For a select few, though, it's Macdonald's talk-show appearances over the years -- Conan lost his mind in 1997, Letterman gets kittenish, both Dennis Miller and Jon Stewart have cried uncle -- that capture the essence of his appeal. They are events of deadpan cracks and wangled non-sequiturs. Even his recent performance at the roast of Bob Saget -- anti-comedy made artful -- revealed his peculiar style. So far as I can tell, almost everything Norm Macdonald says or does is funny.
At Westport over the weekend, all of those gifts -- the command of cadence, the attentiveness to the tiniest details, the fascination with the morbid and the macabre -- were on full display. A large chunk of Macdonald's hour-long set probed the sexual differences between men and women. Both nights featured an extended bit on Tiger Woods the "sex addict, or what I like to call him: a man."
An intervention for Mick Jagger by the rest of the Rolling Stones -- "Mick, you're having too much sex" -- would be just as absurd. Another two-night bit discussed the venues in which women, futilely, act like men: strip clubs and the WNBA, which is "for all those who can't make the NBA." Then again, as he later acknowledged: "Women create life, and all men can really do is hang around."
Of course, comedy has no ethics but to make people laugh, and this is doubly true for material as blue as a drowned Smurf. Imagine, if you will, the profound and scrupulous use of cock in these contexts: Macdonald, as a teenager, avoiding same-sex advances in station wagons while hitchhiking; old, rich men invigorated by Viagra; a commercial for "Father Norm's Priest Place;" his incredulity at foot fetishists; familial rape; and the complications of following story lines in pornos.
In fact, Macdonald's best bit, at least in the shows I attended, wondered why serial killers don't dig deeper graves. In lesser hands, such material might die on delivery. But in Macdonald's zoned-out riffs -- which assumed, as the evening progressed, the quality of an impromptu toast (that's an evaluation, not a compliment) -- there's nothing to do but submit.