Norm Macdonald's Posthumous Special Unlike Any Other

It includes a 'televised wake in miniature'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 31, 2022 9:45 AM CDT
Norm Macdonald Processes His Mortality in Posthumous Special
Norm Macdonald appears at KAABOO 2017 in San Diego on Sept. 16, 2017.   (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP, File)

Norm Macdonald didn't plan on filming his last comedy special in his living room. It was 2020 and the secret cancer patient was testing material for his next Netflix special. He was also about to undergo a major procedure. So he sat down to record the material in case there wasn't another opportunity—and ultimately there wasn't. Though the procedure went fine, Macdonald died in September before he could perform in front of a live audience. Now, we have Norm Macdonald: Nothing Special, a one-take comedy special unlike any to come before.

  • When not taking an unexpected phone call, Macdonald delivers "54 minutes of fresh, funny, bittersweet, provocative and uniquely Norm comedy," writes Richard Roeper at the Chicago Sun-Times. "He skirts (and for some viewers, probably crosses) certain lines when talking about hot-button issues and the ways in which some words and commonly accepted viewpoints from his youth are strictly taboo in the modern age. Mostly, though, he makes us laugh."

  • "Performed in the style of a webcast," the special includes "potentially cornball material about airplanes and doctors, swirled into darker, more morbid thoughts about plane crashes and hospital life support," writes Jesse Hassenger at Consequence. But most remarkable is what comes next: a 30-minute "televised wake in miniature" wherein fellow comedians David Letterman, Dave Chappelle, Adam Sandler, David Spade, Molly Shannon, and Conan O’Brien review, analyze, and pay tribute to their friend.

  • Chappelle says Macdonald is "reconciling his mortality in front of us." And Brian Logan at the Guardian agrees. He "uses comedy to both process, and defy, his imminent mortality" in "a set that, without ever mentioning Macdonald's illness, dances suggestively on the precipice … and [retreats] with a laugh, if sometimes a rueful one, forever playing on the lips." Here, the intimate framing works in Macdonald's favor as it's "in the face (the laugh flickering around the lips; the expressive eyes) that that funniness resides."

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  • "There's a comforting sense that he's well aware he's both doing something he loves and, for the last time, doing it both on a big stage and his own terms," writes Brian Lowry at CNN. And both "the performance and the ensuing conversation/analysis … benefit from a relaxed quality, taking viewers behind the curtain where they can listen in on comics' process and thoughts." Essentially, this is Macdonald "saying goodbye with a little help from his friends."
(More Norm Macdonald stories.)

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