September 20, 2021

"In his later years, however, he spoke and wrote at length not only about his belief in God but also, with more reluctance, about his opposition to abortion."

"('I don’t like saying it because it’s unpopular,' he said on Dennis Miller’s radio program.)... His comedy was remarkably free of malice, and in recent years it was marked by startling displays of mercy and humility.... By the end of his life, Mr. Macdonald seemed to have abandoned even his well-known animus against O.J. Simpson. 'All he’s guilty of to me,' he said on a Comedy Central program in 2019, was of being 'the greatest rusher in the history of the N.F.L. Maybe I was the greatest rusher — to judgment.'... Perhaps the most obviously Christian element of Mr. Macdonald’s legacy was his quiet acceptance of what we now know were nine years of cancer, from which he died without acknowledging his illness in public.... Unlike secular ethical systems — stoicism, for example — Christianity almost uniquely invites its adherents to find value in suffering because it allows us to unite ourselves with Christ in his Crucifixion.... In the early centuries of the church, Christians were mocked by their pagan fellow citizens for a kind of blithe silliness that reminded them of drunkards. Even in his final years of pain, Mr. Macdonald, too, exhibited an almost Falstaffian joie de vivre. 'At times, the joy that life attacks me with is unbearable and leads to gasping hysterical laughter,' he told his Twitter followers in 2018. 'How could a man be a cynic? It is a sin.'"

From "Norm Macdonald’s Comedy Was Quite Christian" by Matthew Walther (NYT).

56 comments:

ndspinelli said...

Anyone who has been a fan of Norm over the decades saw his genius. And, being a professional observer of human behavior, his kindness was obvious, even when he was being naughty. For me, my assessment of Norm was confirmed by the unabashed love people showed toward Norm. He was a man of intellect, humility, kindness and biting wit. Norm was different. He saw the world as most do, but he had the ability to look at culture, people, humor from different angles, different vantage points. Norm was always the smartest guy in the room. But unlike the Bill Clinton's of the world, he didn't want attention drawn to his intellect. Norm's achilles heel was gambling. And he didn't try to hide it, or even be ashamed of being a hooked gambler. Norm was very comfortable being a flawed human. As are we all.

gilbar said...

I think it's important to remember, that as Norm said;
You don't Lose your battle with cancer; when you die, the cancer dies too. So, it's a draw

Congratulations Norm! on holding off cancer for nine years and finally; finishing with a tie

Big Mike said...

In his later years, however, he spoke and wrote at length not only about his belief in God but also, with more reluctance, about his opposition to abortion.

Confronting your looming death can do that to you. By the time you get to my age and start attending friends’ funerals and “celebrations of life” fairly regularly, you it a lot.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

Like ex-presidents who are Republicans but safely retired, Christians apparently can garner strange new respect from the NYT once they are safely dead. Noted! Those icky living Christians that Glenn Beck was trying to fly out of Afghanistan? They may rate a similar article from the Times once they are safely martyred.

J. Farmer said...

I used to joke that Norm was the anti-Bill Maher, the smartest guy in the room pretending to be the dumbest. The NYT left out the best line from Norm's 2009 set: "Apparently between Bill Maher's hanging out with whores and smoking weed, he's done a little amateur theologizing."

Jamie said...

I can't read it without creating an account, which I won't do... but two things: whoever wrote the headline phoned it in. "Quite" indeed. As bad as "garner." And, yes, I'm stereotyping, but I'll bet the writer had some difficulty figuring out how to write about the religious convictions of a person s/x/he might otherwise admire.

Jamie said...

Follow-on to the comment I just sent into the Black Box of Moderation: full credit to the writer for recognizing (or at any rate mentioning, even if it may have been pointed out by another) the role of suffering in Christianity.

Temujin said...

We all walk around with the knowledge that we are time limited. We all have a closing date, but none of us know that date, so we go on with life thinking death is something that happens to others, something you read about, something that occasionally enters your life through a friend or a family member. Or maybe a famous person you followed. Like a Charles Grodin. Or a Norm MacDonald.

But for those who have been given the life sentence, the word from the doctors that there is nothing more you can do other than get your affairs in order and live out your days as best you can, that would tend to give you a different perspective. Norm MacDonald's Christian background gave him a path to grab onto, and walk with him to his end day. He had that and I think that is one of the key ways religion is helpful to some. It offers some solace, some belief, in this case, some hope and comfort that you are not alone, and that there is more to this thing we call life. It allows you to look at life- your own and those around you- with a removed perspective. As if viewing it all from another place.

