A Very Brief Thought on Netflix’s ‘Norm Macdonald Has a Show’

"You don’t get to not like it, you didn’t fucking get it."

Norm Macdonald says that as he explains to Drew Barrymore why he gets annoyed by people who complain about not liking jokes after they admitted they hadn't gotten the joke. Barrymore herself has not gotten several of Norm's jokes in the episode, but she says this and laughs anyway and he seems to appreciate her candor.

I find it hard to think of a better summation of Macdonald's peculiar brand of humor than "You don't get to not like it, you didn't fucking get it." Because, if we're being totally honest, lots of people don't get his particular and sometimes-caustic brand of humor, which can be a jarring mixture of erudition and simplicity. I believe at one point in his not-a-memoir (which is quite good and which you should read) he says that the perfect joke has the same setup and punchline, but this also could have been said by one of his writers on Weekend Update, and since it's a not-a-memoir maybe nobody said it even if I'm remembering it correctly which I might not be.

Norm Macdonald Has a Show takes the idea that the setup and punchline should be the same and kind of spins it into a half-hour meta-comment on the nature of comedy and the talk show. The joke is that he has a show—a show being a particular thing, with guests and segments and breaks and bits and sign offs and theme songs—but he's not really doing it like a show, as one would do a show. He's just doing it as Norm Macdonald talking to people. Cameras just happen to be there. Credits just happen to roll. The program is shambolic, but it's not rough-around-the-edges; the roughness is its refinement.

Needless to say, some people don't quite get it. Vulture‘s reviewer, for instance, was not particularly fond of the program:

[T]he whole thing feels like it could just as easily have taken place without cameras in Macdonald’s basement. It also seems like Macdonald might find that arrangement pretty satisfying. …

Occasionally, Macdonald’s interests make space for the interests of his guests. Sometimes his guests are allowed to tell full stories. But even when Macdonald is intentionally deferential or flattering, there’s a sense that he has very little interest in what he might derisively refer to as "political correctness" and I would think of as "considering women to be something other than sexual objects." He asks if Spade has ever paid for "straight sex," which Spade pauses before answering, "Indirectly … there’s a lot of hybrid hookers out there." "What do you mean?" Macdonald responds, gamely. "I mean, you go out on a date, you fool around a little bit, and a few days later it’s like, Hey, I need a new radiator," Spade says. Macdonald laughs heartily.

It's clear the author of this review didn't like Norm Macdonald Has a Show. But who cares? She doesn't get to not like it. Because she doesn't fucking get it.