In 10 Words or Less
Norm Macdonald is an acquired taste
Loves: Stand-up comedy
Likes: Norm Macdonald
Dislikes: Taking cringe humor too far
I'm a fan of Norm Macdonald, but I know I'm part of a niche audience. All you have to do is look at the success rate of his TV and movie projects and the point is firmly established. He's got to be the only person fired from SNL with the publicly stated reason being that he's not funny. But that doesn't matter when he makes you laugh, which Macdonald does frequently for me, despite being so awkward a performer than it's almost painful to watch. And he obviously makes other people laugh, because he keeps getting chances to divide audiences with his intelligent, yet borderline obscene comedy.
Part of what makes him such a love-him or hate-him comic is his style which is exceedingly dry and overwhelmingly blunt, while almost daring you to laugh. He'll tell a joke that fails miserably and just let it hang there, as if more time will help the crowd "get it," or he'll expand a joke by making it into a self-pleasing tale, without an attempt to even be humorous. It almost creates a sense of disbelief about what you're watching, which enhances the actual laughs, of which there are quite a few. When Macdonald gets rolling, which is normally when he's getting pretty dark, he takes on that disbelief himself, approaching the world with a view that things around him just don't make a lot of sense. His bit about the unrealistic demands on the designated driver is just one example of how he draws laughs out of common-sense observations.
If you're not squarely in Macdonald's corner, this material is likely to offend. His point of view can be pretty grim and he unapologetically takes on topics that others might not touch, like how cancer sufferers "courageously battle" the disease or how alcoholism is the best disease to have. But he makes these ideas funny by pointing out the inherent ridiculousness of how people approach them, like comparing the symptoms of bowel cancer and alcoholism or pointing out the problems with the idea of an anonymous support group. One minute he'll be doing a bit about a fatal, alcohol-fueled assault on a newborn, and then he's talking about becoming fascinated with the missing women TV news reports on. There will be no Hot Pockets jokes here.
This being Macdonald's first stand-up special, he does pull out some of his better older material and his familiar topics. This includes his bit about why gay pride is an odd concept, which is still as hilarious as it is inappropriate. It's a bit more stretched-out than it has been in the past, as he likely realizes his audience knows the punchline, and so he delays its arrival in an attempt to draw more laughs. And if you want to hear more from Macdonald about one of his most memorable targets, you get a finale about OJ Simpson. In a way, thanks to Macdonald's polarizing act, this show is really one big inside joke, aimed directly at the people who enjoy Dirty Work and often say "Germans love David Hasselhoff." But even they'll not laugh out loud. He's just not that kind of comic.
The 60-minute special arrives on a single disc, which comes in a standard-width keepcase. The DVD features a static, anamorphic widescreen menu that offers the choice to watch the show, select chapters and check out the extras. There are no audio options or subtitles, but closed captioning is included.
Nothing to complain about in terms of the anamorphic widescreen transfer, which captures the dark room quite well, with nice detail on Macdonald and solid color, along with very nice black levels. There were no noticeable issues with artifacts either.
The audio is delivered via a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, which is a very straightforward, right-down-the-middle presentation that doesn't offer anything in terms of dynamic mixing, but it's also free of distortion as well. An in-the-room surround mix would have been nice.
A nice selection of "found" material rounds out this release, starting with the pilot of Macdonald's abortive 20058 Comedy Central sketch show Back to Norm. Made in collaboration with Kids in the Hall alum Bruce McCulloch, and featuring Rob Schneider as a terrorist leader, it's classic Macdonald, with lots of dark comedy and ridiculous premises. Watching this episode, it's pretty obvious why this show was passed on, but it could have been pretty funny.
Up next is an animated take on Macdonald's Twelve Days of Christmas bit from his Ridiculous album. Again, this is the kind of comedy that is pure Macdonald, as he awkwardly complains about the gifts he's receiving from his "true love," aided by minimalistic animation that works well. The last bit makes the extras three-for-three in illustrating just what makes Norm Norm, as the clip from Comedy Central's roast of Bob Saget is almost painful to watch, as Macdonald unreels a set of anti-roast jokes more fitting to an elementary-school playground. The end result is funny, but it just keeps going and going, stretching the idea of unfunny being funny way too far.
The Bottom Line
I like Norm Macdonald, but after watching this set, I get the feeling that he's best in small doses, which is why he's so enjoyable on Weekend Update or his new series. Here, the repetition of his unique delivery and his dry mannerisms makes for a set that drags too frequently and doesn't deliver the laughs you'd want or expect from a stand-up show. The DVD looks and sounds very nice, and the extras should certainly appeal to his fans, but don't pick this up if you don't know how you feel about his comedy.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.