How is that anything but good? And in this case, his new perspective allowed him to be the best version of himself. Would that we could all find a way to be the best version of ourselves.

tim in vermont said...

They just lap up the stuff about O.J because it makes it seem justified that NBC fired him for attacking a friend of the powerful.

I should have tweeted him the picture of O.J. in that famous pair of Bruno Mali shoes, identical to those rare, expensive shoes that the killer wore, from the cover of that Buffalo Bills fan magazine, the one that was published months before the murders. That could never have stayed hidden today. But Twitter might have blocked any link to it. Same as O.J.'s friend fired Norm, and then disallowed any funding for promotion for Norm's movie, because, you know, Norm might have become the next Adam Sandler, and we can't have that for people who attack friends of the establishment!

I don't mind that the New York Times is a propaganda rag for the Democrats and the power elite, I just resent paying for it. I would read it if it were free. Nobody makes me pay a subscription to watch commercials, after all. They should jack up what they are charging Biden, he can well afford it, so that the hoi poloi will read it. Instead the New York Times has this Svengali type model of charging their readers to be manipulated by the New York Times powerful friends.

They could do what Big Tech does for National Review, buy full page or even double page ads, or would that be too obvious?

MikeR said...

"Unlike secular ethical systems — stoicism, for example — Christianity almost uniquely invites its adherents to find value in suffering because it allows us to unite ourselves with Christ in his Crucifixion." The combination of "unlike secular" and "almost uniquely" makes it kinda incoherent. Judaism (and presumably other religions) also find value in suffering, though obviously the end of that sentence won't be the reason.

Critter said...

The interest in McDonald is revealing. He found life in his faith that surprises and attracts many. It is how Christianity has drawn in people since Jesus brought the message of God’s new covenant. Hopefully McDonald’s example will help to save some others.

Lyle said...

He has always been a Christian by self admission. His comedy targeting OJ Simpson was in fact biblical. Thou shall not kill!

Curious George said...

"By the end of his life, Mr. Macdonald seemed to have abandoned even his well-known animus against O.J. Simpson. 'All he’s guilty of to me,' he said on a Comedy Central program in 2019, was of being 'the greatest rusher in the history of the N.F.L. Maybe I was the greatest rusher — to judgment.'... "

This is bullshit. It was a joke. It happened on the David Spade "Lights Out" show where he had all the SNL anchors as guests...Dennis Miller, Kevin Nealon, and Norm. Miller said that Norm was fearless, kept doing OJ jokes after he was told by NBC brass to cut it out. And got fired for it. That's when Norm said what was quoted above. Miller retorted that Norm told OJ jokes when told not too, and wouldn't tell one when he was asked to.

Drago said...

Mike (MJB Wolf): "Like ex-presidents who are Republicans but safely retired, Christians apparently can garner strange new respect from the NYT once they are safely dead. Noted! Those icky living Christians that Glenn Beck was trying to fly out of Afghanistan? They may rate a similar article from the Times once they are safely martyred."

It was quite stunning to see our resident LLR Chuck viciously attacking Glenn Beck on this blog for doing just that...and in particular for the reasons Beck was doing it.

I have to believe it was because Beck's actions, and the actions of others who were attempting to rescue the American hostages that Dementia Boy/establishment/Thoroughly Modern Milley/dems/LLR's had abandoned, put the lie to Chuck's beloved "Biden Earpiece" administration talking point that biden had pulled off this fantastic "retrograde maneuver".

Well, that and the fact that the rescuers were often Christians attempting to rescue other Christians.

LLR Chuck, like all leftists, carries deep seated hatred for those "deplorables" and it shows, every single day.

Drago said...

Lyle: "He has always been a Christian by self admission. His comedy targeting OJ Simpson was in fact biblical. Thou shall not kill!"

The real translation is "Thou shalt not murder".

Killing in self-defense, justified killing, does not fall under the same category as murder.

rcocean said...

I love the tone of the article. Its a NYT explaining why Norm belonged to this strange tribal religion unknown to the NYT readers. Anyway, Norm's comedy WAS free of malice and anger. He almost always attacked the sin and not the sinner. If he made jokes about Clinton, it was because of his corruption and stuff like getting Lewinsky's in the the WHite house. Did he ever attack Bush or Obama? I don't think so.

I was watching a clip of him on Bill Maher, and he didn't say much except to talk about how Gay porn is the worst porn ever.

Harsh Pencil said...

