Norm Macdonald Has a (Terrible) Show. Michelle Wolf Had a Great One. Why Are We Settling?
Last month, Netflix cancelled Michelle Wolf. Now, it’s parading around Norm Macdonald’s ticker tape of stupid. Hollywood is severely broken. ‘Norm Macdonald Has a Show’ proves it.
I honestly can’t believe we’re talking about Norm Macdonald.
We’ve been talking about him a lot lately, in the wake of a baffling, repeatedly offensive press tour that has managed to slight the women stepping forward in the #MeToo movement, Hannah Gadsby, the trans community, people forced to have non-consensual sex, people who have consensual sex, and Lena Dunham—at the same time staunchly defending Louis C.K. and Roseanne.
The occasion for this ticker tape of stupid is the 58-year-old comedian’s promotional tour for his new Netflix talk show, which is out today and called Norm Macdonald Has a Show. The title is supposed to be meta and cute, perhaps referencing the bare-bones, conversational format of the series. But in the wake of these comments, and after screening a handful of the first batch of episodes, the title now reads as more of a taunt: Jesus Christ, Norm Macdonald has a show.
Should I be surprised that Norm Macdonald is out there shilling a shitty show? Norm Macdonald kind of always has a shitty show.
If it isn’t Norm Macdonald, it’s someone I probably confused him for, or is kind of like him. Someone like Norm Macdonald kind of always has a shitty show. We’ve resigned ourselves to this Hollywood truth. As Melanie McFarland wrote in an excellent Salon piece on this very topic, “The world has always been ruled by some version of Norm Macdonald. That’s why so many people love him.”
Perhaps we even watch these shitty shows, maybe because we’re fans, or maybe because we think that’s the thing we’re supposed to do. But, like, what if we just... didn’t? Better yet, what if they—the proverbial “they”—just stopped making them?
Less than a month ago, Netflix canceled Michelle Wolf’s talk show. Now, the streaming service is parading this guy around.
Should that be irritating? There are many reasons behind one show’s cancellation and another show’s inception, and the two may have absolutely nothing to do with each other. But, subjectively and independently of that, God yes, it should be maddening.
The Break, Wolf’s short-lived Netflix show, was a sharply written, carefully planned, high-production gem, a valuable and critically valued descendant of The Daily Show with a necessary point of view. (A woman’s!)
It was a series that found its sea legs with impressive speed, made news, provided lacerating insights, and had genuine potential. And Wolf herself has proven a strong, special personality in the world of entertainment, both shooting to stardom and weathering the ensuing media storm with a fearless, barbed club-swinging White House Correspondents Dinner set.
I kept thinking about how all that has been canceled while watching the first few episodes of Norm Macdonald Has a Show, a haphazard “here’s Norm talking to someone” free for all, and got angry all over again.
That name became a taunt again. Norm Macdonald has a show! Here it is! LOL! David Spade literally recounts the plot of The Larry Sanders Show, Norm Macdonald interrupts with a joke about a hooker, and sidekick Adam Eget just giggles maniacally off-frame. That’s the show! G’night folks!
Norm Macdonald has a show and Michelle Wolf does not. That’s aggravating.
It’s aggravating because of what Wolf’s show and her material contributed to the national discourse, and the utter pointlessness of what’s happening on Macdonald’s series. And it’s aggravating that this is the show we’re given in the wake of Macdonald’s controversial comments this week. All that... for this?
In The Hollywood Reporter this week, he said he’s “happy the #MeToo movement has slowed down a bit” because the “I believe all women” response was getting out of hand. He made a plea for extreme sympathy for Louis C.K. and Roseanne in the wake of their career fallouts. “There are very few people that have gone through what they have, losing everything in a day,” he said. “Of course, people will go, ‘What about the victims?’ But you know what? The victims didn't have to go through that.”
Then came the grand finale, a lengthy interview posted by Vulture in which he bemoans that he’s not allowed to make jokes about trans people because he’s not trans. “So I’ll be trans,” he said. “The whole point of everything nowadays is that you can be anything you want to be. Someone that’s born male and identifies as male, we used to call that ‘male.’ Now we call it ‘cis-male.’ Even though 99.9 percent of the public perceives themselves to be the same gender that the mirror perceives, we can’t say that’s ‘male.’”
