Norm Macdonald’s a greatly loved comedian in the US and deservedly so as his dry, laconic sense of humour has been responsible for a great deal of gloriously funny moments. He’s never quite transferred to tv successfully though, with The Norm Show only lasting three seasons and A Minute With Stan Hooper being cancelled after just thirteen episodes. Both of these shows were network comedies though and neutered his voice a little, which is probably why they weren’t wildly successful, whereas this pilot was for Comedy Central and captures the Norm we know and love far more effectively.
Co-written by Norm, Bruce McCulloch (from The Kids In The Hall) and Charlie Bonomo (who contributed to The Wayans Bros. sketch show, but this was his last credit), it’s a sketch show with links filmed in a studio. It has a great beginning where Norm’s giving a press conference and apologising for being mediocre, before he takes out a gun and shoots himself. It’s heavily ironic given he’s just said “Call me old fashioned but I do not believe that you have to shock people to get a laugh”, but then he turns up in Heaven and is overjoyed when he’s met by his Uncle Joe (Max Wright, who sadly passed away recently) and his Grandmother, but they insist he return to Earth to be in a comedy show, and despite Norm not wanting to he has no choice. It’s an opening that certainly caught my attention and it had lots of funny lines, and which suggested the rest of the show would be good too.
The following two sketches delivered on this promise as well, with the first explaining why when Muslims die they’re given seventy two virgins as a reward. Such a concept could have been quite unpleasant and offensive but thankfully Norm and co avoid entering such territory by making the whole thing silly instead, with Norm portraying a terrorist who misunderstands what martyrdom is, believing that he’ll be able to “live to a ripe old age enjoying his martyrdom”. So fellow terrorist Rob Schneider sets him straight but when Norm isn’t overjoyed by the concept of death Schneider suggests that if he were to die he’d get to have sex with twenty five women. That’s not enough for Norm however, so bartering ensues in what’s a pleasingly daft sketch which has a great payoff.
The following sketch is a very likeable one too as Norm and his wife (played here by Stan Against Evil actress Janet Varney) celebrate his birthday, and his wife tells him that she’s going to give him the present that he’s always wanted – a threesome. She’s got her best friend on hand to join in, but Norm explains that what a threesome is at all, as in fact “A threesome is me and two other guys”, and that it’s “Not gay guys…I just want two average ordinary joe’s like me to have hot, filthy sex with”. The whole thing is played out in an innocent manner, and the absurdity of the situation along with Norm’s attempts at naivety generates a lot of laughs.
Unfortunately the third sketch isn’t that great, where a woman is discussing with a doctor how her husband is suffering from burns over ninety-eight percent of his body after she set him on fire due to his being physically abusive. Norm plays said burns victim and the joke is that he’s still an absolute bastard, muttering things like “You just fucked with the wrong guy, bitch” and “Your arse is grass, whore” but the concept is weak and slightly unpleasant, it’s not exactly making fun of the victim of abuse but the joke is a thin one and not developed in any interesting manner.
It then comes to an end with a spoof of the topical news show Sixty Minutes, where Norm explains how they couldn’t get Andy Rooney on the show “So you have the next best thing, me in some heavy prosthetic make up”. Perhaps if you’re a fan of Sixty Minutes it might partially work as Norm impersonates Rooney and brags about his Peyote addiction, but there’s also a really dodgy joke where he talks about putting roofies in the show’s correspondent Lesley Stahl’s drink and how “The next day she remembered none of it so it was all just harmless fun really”, which really hasn’t aged well given the revelations about Bill Cosby and the #MeToo era that we live in. Then there’s one final bland peyote related gag about him looking over at Morley Safer’s head and it being forty feet wide and it cuts back to the studio, with Norm thanking people for coming and the credits roll.
Despite the latter two sketches it’s a disappointment that this wasn’t given a full series, the first three segments are really strong and packed with great gags, and the show gives Norm a chance to do the kind of comedy that his mainstream series didn’t allow him to do. Norm might not be the best comic actor in the world (which is a polite way of saying he’s a bit naff) but he does have a lot of charm and so is able to carry off the roles, and if he’d continued to get decent co-stars like he did here the series could have been a huge amount of fun. Alas it wasn’t to be, but given that Norm is still pretty damn popular perhaps he’ll be given another shot at sketch comedy in the near future, and if he was on the strength of this I’d definitely watch it.
You can watch the pilot on youtube here.