Macdonald almost certainly believed OJ killed his wife and the other guy till the end. His statement to me reads that he regrets throwing stones at the adultress. That is, while she and OJ are guilty, so are we all.

Fernandinande said...

You don't Lose your battle with cancer; when you die, the cancer dies too.

Not necessarily.

"Henrietta Lacks...died from cervical cancer in 1951. ...Her cancer cells have continued to live well beyond her death in labs around the world, replicating so prolifically that laid end-to-end they could be wrapped around the earth three times."

Also "The world's oldest-known living cancer dates back 11,000 years, according to UK scientists."

Birches said...

First off, I am a little muddled about all these new found Norm Macdonald fans. I'm just a girl who loves Dirty Work. There's not very many of us out there.

Second, Matthew Walther is a serious Catholic. He's part of the dirt bag left. I had to look twice to make sure he was actually published in the NYT. Back when Bari Weiss was there, this would not have surprised me. I wonder who at the Times realized they needed more variety in their op eds.

Justin said...

Comedic genius: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxD3pT8C9-A

J. Farmer said...

"Well, it's official: murder is now legal in the state of California." -Norm on the first SNL Weekend Update after the verdict

I was in the 7th grade and getting bused to a junior high in the ghetto. Fun. The coverage of the verdict was the greatest use of split screen in television history. On one side were shocked, silent whites and on the other ebullient, cheering blacks. It was a seminal moment and helped start the Golden Age of American Race Relations. The following summer HBO aired Chris Rock's legendary Bring the Pain special where he used jokes about the OJ case as a preface to his "Niggas vs. Black People" routine. The Golden Age came to an end about a decade after it started when Kanye West went off script on live TV: "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

Biff said...

By the end of his life, Mr. Macdonald seemed to have abandoned even his well-known animus against O.J. Simpson. 'All he’s guilty of to me,' he said on a Comedy Central program in 2019, was of being 'the greatest rusher in the history of the N.F.L. Maybe I was the greatest rusher — to judgment.'

That's an interesting interpretation. When I watched that clip, I interpreted Norm's comment to be quite sarcastic. (OJ bit starts at ~2:40 of this clip.)

Mark said...

Redemptive suffering is a rather scary thing. Trusting in divine providence is too. You'd rather not suffer at all.

But the thing is that, of course, suffering is part of life. And it can either have no meaning or some meaning. By joining that inevitable suffering to our Redeemer, just as He took our sufferings upon Himself, we also share in that work of redemption.

It also works in smaller ways, in all the various annoyance of each day. "Offer it up" is a much better and healthier response than to get angry and lash out.

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

oh no! Better impeach him!

cr said...

That was a touching tribute in the Times. His version of Pascal's Wager made me laugh.

Narayanan said...

Christianity almost uniquely invites its adherents to find value in suffering because it allows us to unite ourselves with Christ in his Crucifixion."
----------
FWIW May I point out - this would be in direct contradiction to the stated purpose of Jesus of Nazareth (and His Father) - in dying on The Cross

Virgil Hilts said...

This was great. Hard to remain an obnoxious atheist if you are lucky enough to start reading Dostoevsky as a young person. My bet is Maher never did.

Tina Trent said...

Good interpretation. But what you miss is his relentless mocking of O.J., none of which forgave his murders. He was a subtle guy. But he never gave that one up. Each joke made the condemnation of the entire system only more bitter and condemnatory.

Narr said...

It's "Macdonald."

Far be it from me to get into or take sides in a dispute between two brainiacs like Maher and Norm, but I lost a little respect for the latter, reading his last OJ remarks.



Lem said...

He was a chunk of coal.

Lem said...

In the last few days I've found out so much him I didn't know. He was a Dylan fan who was asked by Dylan himself to spend a couple days at his place.

rcocean said...

"Christianity almost uniquely invites its adherents to find value in suffering because it allows us to unite ourselves with Christ in his Crucifixion."

Really? where is this in Christian doctraine? SOME Certain types of suffereing does allow us to unite with Christ, but its suffering that comes from maryterdom or due our Christian faith. I don't think just getting sick qualifies. But y'know, while I'm a Gentleman, I am no scholar.

And thanks Biff! Norm is definetly being sarcastic. Later, in the clip he says OJ has "paid his debt to society" and Norm wishes him well. I have no idea why everyone decided to talk about OJ, a minor point in the article, but...

Deirdre Mundy said...

RC Ocean --- It depends on your strain of Christianity. In Catholicism, all kinds of suffering can let us unite ourselves to Christ -- sickness, emotional pain, even small annoyances through the day!

