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Norm Macdonald 'Me Doing Stand-up' review: Cancer, alcoholism, and heart attacks made funny

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Norm Macdonald’s Me Doing Stand-Up Comedy Central special on Saturday night more than made up for a weekend without a new Saturday Night Live; Macdonald doing stand-up was funnier than anything SNL has done in a long time.

With his wide, goofy grin and perpetually bemused, oh-my-gosh manner, Macdonald can render the most grim or poor-taste subjects amusing. On this hour-long special, Macdonald did a hilarious riff on alcoholism and the concept of anonymity in AA, questioning whether it was really wise to confide the details of one’s life to “a bunch of drunks.” There’s no malice in Macdonald’s work; it wasn’t as though he was scoffing at or warning anyone away from Alcoholics Anonymous. His humor arises from a standard stand-up procedure — pointing out the contradictions in a subject and exaggerating them for comic effect — but when combined with his devilish smirk and a deceptively artful way of phrasing matters, it’s a potent talent.

Macdonald’s ridicule of a common verb used in dealing with a disease — “battle” — put him on the same level as Susan Sontag, who in a far less amusing way waged her own war on the idea of “battling cancer.” Macdonald would probably feign ignorance of Sontag, but his point was the same: an ongoing, debilitating disease is usually far less dramatic, less heroic, than the language we use to glorify sufferers. Macdonald’s recounting of the cancer suffered by his “Uncle Bert” — “Here’s how he battled cancer: Lying in a hospital bed watching Matlock” — never belittled his subject, but rather shed a bright, realistic light on how people’s lives (and their deaths) are endured. It was also exceedingly funny.

Me Doing Stand-Up is the beginning of what I hope will become a Norm Macdonald career resurgence. His new Comedy Central series Sports Show with Norm Macdonald will premiere Apr. 12.

This wonderful comedian — one of the best “Weekend Update” anchors ever and nearly always a terrific, surprising talk-show guest — deserves a lot more attention.

What do you think of Norm Macdonald?

Twitter: @kentucker

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