May 27, 2017
   Norm Macdonald's Career in Never Doing What You Expect   

Read the original review on


Miranda Popkey wrote an article for GQ about Norm Macdonald, which is effectively a review of his career. In the subheading she describes him as an "underrated" standup comedian, which is an odd description for someone who sells out theaters. You might wonder what Norm could do to be considered a success by Miranda Popkey (who unlike Norm, is not successful enough to be recognizable just by her first name). The answer is "anything other than standup."

The main theme of the article is that Norm's desire to subvert expectations has self-sabotaged his career. However, all of the examples of his failures are from movies and television, not standup. I can understand her frustration, I was hoping to read about comedy and this is the kind of pretentious literary masturbation you expect to see in the New Yorker, because Miranda Popkey is an aspiring New Yorker book reviewer.

A comedy critic might be aware that subverting expectations is one of the most basic joke structures, and is the reason Norm has had a career lasting over three decades. Miranda Popkey, however, thinks his career "never recovered" after being fired from SNL, which makes one wonder what she thinks a comedian does. Acting, obviously, maybe writing. Political commentary, apparently, because that's another thing she's disappointed Norm doesn't do. But why not sports? Norm would definitely be better known if he'd won the Super Bowl.

Most of her complaints are about what he doesn't do, and over the course of the article the absences build up until suddenly, like a drawing of a vase revealing that it's actually two faces, who she wants Norm to be becomes clear: Louie CK. Louie talks about politics. Louie has a TV show. Louie, in fact, has a TV show that isn't a comedy, which is exactly the kind of comedy Miranda Popkey likes. If only Norm had used his network sitcom pilot to make people sit with their discomfort and really think about how society treats sex workers, I'm sure it would've gotten a fourth season.

It's often said that we hate in others what we hate about ourselves, and while she was attempting to criticize Norm with her allusion to "norm-flouting blowhards," it is in fact Miranda Popkey who is the Norm-flouting blowhard. Her point that other comedians have moved away from certain topics is undermined by the fact that all of her examples of Norm's continuing insensitivity are 20 years old. She even goes so far as to transcribe a joke from 1998 and then spells out in explicit detail that she didn't understand the joke. Or perhaps, jokes in general. It's a testament to journalism's decline that the GQ editor allowed her to embarrass herself in that way.

Her final indictment of his "punching down" is to note that Norm told a joke about unconvicted murderer and millionaire reality star Caitlyn Jenner, and it killed. You might have thought she'd end the article with something that supports her overall thesis, but perhaps as a hat-tip to Norm himself, she subverted that expectation.

<< first  |  < previous  |  index  |  next >  |  last >>