“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…”
This is a line from Joni Mitchell’s hit song “Big Yellow Taxi,” which was written back in 1970.
Mitchell’s words perfectly capture the feelings that a lot of folks are having right now in trying to deal with the passing of Norm Macdonald – Hollywood actor, writer, and most notably, stand-up comic extraordinaire.
Many of his peers are remembering him as the funniest man they’d ever known.
A natural stand-up talent, he followed the universally relatable comedic tradition of observational humor, which has been practiced by so many iconic figures of the comedy world, including the greats Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and Jerry Seinfeld.
His career arc took him in a rather novel direction that combined pivotal aspects of life with deadpan minimalism.
He managed to keep his stoic nine-year battle with cancer secret from the public, but on at least one occasion he was able to memorialize his angst in a joke that deals with the whole notion of a person somehow losing the battle with the disease.
“I’m pretty sure, I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure if you die, the cancer dies at the same time. That’s not a loss, that’s a draw,” Norm said.
Developing his stand-up brand in Ottawa, Canada, he made a name for himself across his native land.
After appearing on the television series “Star Search,” he landed a job as a writer for Roseanne Barr’s smash TV series “Roseanne,” which started its run in the 1990’s and is still going strong in syndication.
Speaking of things that are still going, Macdonald was blessed with a stint on Saturday Night Live (SNL), where for a total of five seasons he served as part of the SNL cast.
He ultimately secured the coveted anchor throne on the “Weekend Update” segment of SNL, where he got to reign for three and a half seasons.
He guested on other TV shows, “The Drew Carey Show” and “NewsRadio” being a couple of them.
He appeared in movies too, and became a regular on the talk show circuit with hosts the likes of David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, and Howard Stern.
The time-honored joke structure was deftly modified by Norm and his unique form of comedy. He would stretch the set-up section of a joke to the point of audience impatience and would then abruptly spew out a minimalist punch line.
Comics many times serve as the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, sending out a warning to society that it better start paying attention to the critical issues that hover around.
Norm embraced the role. He was a truth teller and wasn’t timid about aiming his humor crossbow at some pretty powerful targets.
On one such occasion his venture into humor, rooted in truth, actually cost him his job.
An NBC executive had reportedly fired him because of a decline in the show’s ratings. But he and others claimed that the dismissal was due to some O. J. Simpson jokes that he had let loose with in the “Weekend Update” segment.
After his termination from the show, he returned to SNL as a host.
Sporting his trademark grin, he used his opening monologue to slam the network for firing him, quipping that the only reason he was asked to come back and host was because the show had “gotten really bad” since his departure.
He was the final stand-up comic to appear on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”
Letterman had told a specific joke during a 1970s appearance on a Canadian talk show. In the studio audience was a 13-year-old comedy fan, Norm himself.
He loved Letterman’s joke and never forgot it. In tribute, he performed the bit during the last stand-up act of the final Letterman show.
Ending the set with tears rolling down his cheeks, he told Letterman that he loved him.
Interestingly, he exhibited an intellectual depth that is not typically associated with modern day comics – a Christian perspective with a desire to defend it.
A few years ago he used his Twitter account to question the value of the Enlightenment, bringing a predicable reaction from the liberals, who were upset at the prospect that Norm was Christian friendly.
He penned a post, which he later deleted.
“The Enlightenment turned us away from truth and toward a darkling weakening horizon, sad and gray to see. The afterglow of Christianity is near gone now, and a Stygian silence lurks in wait,” Norm wrote.
He was referring to the loss of artistic reverence for the sacred and a move toward human focused post-modernism, which paved the way for a variety of 19th-century movements, most unfortunately, communism.
Once while serving as one of the judges for the NBC reality show “Last Comic Standing,” he had to deal with a contestant who had mocked the Christian faith.
While other judges characterized the contestant’s jokes as “brave,” Norm stated, “I don’t think the Bible jokes are brave at all.”
He went on to tell the audience, “If you think you’re gonna take on an entire religion, you should maybe know what you’re talking about.”
He was later asked why the contestant’s material had bothered him.
“Oh, just the smugness. There are a lot more hack ‘smart’ comedians nowadays and atheist comedians. It’s so dull. To be talking about being an atheist living in West Hollywood is not the bravest stance to take,” he said.
He put out the following tweet in 2017: “Scripture. Faith. Grace. Christ, Glory of God. Smart man says nothing is a miracle. I say everything is.”
C.S. Lewis said, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”
Catch your act there, buddy.