Russian literature, and makes how much he was butchering it on Conan even better when rewatching.

Someone posted a quote from his book on Reddit, I didn't know he had one so I went to go buy it, it sold out while it was in my cart. Now there's just a "collectible" version for $550. People are awful.

He did the narration on the audiobook version. It's an excellent listen.

While I'm sure there are digital editions for sale and probably a few physical copies at your local library, if it's being gouged, the guy's already dead, and his book is not one of the few hundreds of books on the internet to have gone uncopied. It's truly wherever you can find books.

I'm partial to this story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELoXiuDA_sQ

Also mine. Here is the video of it (his mannerisms only add to the aesthetic): https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5vaqxy

On the nose given the news, thanks for sharing

Always great on Conan.


I haven't clicked on it yet - I want to guess that this is the joke about Moth. Let's see if I got it.

[edit: yep it is :) - a virtual hug to you friend ]

Beat me to it :) I love how the joke is really unimportant, it's all the delivery. He makes it seem effortless or even unintentional.

The joke wasn't his originally, but in that clip he'd actually evolved it on the fly, making it much funnier.

You might appreciate the backstory:


Love it. Reminds me of a great comedian that died in the early 90's, Lewis Grizzard. The punch lines didn't have to be funny because he was such a great storyteller.

Hah! First Shaggy Moth joke in my life.


Bit starting at :43 (Germany) will easily go down as one of the greatest stand-up bits ever written and performed. And he was the perfect guy to do it.

"I don't know if you guys are history buffs or not..."

"What do you think you are, Mars or something?"

Figured something was wrong since he stopped tweeting in July.

I'll just drop this here, his last standup on Letterman - which (at the end) reveals that he was not "just" the wittiest, most fearless funnyman ever. RIP Norm.


puts the germany piece I only knew to date isolated into perspective, that was also a goodbye to letterman and kind of broke the 4th wall, thanks

Terrible news. One of my favorite Norm Macdonald moments was when he purposely bombed during the Bob Saget Comedy Central Roast purely to make Bob and the other comedians laugh.

His roast is still the only memorable part of that entire special.

Norm really was for the birds.

Gilbert Gottfried's segment from that roast was pretty memorable [1]

[1] https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2x1bwa

That Linsdey Lohan can't swim a lick, but she sure knows every dive in town!

Oo would love to see this if you have a link handy


Looking for HD but this one actually has video; the others I found didn't.

He was so well read, but played the "dumb guy" so well: https://youtu.be/ob3yBb2E-uM

I'd argue that it should be:

He was so well-read that he played the "dumb guy" well.

yeah, not many people know he was a devout Christian, overall a man of depth and complexity

There was a comedian on Last Comic Standing on which Norm was a judge who was making jokes at the expense of his Christian family. Something like "Your favorite book is the Bible, mine's Harry Potter. Big deal."

Norm had a scathing criticism, and it was the most serious I'd ever seen Norm. He said something like: "It's not funny to use Harry Potter to make fun of Christians. J.K. Rowling is a Christian, and she said if you understand the Gospels, you'll know how the Harry Potter series will end."

Now there was a bit on Seinfeld about how someone had converted to Judaism simply to gain the right to tell Jewish jokes. And Jerry was talking to his therapist about this and the therapist said, "So, this offends you as a Jewish person?" And Jerry replied, "No, it offends me as a comedian."

Despite his faith, one inferred from his LCS critique that the Harry Potter joke offended him not as a Christian, but as a comedian. That's how professional a comic he was.

Well that and edgy atheism was extremely played out even by that point.

Same way he refused to do any Trump jokes. Norm didn't want applause, he wanted laughter.

Damn this is a good comment. I know a lot of Norm but I never saw this.

Weird. Am a big fan, but can't imagine anyone dissing the Enlightenment. Maybe a bit crazy after all?

Norm's non-comedy persona (I suspect even when not "performing" he was still performing, at least to himself) was probably not immune to pretense.

I can see the point he is trying to make, although I think it's nonsense

Hardly nonsense and a view espoused by several other cultural commentators and authors (e.g., Ross Douthat, Dostoyevsky, Simone Weil, to name a few).

All I can say is that hankering for moral bedrock by looking back to a surely contrived ideal of Christianity seems trite and somewhat vindictive to me. To use one of my favourite Norm-isms, I don't own a doghouse: am I lying to myself?

To what truth does he refer to? You don't get to pick and choose which bits you like and which you don't, when making this kind of argument.

