Norm Macdonald and John Mulaney Show Us That Men Can Be Vulnerable, If We Make Room For Them
Last week I wrote an article about John Mulaney, which drew heavily on his first national appearance since rehab in “Late Night with Seth Meyers”. Much of my interest in the article was about people’s reaction to Mulaney’s revelation in the show that he and actress Olivia Munn – who he had recently announced he was dating, having divorced his wife – were going also have a baby.
But one of our readers, Tim Melman, pointed out that I missed a key part of the Mulaney-Meyers interview: their relationship. “I found the Mulaney ‘Late Show’ interview exceptionally moving,” he wrote on our website. “Above all, it clearly showed the deep love between two gifted, compassionate and vulnerable men. I was honored by their mutual frankness. Kudos to Seth and John for being exemplary men / people to others.
This is an excellent point and one that was largely lost following the Mulaney-Munn-baby revelations. In an age when so much you see on talk shows resembles the CGI version of human interaction, artificially happy to the point of being spooky, Meyers and Mulaney took the risk of having a real conversation about difficult and messy things. Their conversation was uncomfortable to watch at times, but in large part because they were willing to talk about things that had no easy answers. And it’s just not something you see on TV.
Meyers and Mulaney took the risk of having a real conversation about difficult and messy things.
The conversation around the passing of comedian Norm Macdonald had a similar quality. Macdonald, who is best known for his work as a longtime presenter of Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” segment, was beloved in the comedy community for his dry wit, ability to wait for laughter, and shaggy dog stories. . His “Tonight Show” story of a depressed Russian moth going to a podiatrist is legendary (although in my opinion his story of Canada’s lost hope Jacques de Gotie is even better).
Macdonald insisted on his aversion to denominational comedy. “I’ve heard people go on stage and talk about cancer or bullshit,” he said in an interview in 2018. “And I’m like, ‘Isn’t that what happens to everyone. world ? They seem to think that they are unique in their history when their history is the most common history that can be, that of suffering and pain.
At the time Macdonald was doing this interview, he was in the seventh year of a nine-year battle with cancer, a battle he never told anyone about, not even his close friends. In the same interview, he noted: “I think about my deathbed a lot. When asked what he thought about it, he replied, “I don’t think I should have bought a deathbed in the first place.”
In the wake of his death, Macdonald partially remembers the times he revealed the vulnerable human below.
A standing figure, he said, is “false by nature.” And yet, following his death, part of what is remembered are the moments he revealed the vulnerable human being below. He adored David Letterman, a mutual feeling; Letterman invited him to be the last comedian to perform on his ‘Late Show’ series and would later say, “If we could have, we would have had Norm every fucking week. He’s funny in a way that some people breathe in and out.
Macdonald ended his Letterman set by telling a joke he saw Letterman tell when he was 13, and which he said was the best joke he had ever heard. (This is the sign on the garbage trucks warning not to drive too close. “Another simple pleasure in life spoiled by bureaucratic interference,” he joked. “Remember it. good old days, when dad stacked the kids in a station wagon and we “are you all going to follow a garbage truck?”)
Then, very stifled, Macdonald said: “I know Mr. Letterman is not for the cutesy and he does not have a truck for the sentimentalists. But if something is true, it is not sentimental. And I say in truth, I love you.
Maybe the problem isn’t that men or “celebrities” don’t know how to be vulnerable or messy, but that we don’t like to be reminded that they are. (And we are too).
He did pretty much the same at his friend Bob Saget’s 2008 Comedy Central roast. Rather than follow the standard roast format of hurling insults at Saget, Macdonald made six minutes of bombshell jokes like “There are times when Bob has something on his mind. When he wears a hat! or “He never bought Christmas seals.” He told me he wouldn’t know what to feed them. The whole thing was such a failure in the eyes of the network that they cut most of it.
Macdonald ended by talking about how much he loved his friend. “Seriously, Bob is the first comedian I ever saw play when I was a kid, live. And I loved him,” Macdonald said. “One thing that binds us as comedians is that we are bitter and jealous and we hate anyone who is successful. But honestly Bob never had a bad word for anyone, and I love him and I hope everyone likes him, so I just wanted to say it.
Following the news of Macdonald’s death, Saget responded in a similar fashion with a 38-minute video in the middle of the night filled with stories, tears and love. “Last week I got a text and he was just saying ‘I love you’,” Saget relayed. “And I didn’t say much back, I just said ‘I love you Norm.’ And that was my last communication with him.
One way or another, Macdonald always knew how to draw people into these uncomfortable spaces of truth and once there, how to rejoice.
“We loved each other,” Saget said simply at another point.
Men are not often heard speaking like this in public. And we can say, yeah, well, this is for you guys. But maybe it’s also that as a society we don’t leave room for this, that when two friends risk having a very real conversation in front of us, we take the shocking revelation and choose to ignore the rest. Maybe the problem isn’t that men or “celebrities” don’t know how to be vulnerable or messy, but that we don’t like to be reminded that they are. (And we are too).
One way or another, Macdonald always knew how to draw people into these uncomfortable spaces of truth and once there, how to rejoice. Much of it was his own refusal to run away when the going got tough. Just as the whole country was set to close in mid-March 2020, Macdonald put on an incredible set on Covid at The Improv in Los Angeles. “It was a good idea that you had,” he told the crowd, “it was a good choice tonight to go out and sit next to complete strangers.”
“I don’t want to alarm anyone at all, but I could sneeze on you and that would be the equivalent of a nine millimeter [gun]. “
You can hear the horror of the crowd. He’s not wrong. But they laugh all the time, and with relief.