Lem said...

I don't think Norm's OJ material was out of "animus". That "animus" line is more in keeping with the times we are living, than any reflection on the kind of man Norm was.

Mark said...

St. Paul: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church."
1 Colossians 24.

J. Farmer said...

@ndspinelli:

Anyone who has been a fan of Norm over the decades saw his genius. And, being a professional observer of human behavior, his kindness was obvious, even when he was being naughty. For me, my assessment of Norm was confirmed by the unabashed love people showed toward Norm. He was a man of intellect, humility, kindness and biting wit. Norm was different.

I'm not the kind of person who gets emotional about the lives of celebrities or public figures. Reading the news about Norm was like a punch to the gut. It honestly felt as if I had lost a close friend. I discovered Norm through SNL in the mid-90s and was a big fan of his as the Weekend Update host. The casts on sketch shows usually play everything with a very high energy "please like me" vibe, but Norm had a totally different rhythm. He seemed aloof and uninterested in being a team player with the rest of the cast.

It wasn't until the Youtube era that I went from fan to obsessive devotee. Whether a radio appearance, late night TV spot, podcast interview, or clips old standup material, if there's Norm content on the web, chances are I've seen it (and probably more than once). His "memoir" Based on a True Story is a fantastic piece of writing.

As someone who has spent too much time staring into the abyss myself, I appreciate how Norm is able to appreciate the world as both horrifyingly terrible and ridiculously absurd. Johnny Carson used to diagnose "comedian's disease," an affliction where successful comics would start believing their own shit and thinking they were philosophers. Norm, too, hated the kind of smug, agenda-driven comedy of Lenny Bruce or Bill Hicks.

tim in vermont said...

Biff is right, he took the O.J. thing back, sure, after saying this: "In light of this cancel culture that's going on...."

But maybe an obviously forced statement is good enough for the Stalinists running the media.

Joe Smith said...

'First off, I am a little muddled about all these new found Norm Macdonald fans.'

Don't jump to conclusions...I was a huge fan the first time I saw him on Letterman...going on 30-plus years now...

Jamie said...

I think of the Christian doctrine of suffering as being more "Christ suffered for you, and also God uses all things to God's good purpose, therefore don't curse whatever suffering that comes your way" than "Christ suffered for you, therefore seek out suffering so as to share in His suffering."

I remember when Terry Schiavo's husband won the legal battle to stop feeding her, though her family was willing - begging, actually - to take on the financial and emotional burden of her care. He maintained that she had at some time expressed her wish not to be kept alive through artificial means - that she "wouldn't want to live like this." At that same time, Pope John Paul II was suffering, with tremendous grace and humility, through his final weeks. I thought the juxtaposition was heartrending.

I liked Benedict OK. Not a big fan of Francis. John Paul I didn't make much of an impression. But JPII seemed to me to be what a pope ought to be.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

rcocean,

SOME Certain types of suffereing does allow us to unite with Christ, but its suffering that comes from maryterdom or due our Christian faith. I don't think just getting sick qualifies.

ISTR Blaise Pascal saying that sickness is the true state of the Christian.

Lem said...

Norm's line about himself "rushing to judgement" is also more a reflection of the times we are living. When how something may appear (at the very moment it first appears) is more valuable than the real essence of a person or thing. How OJ was made to appear a victim was only the beginning of what was to come later; from the Kardashians to the socials and the influencers.

Nobody rushes to judgement faster than the social mobs. Check this out, in case you missed it - Link to an Althouse post

Narr said...

I started reading Dostoevsky as a young person, which is also when I stopped.

ndspinelli said...

J Farmer, We are kindred spirits. I said in another thread I, like you, have had difficulty w/ this death. Like you, I have always sought out clips of Norm. He was manic on Twitter. And yes, Norm only wanted laughs, never applause. Most comedians now seek the latter.

Ann Althouse said...

“ I love the tone of the article. Its a NYT explaining why Norm belonged to this strange tribal religion unknown to the NYT readers”

It’s an opinion piece by a specific person — “the editor of The Lamp, a Catholic literary journal, and a contributing editor at The American Conservative.”

Narr said...

Apparently Norm was comfortable with ambiguity--he was good enough to have people here debating the true thrust of the late OJ comments. I'll stay out.

I've seen more Norm Macdonald in the last few days than in all the time before. He had his gifts, but he wasn't THAT great, so R.I.P.

exhelodrvr1 said...

