Norm Macdonald’s latest comedy special makes it clear he contemplated his death as he secretly battled cancer for nearly a decade.
The latest stand-up recorded Netflix’s low-key “Norm Macdonald: Nothing Special” (now streaming), at home in front of his computer in the summer of 2020. He wears a navy plaid blazer, baseball cap and headphones that he likes because they cover his white hair that he no longer wants to color.
“I don’t want anyone to paint my hair black because I don’t want to die and then be surprised,” when God said, “Well, I’ve made your hair white. What do you think I was telling you to get your affairs in order for God’s sake.
“Nothing Special” features around 50 minutes of the late comedian’s latest jokes, followed by around 30 minutes of David Letterman, Molly Shannon, Dave Chappelle, Conan O’Brien, Adam Sandler and David Spade telling stories about their friend. The Quebec native, best known for his time as an “SNL” cast member (1993-98), died in September 2021 at age 61. Her producing partner, Lori Jo Hoekstra, told Deadline that her friend has kept up her nine-year battle with cancer. to himself because “he never wanted the diagnosis to affect how the public or anyone close to him viewed him.”
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Hoekstra is executive producer of “Nothing Special”. She says in a statement that this stripped-down show recorded in Macdonald’s living room “wasn’t originally meant to be the final product,” but “COVID restrictions prevented it from filming in front of an audience.”
“Nothing Special” opens with this message: “In the summer of 2020, he was due for a procedure and, as he said, “he didn’t want to leave anything on the table in case things went wrong.” .
“At his house, the night before he came in, he shot this – in one take.”
The special is filled with homemade charm. He is interrupted by a barking dog in the background and the ringing of Macdonald’s phone, which he answers. “I have to call you back because I’m doing a TV special, a comedy special,” he tells the caller.
Although there was no audience (and therefore no laughter), one can be sure that a roulette joke would elicit shouts: “I put $100 on black, and the little ball of Money was spinning around the wheel and everything,” Macdonald says. “And then it fell on red. And that’s what I said, ‘(Expletive) I almost chose that!’ or when he cracks that his dad was progressive because they had a “gender-neutral bathroom.”
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The set is not perfect. It needed to be tweaked. Macdonald sometimes loses his train of thought (it’s hard to tell if this is part of his routine). There are bits that might make some viewers cringe, like Macdonald’s use of the R-word before launching into an uncomfortable bit about people with Down syndrome.
In light of Macdonald’s death, some of his other remarks seem odd. He encourages audiences to have a living will and warns viewers, “You have to be prepared for whatever life throws at you, in this world here. That’s what I learned as I got older. He says to make the most of your life: “You don’t have a lot of time. You have to choose.”
Macdonald talks about religion, revealing, “One of my biggest fears is that I’ve chosen the wrong religion (Christianity). Which I believe, but then I die, and I’m like, ‘Ah! you! I thought it was the other guy.’”
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“This guy was, in a weird way, hilariously reconciling his mortality in front of us,” Chappelle says, after watching the special. Letterman agreed. “His situation, he pushed for it several times, but did not linger. And for us, from this point of view, powerfully significant.
Macdonald’s other comedians say they had no idea about his terminal illness.
“Don’t ever let you know anything,” Sandler told the band, but noted that Macdonald “got emotional” during a tour they did together. it’s wonderful, just the visit itself. And hang out, and we have dinners and breakfasts and (expletive). He would be so fun to see. He had so much energy to hang on to.
O’Brien feared he had offended Macdonald because the comedian had declined offers to appear on O’Brien’s late-night show. “When he left, everyone in the (comedy) community was, we all thought we were the only ones who didn’t know and we were so upset that we didn’t get a chance to tell him what he was up to. ‘he meant to us,’ O’Brien said. “I realized very quickly that he would not have tolerated that.”
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Shannon recalls Macdonald “really wanting to understand God” in his later years and making the most of his time with her when they saw each other for “SNL’s” 40th anniversary in 2015.
“As soon as he saw me he was like, ‘I love you, Molly,'” the ‘Superstar’ actress recalled. “He let go, right away. I could feel he had this urgency to say exactly what was on his mind at the moment because maybe he would never have that moment again. J I was like, ‘Oh, something’s different with Norm.’
Chappelle describes Macdonald as “unusually emotional when we parted ways” the last time they saw each other at the Comedy Store. A photo from that night concludes Chappelle’s “The Closer” special, dedicated to Macdonald. Chappelle says Macdonald looked up for the photo. “And I realized he was posing for the picture, looking back, like a gift. It was a very fitting goodbye.”
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