Isn't your first line projecting onto him something that he's not evidencing? Then the second line... is he picking and choosing? He names Christianity, it's not an ambiguous term.

The entire Romantic era was a diss of the Enlightenment. Norm wasn’t “a bit crazy”, he was educated.

It reads as an appeal to irrationality or the opposite of reason. Educated or not, not particularly useful.


Unfortunately, if this is serious, it just makes me lose respect for him. The Enlightenment was the greatest period of human history ever with regards to philosophical and intellectual progress since ancient Greece.

You would never know if it was serious is not. It could have been more of a comment really.

I think it was serious. Norm was very well-read and his favourite literature was deeply religious and suspicious of modernity (Twain, Tolstoy, Proust).

Yes I know since I look askance at modernity too. But he was seldom serious (in a literal sense) about anything except sports. The seriousness was in the inferences, usually. This tweet (since deleted) if serious, was at least out of character.

That sucks. Loved him on SNL... don't remember anyone else who's resulting laughs seemed so inadvertent or by chance, like he was ill-prepared or crazy, or both. :-D

I really enjoyed his Netflix talk show a few years ago as well, especially because it was (seemed to be?) such a mess. Also introduced me to a great country artist in the last show, and I don't even like country:


> don't remember anyone else who's resulting laughs seemed so inadvertent or by chance, like he was ill-prepared or crazy, or both

None of it was by accident: He was really good at comedy and was getting exactly the laughs when/where he expected them. Coming off as ill-prepared was a shtick.

Bill Burr and Bert Kreischer have a podcast. Once, Norm came up[1]. What they said is something I've heard from pretty much any interview about him: Norm is the quintessential comedian's comedian. He's up there trying to do what he thinks is funny, audience be damned.

[1]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVgX0AP3Gz4

His role portraying Bob Dole during the Clinton years use to be one of my favorite skits on SNL

I’d forgotten about that, thanks. Whenever I read the name “Bob Dole” I hear it in Norm’s voice without realizing it until now.

I am an avid lover of comedy, and Norm Macdonald was by far my favorite comedian. I am younger, and the first live show of his I was going to attend at the San Jose Improv was cancelled because of COVID last year. I am gutted.

Norm really embodied what comedy is truly about. No one likes the smartest guy in the room. Nothing is off limits. Always speak Truth to Power. His style and ability to write jokes, as opposed to the popular story telling methods of today, is still one of a kind. I loved hearing his "meta musings" about comedy and joke writing, where he said the "perfect joke" is one where the set up and punchline are the same. (https://youtu.be/9GKKnlsZvQA?t=231)

My all time favorite performance of any comedian will always be Norm's white house correspondence dinner performance during the Clinton administration. His ability to understand his audience, and write and perform real jokes (unlike the pandering we see in the decades since) is truly the mark of a master. The truest of comedians play the role of the philosopher and jester: through their performances we ought to recognize the things we refuse to see in ourselves and our societies. Norm has a library of noteworthy clips, but this will always be my top. This is art. I implore you to watch.

RIP Norm. You old chunk of coal.


His interview on Conan with Courtney Thorne-Smith is one my favorite videos:


Yes! The unusual relentlessness and Conan's breakdown is why that's my top Norm memory. Just mean from most people, but that impish grin lets him get away a perfect stream of ad-libbed insults.

Saw him twice in standup. Second time he was completely committed to a theme of being a born-again Christian and it was hilariously puzzling.

Who ever thought Artie would outlive Norm. RIP to a giant

The first chunk off his 2011 special is all about his own mortality. Given that the article says he'd been living with cancer for about 9 years, you now have to wonder whether this was just before, or just after he was diagnosed. I know it takes time to work on material, so likely the former. Still, kind of spooky listening to it right now.

>There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.

Devastated to hear this. RIP Norm. I loved you.

Ooof, one more death that hit me hard this year. Norm's humor was not for everybody, but I loved how weird, absurd and off-putting it could be.

Wow. Norm Macdonald is my favorite comedian of all time and stand up comedy is one of my favorite things about humanity. I was just watching some clips of his on the "I'm not Norm" YouTube channel while eating lunch right before I read this. I had no idea he had cancer, although in retrospect I can see the signs...

Damn, what a massive shock. He was an absolute legend and will never be forgotten. RIP.

