Norm Macdonald: Disappointing but Not Surprising
Social media is atwitter with outrage and disappointment over sentiments expressed by Norm Macdonald in a Hollywood Reporter interview in which the former “Weekend Update” anchor and comedy icon defended Louis C.K., Roseanne Barr and Chris Hardwick, expressed happiness that the #Metoo was “slowing down” and anticipated a day when the movement to hold powerful figures accountable for their sexual misdeeds officially went too far and drove a completely innocent man to blow his brains out rather than live in a world where he has been incorrectly vilified and demonized by extremists on the left.
In the ugliest, most quoted part of the interview Macdonald said of his friends Barr and C.K., “There are very few people that have gone through what they have, losing everything in a day. Of course, people will go, "What about the victims?" But you know what? The victims didn't have to go through that.”
It’s hard to know where to even begin with a statement like that. For starters, Barr and C.K. most assuredly did not lose everything in a day. They’re still both obscenely wealthy, will never have to work another day in their life and, in the case of C.K. at least, were able to return to stand-up comedy without the entire audience booing loudly and then storming away in disgust.
Also, C.K. had been abusing his enormous personal and professional power by masturbating in front of women against their will for a period of decades with very little negative consequences beyond a persistent whisper campaign that turned out to be true. Barr, meanwhile, has been posting hateful, paranoid, far-right wing conspiracy garbage online for years. It was only when she re-entered the spotlight, and corporations stood to make a fortune from her and her diseased mind that she faced negative consequences for her egregious racism, Islamophobia and hate-mongering.
Macdonald seems to think that C.K. and Barr are the true victims because they were powerful and successful and gave hm work or wrote the introduction to his memoir, and now they’re in a place where to even defend them, as Macdonald does here, is to risk serious harm to your image and career. Accordingly, the next day MacDonald apologized for his comments and insisted he hadn’t defended the comedians he defended in a tweet that felt like it was written by a publicist doing damage control rather than a comedian expressing genuine contrition.
Throughout the interview, Macdonald professes to not know or care about politics, to be an apolitical funnyman exclusively concerned with making people laugh. He knows what a mine field the current political, social and comic landscape is and how much damage an entertainer can do to their career by saying the wrong thing or defending the wrong people, or expressing an opinion the public finds abhorrent.
Yet he can’t help but stumble onto land mine after land mine, saying things that in the current political environment run the gamut from offensive and tone-deaf to borderline unforgivable.
Here’s the thing. I love Norm Macdonald. I think he’s a comic genius. I think Dirty Work is a masterpiece and that his performance at Bob Saget’s Roast is one of the funniest things ever, and something I can watch over and over again. But nothing Macdonald said in the interview surprised me in the least.
Nothing Macdonald said was inconsistent with his persona. Nothing about the comedy Macdonald has created over the years suggests that he’s interested in examining his own privilege or changing and growing and maturing with the times. Nothing about his comedy suggests that he’s spent time trying to understand and empathize with oppressed and marginalized groups or figures. Nothing, but nothing, that Macdonald has done suggests that in the current vernacular he would qualify as “Woke.”
No, Macdonald was a cranky old white man when he was a beautiful, brilliant man in his twenties on Saturday Night Live and he's only become more of a cranky old white man in the ensuing decades. That’s part of why he was so hilarious and convincing as Bob Dole and Burt Reynolds despite not really doing characters or acting.
It’s one thing to suspect that a performer you love has political and creative opinions that you find abhorrent. It’s another to see those abhorrent political and creative opinions expressed in an interview seemingly everyone has read and commented upon.
As someone who has revered Macdonald in the past and would like to enjoy his work again in the future, it’s disheartening to see him throw his voice and his weight behind the corrupt power of CK, Barr and Hardwick rather than stand up for the people they abused but hey, those people aren’t Norm’s friends, they can’t do anything for him professionally and he clearly thinks that it’s only fair that they suffer as well for making powerful people look and feel bad. It’s trademark false equivalency; Macdonald apparently thinks the women CK jerked off in front of should apologize to him for speaking out in ways that negatively affected him and his brand.
Part of what has made Macdonald such a compelling and original performer was the notion that behind the glib mask of “Who cares?” he adopted on Saturday Night Live, Macdonald actually cared deeply, and was a passionate moralist masquerading as a professional cynic. It’s increasingly apparent, however, that maybe Macdonald really doesn’t care, at least about anything other than his own comfort and the power and reputation of his friends.
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