(CNN) — Context matters more than content on ‘Norm Macdonald: Nothing Special,’ a sparse one-man comedy show that the former Weekend Update host, who knew he was ill, portrayed in a single take wrote and performed alone at home before his death in September. The posthumous release offers a fitting and deeply personal tribute as well as an introduction to the art of standing up.
Netflix packed Macdonald’s performance, which lasts just over 50 minutes, with a half-hour discussion with six of his friends: Dave Chappelle, David Letterman, Adam Sandler, David Spade, Conan O’Brien and Molly Shannon, spending another around 30 minutes , in which he remembers him while deconstructing what viewers just saw.
Chappelle calls the rugged setting “very endearing,” while Letterman notes that without an audience responding to the material, “we weren’t watching standup comedy. You don’t get the full level of norm without that audience.”
What you get is a clear reminder of Macdonald’s quirky sense of humor as he darts from topic to topic, occasionally engaging in odd digressions and enduring the sort of interruptions that have been common in work experiences during Covid, from his dog barking to the Responding to a phone call and apologizing, but he’s in the process of taping a comedy special.
Though Macdonald knew his time might be short, there’s nothing morbid or sad about the presentation, essentially pointing a camera at his face and making him tear up. The comic mentions living wills and a few other matters touching on mortality, but it’s no different in tone from his habit of preferring to gamble in Native American casinos (“I see it as a form of redemption”) or strategizing about cannibalism should he ever be on a plane that crashes in the Andes.
As the controversy surrounding recent Netflix high-profile comic specials (the aforementioned Chappelle and recently Ricky Gervais among them) Macdonald chafes at restrictions on what comedians are currently considered allowed to say, pointing to how “words have changed” in terms of what might be offending. If this has become something of a generational conflict and an ongoing debate, Macdonald apparently wanted the world to know where he stood.
Additionally, Macdonald’s performance and the ensuing conversation/analysis (captured during Netflix’s recent comedy show Netflix Is a Joke) benefit from a relaxed quality that takes viewers behind the curtain, where they listen to the process and thoughts of the comics be able.
Macdonald mentions that he misses the thrill of being able to perform live, but there’s a reassuring feeling that he’s aware he’s doing something he loves, and it’s doing it for the last time, both on a big stage and at his own own terms. As his producing partner, Lori Jo Hoekstra, described it“He left this gift for all of us.”
However one reacts to the various jokes, there is more sweetness than sadness. Macdonald is gone, but he was able to call his own curtain call and say goodbye to his friends with a little help.
Norm Macdonald: Nothing Special premieres May 30 on Netflix.
The CNN Wire
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