His appearance on Letterman's last show is one of the greatest stand up sets of all time and now I'll consider it his farewell. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFjEvl43zYY

A more recent appearance where he was great, just talking, was on David Spade's show. His quick comeback on the Paul Newman line is a great example of why he was so amazing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbanVqLk1lQ

Probably my favorite comedian. No wonder we hadn't seen much of him for awhile, e.g. when Conan O'Brien's show was ending.

So he nearly died on 9/11, I think he would've liked it if he did.

He is probably the only North American comedian I really, really like, I am genuinely sad.

Edit: I initially said American, but obviously norm is from Canada, but the statement is still true of North America so I'll go with that as Canada doesn't have the same gravitas...

Norm was Canadian.

He was from Canada and never became a U.S. citizen, but to my knowledge, he lived and worked primarily in the U.S. for his entire adult life.


Do you also really, really like some comedians outside of North America? Can you recommend someone?

I am British, so mostly British comedians. This isn't a given, but American comedy relative to our palette can seem very fake - although some quintessential "British" acts don't do it for me whatsoever, e.g. I don't find the IT Crowd funny, I don't find Mitchell and Webb particularly funny either.

My absolute all-time most bestest favourite comedian is Chris Morris (Brass Eye, Jam, Four Lions) - who is a genius whose work is still blisteringly modern today even though most of it was recorded 25 years ago now. The way he uses neologisms is pure trip-fuel too if you enjoy banned substances.

https://youtu.be/r3BO6GP9NMY, a little sample.

https://youtu.be/0lhJ3YJkfcg longer but more insane sample

He's not really a standup though. I think Norm was probably my favourite long-form standup all things considered, and it feels slightly weird comparing him to a British one because although he definitely reminded me of the subversiveness of comedy this side of the pond, he was still very much an American comic. Comedians over here are typically much more personal if they do "bits" (i.e. expertly performed but often true stories), or just pure one-liner merchants. Similarly, "improv" has always seemed very alien to me.

If I had to pick one pure standup it would have to be Frankie Boyle just by the volume of laughs I've got out of him.

If you want endless hours of fun British comedy (mostly improvised, I'm a hypocrite), listen to a little of the old Gervais, Pilkington, and Merchant radio shows from back in the day.

Thanks for this write up. I actually haven't heard of Chris Morris and Frankie Boyle yet. I'll have to check them out.

>This isn't a given, but American comedy relative to our palette can seem very fake

I get it.

Benny Hill: real

Doug Stanhope: fake

I love Doug Stanhope. Jimmy Fallon however...

As a French man, I discovered him a couple of weeks ago and binge watched his material on YouTube.

One of the bests.

Awful. Always loved his comedy. The movie he made years ago, Dirty Work, is heavily underappreciated.

RIP Norm.

Boy I don't know who this Cancer guy is but he seems like a real jerk!

For those who haven't seen it, I recommend checking out Mike Tyson Mysteries.

It's an animated show by Adult Swim where Mike Tyson (voiced by himself), his adopted Korean daughter, the ghost of the inventor of the rules of modern boxing, and a talking pigeon who is a complete asshole solve mysteries in the style of Scooby Doo. Norm Macdonald plays Pigeon.

Is this some kind of Norm MacDonald joke?

reminds me of that tragedy

I didn't even know he was sick!

Terrible name for an airline

the one with the buildings?

The Grey Man

Shocking and sad news. I always enjoy Norm and watch his work every other month at the least. The world has lost some light.

His ability to tell a whole absurd story that sounds like it's building into a huge climax and fizzles into an anti-joke is legendary.

A great video essay about Norm Macdonald from great YouTuber nerdwriter:


it's always sad to hear that somebody died of cancer. seriously.

but what I always found odd was that a lot of comdedians who I consider very funny - openly consider him to be the most funny guy every while to me he didn't seem funny at all. he had something striking and charismatic about him - I give him that. but I can't remember having seen any sketch or interview with him where I found him funny. often watchworthy and interesting - but never funny.

I didn't even know he was sick!

Just like Norm to make that line the literal truth for his fans.


One of my all time favorite comedians. A pretty sucky part about getting older is losing the people who provided you a bunch of joy.

He was a comedic genius and one of a kind.

I've been a fan since 1995 and have spent countless hours on YouTube watching Norm Macdonald clips from SNL and various talk shows.

There are so many great clips, here is one of my favorites: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uarJj-K4XH4

Gonna miss this old chunk of coal.