The Christian suffering theory is, IMO, based on what many Christians did prior to the Reformation, to improve their chances of getting into heaven. (Salvation through grace was certainly not completely trusted then!)

rcocean said...

Thanks. I looked him up, and author is a sort of highly educated Rod Dreher type (against Death Penalty AND abortion) Catholic. Imagine Rod stayed a RC and you got this guy.His twitter feed is full of "Pop culture? What's that" type tweets.

That's probably why i found the discussion of Norm's Chritianity (an English Protestant) so odd.

As for Chritians believing Sickness makes us one with Christ, I don't know many American Protestants who think that, but then you have 1000 flavors of Christianity. People who label themselves Christian do (and have) believed all sorts of things, from Christian Zionism to polygamy to whatever. So yeah, there probably is a doctrain (sp) of sickness making us more like christ. My bad.

rcocean said...

As for it only being a specific person. Remember the NYT Op-eds are vetted not only by the editor but by the SJW employees. CF: Bari Weiss, Sen. Cotton, etc. So this article did get the OK from those people.

Joe Smith said...

'...I don't know many American Protestants who think that, but then you have 1000 flavors of Christianity.'

My sister lives in an area of the country with a lot of 'holy roller' Protestants. They really seem to look down on Catholics and it bothers her.

I just tell her to tell them, 'Hey, Jesus was ours first. You guys are all late to the party.'

: )

Bender said...

As they led Jesus away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after the Romans tried to make him carry the cross, Simon said, "Hey, this ain't my job. I'm not the Savior. Jesus is. It's his job to suffer and carry the cross, not mine. I'm saved just by believing in him."

Wait. No. That's not how it goes.

effinayright said...

I came very late to the wake--err..party for Norm Macdonald. I am sure I am one of the few people in America who knew nothing about him. (And I like comedy!!)

But after watching several hours of his performances on youtube, I feel I really, really missed the boat. Just brilliant.

That said, I do not accept the idea that there's nobility in suffering. Suffering is suffering, full stop.

It's interesting that one of the reasons Christianity supposedly never caught on in Japan is that Christ on the cross looks like such a defeated loser.

You want people to identify with that?

Paddy O said...

Jesus was based in west Asia. That's Eastern Orthodox, Rome came in second. :-D

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

Thank you Mark. Funny how many people “know what Christianity is” yet seem unfamiliar with the major themes in Paul’s epistles. God used Paul to heal others but allowed an unspecified affliction to continue to cause Paul personal pain and suffering. Sometimes God’s comfort is to help us endure things we cannot change. The AA prayer is rather accurate on this point of Faith.

TheOne Who Is Not Obeyed said...

".....Christianity supposedly never caught on in Japan ..."

Christianity caught on in Japan immensely well, and in some areas asserted itself sufficiently as an identity that in the late 16th and early 17th centuries emperors found it necessary to violently suppress it in repeated waves of persecution. Even after the re-opening of Japan in the 19th century, Christians found it necessary to remain hidden for fear of persecution.

Mark said...

It's interesting that one of the reasons Christianity supposedly never caught on in Japan is that Christ on the cross looks like such a defeated loser.
You want people to identify with that?


Christ on the cross looked like such a defeated loser in ancient Rome.
Rome, where people were crucified. Rome, where Christ prevailed.

Interesting thought though. Rather defeats the notion that Jesus and the Gospels are fictional inventions. After all, what people would want to identify with a defeated loser on the cross? Who would invent a story where the hero was such a defeated loser?

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

"By the end of his life, Mr. Macdonald seemed to have abandoned even his well-known animus against O.J. Simpson. 'All he’s guilty of to me,' he said on a Comedy Central program in 2019, was of being 'the greatest rusher in the history of the N.F.L. Maybe I was the greatest rusher — to judgment.'... "

This is absurdly naive. The line is also in Norm's "memoir," copyright 2016. Norm was obviously kidding--on Comedy Central he did a naive 50s Mayberry version of a roast, with no bad words or bad thoughts. Get in a character, stay in a character.

Norm did an interview with his sister-in-law on CBC TV in Canada in 2018. here

He comments a bit on Trump in a similar vein to Ann. Trump probably didn't expect to win in 2016, he probably planned to claim the election was rigged, and this would be the launch of some kind of media platform. Trump is funny not because he is humble, or able to get his audience to identify with him, but because he plays to the crowd in front of him, without much thought for consequences. If there's both a nasty and a nice stand-up comic, Trump is a nasty one, but not as nasty as his enemies say.