Now, should wokeness be a mandate for being given a talk show? Maybe not. Clearly, it isn’t. But when we consider the people whose voices are seldom heard but who do have informed, considered and valuable points of view, it wouldn’t hurt to perhaps think about that in theory.
Norm Macdonald has a show. Here are the people, as McFarland helpfully gathers in her Salon piece, who do not: Wolf, Robin Thede, Tig Notaro, Wanda Sykes, and Nikki Glaser.
This matters because they are women. TV shows fail for many reasons. But women, as TV personalities stretching back to Joan Rivers will attest to, are rarely given second chances when they’re the face of a failure. Hell, they’re rarely given second chances even when they’re the face of a success. And, as Glaser has said, when they publicly support movements like #MeToo which has resulted in career setbacks for men like Louis C.K., their opportunities further diminish. When Macdonald speaks in support of those men, he has a show!
We know the defense of Macdonald, his show, and even his comments.
He’s old school! It’s supposed to be charming. That whole idea, the old school-ness, is supposed to be the innocent charm. Almost like greenlighting this talk show in the first place could have been a deal made with a shrug rather than a handshake. “Norm? Sure. Everybody likes that guy.” But the presumption that it’s all excusable—the show’s meandering nothingness, Macdonald’s lame comments—because it’s just inoffensive fun is perhaps the most offensive part of it all.
There is value to the “people hanging out and talking” format. It produces real revelations and real truths. It’s why podcasts are great. It’s why David Letterman’s Netflix series is good. It’s why Howard Stern’s show, as his Macdonald interview proved this week, is legendary.
Norm Macdonald Has a Show doesn’t even approach anything arguably valuable. In the first episode, David Spade gamely tells stories from the start of his career, but Macdonald barely seems to be paying attention. Everyone is maniacally laughing through the whole thing, but you can’t shake the notion that you just walked in on your uncles having beers in the garage cracking themselves up, but you’re just not in on the joke.
Is the goal to mine interview subjects for old showbiz stories? I honestly can’t tell. The interviews are so unfocused and MacDonald so randomly sarcastic that it’s hard to even pay attention. Jane Fonda, if not visibly annoyed, seems confused by the whole schtick during her sit-down.
I had planned to watch more. He has amazing guests, ones who don’t normally sit for interviews like this. Lorne Michaels! David Letterman! Judge Judy! But there so little substance, I felt like I was wasting my time.
But what I love, or at least find poetic, about this particular case is how it flies in the face of the most dipshit defense of entertainers like Macdonald when they share opinions like the ones he did this week. “Who cares what they’re saying off-screen? It’s the art they’re making that matters.”
Well, here is Norm Macdonald saying shitty things while making shitty art. They are lazy opinions espoused by someone probably operating under the assumption that what he says doesn’t have to be informed or well-considered because guys like him don’t face repercussions for things like that. And he shares them while promoting a lazy talk show.
Yes, Norm Macdonald has a show. After all this writing, I guess what I’m really just asking is, “Why?”
I’m reminded of a great piece that Caroline Framke wrote for Vox when the #MeToo allegations started to ramp up: “Instead of mourning great art tainted by awful men, mourn the work we lost from their victims.” Not because Macdonald is an awful man, but he is defending those men and the opportunities they lost.
Meanwhile, who knows what art their victims would have made, let alone the women in the TV genre who are punished in ways he will not be—depending on how harsh a punishment you consider being canceled as a guest on Jimmy Fallon’s talk show to be.
The #MeToo movement isn’t just about the abusers. It’s about the many ways in which women have been threatened and minimized by structures of power and entitlement.
The brilliant Linda Bloodworth Thomason penned an incendiary essay for The Hollywood Reporter illustrating just that, explaining the ways in which Les Moonves derailed her career because simply because she was a woman writing strong female characters for a large female audience. Moonves took over when she was CBS’s most successful creator, and she never got another show.
But Norm Macdonald? Well, he has one.