The funniest man ever. RIP

Agree with this and the following FTA: 'Norm was a pure comic. He once wrote that ‘a joke should catch someone by surprise, it should never pander.’ He certainly never pandered. Norm will be missed terribly.”'

Meh. I disagree. He frequently made below the belt jokes about the appearance or attributes of others, particularly women and gays. He was pretty funny otherwise though.

Fully realizing this will be downvoted, but RIP anyway.

You know what they say... speak ill of the dead!

I don't believe in any of that, personally. I was simply responding to "he's the funniest man alive" or such.

I was merely referencing the bit from podcast episode with Bobby Lee -- where Adam Eget mentioned Robin Williams stealing acts/jokes in a conversation and he replies as I did.

Damn I was just looking at tickets yesterday https://www.ticketweb.com/event/new-york-comedy-festival-pre...

Ah, fucking hell.

The greatest tribute to Norm McDonald is that other famous comics regard him as their favorite.


Gutted. He was a comedic genius, and extremely well-read. Rest in peace, Norm.

"Norm Macdonald's Legendary Bob Saget Roast"


Sad news indeed. In case somebody missed it, and is in the mood for some Norm, why not check out S09E02 of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, where he's interviewed by Jerry Seinfeld.

61 years old is a ripe old age for an SNL comedian.


Reference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8h-xeuC1L0

Yeah but he didn't OD on anything.


In recent years lots of his comedy centered on his fears of death and related religious musings...

The fact that he had been struggling with cancer really puts this in a different perspective.

RIP Norm. You were funny!

He was one of those comedians that wasn't affected by the whole "wokeism" movement, because he existed outside this PC vs. non-PC humour hierarchy. The reason he could do that is that he was genuinely funny, wasn't trying to "sell" an ideology, and didn't particularly care about other people's opinion of him. Oh and he wasn't someone who would "punch down" as an alternative for being funny.

He definitely changed his more outrageous jokes to switch away from punching down so much, and to making fun of this out of touch dummy character that he was playing. Keeping up with the times made him better.

Norm was actually somewhat conservative, though he played his politics close to the vest -- except for when he weaponized his conservatism to shock people and get laughs, for example, when he appeared on The View and the ladies were praising Bill Clinton, he cut in with "Didn't he kill a guy?" in reference to the Vince Foster conspiracy theory.

I'm going to miss Pigeon.

Norm wasn’t normal. That’s why I loved him.

I miss him already.

Damn. Always enjoyed his work. I especially like this moment from Conan. Seeing him in the zone.


I hope O.J. has a good alibi.

Norm's musings on death from his 2011 special: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrFU5wyd_C0

Norm MacDonald was pretty much the gold standard for comedy for me. Unlike my other comedic hero, Dana Carvey, he wasn't good at impressions -- his Bob Dole was pretty much just Norm speaking as if his pronouns were Bob Dole/Bob Dole -- but he could take literally anything and make it funny. Even if a joke failed to land, he would just "do the Norm thing" for a couple seconds and everybody would laugh. The Norm thing is like the Christopher Walken thing -- it's a person's ineffable talent of being that person.

To this day I still speak of my "inner Norm MacDonald voice", which kicks in when I observe something hilariously absurd. Like when Jeff Bezos launched his evocatively-shaped rocket, what Dennis Miller called the "Pynchonesque cock rants" practically write themselves -- in Norm's voice in my head.

I actually think Norm is an under appreciated impressionist.

Bob Uecker: https://youtu.be/eiooeRAdcjU

Quentin Tarantino: https://youtu.be/0imUF8EmDIQ

His Burt Reynolds impression, one of his most famous, was a good example of a good impression: close enough to show a resemblance but with a weird caricature twist. Most of Norm's impression were like this. His Johnny Carson was also not half bad.

RIP to one of the greats

His episode with Andy Dick is the most I’ve laughed in my entire life. I go back and watch it again a couple times a year it’s just perfect.

His sports posting was great, wish he was a commentator.


It was all Ralph Abernathy's fault!

(Listening to his 2017 Netflix special right now in memoriam).

Ffs 2 of my all time favorite comedians gone in less than a couple months..

Trevor Moore?

Yeah I was shocked by that too. Had been enjoying the WKUK mini reunion.


This guy was so funny :(

RIP Norm. Best delivery in the business, hands down.

Wow. Well, I didn’t know, that sucks…


One of the funniest people to ever live, RIP.

Wow, that's a bummer.

It's a pity he didn't have Dick Shawn's timing.

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