Norm Macdonald, Holy Fool
Norm Macdonald passed away this week, Tuesday, September 14.
He was 61 years old.
They say the legendary comedian secretly battled cancer for 9 years. Many would consider this noble, and the fact that he suffered quietly did not surprise Norm’s followers.
He carried himself like a secret saint. He told raunchy jokes with a regal cadence; a knowing smile always indicated a deeper layer to everything he said. That smile never faded.
And he always kept you guessing. You could never pin down Norm Macdonald. This might even make you question the reality of his death.
His greatest joke yet? Was it really cancer?
You could believe and disbelieve anything about Norm at the same time.
A fan would be unsurprised to hear of Norm’s gambling addiction. They would be equally unsurprised if he never gambled a minute in his life.
Maybe he feigned a gambling addition. Maybe all that money was going to orphanages.
He was a dualistic figure, fully human, and wise for it. At the same time, he had slack in the joints, a mischief to let the air out of the stuffiest room.
On TV, it was often hard to tell which side of him was speaking.
Mythically, he was a leprechaun. Naturally, he was an owl – he would reveal more of this side later in life.
His mix of principle and vibe was reminiscent of Holy Fools in ancient Christianity. No doubt, this balance took a finesse that few humans are willing to apply.
Holy Fools would conceal their better features from others, to avoid slipping into pride. They might feign insanity or stupidity, or be merely insufferable, knowing the alternative would cost them their souls.
Like a Norm Macdonald joke, the concept of a Holy Fool is better experienced than explained. No one can truly replicate a Norm Macdonald bit. It doesn’t make sense unless it comes out of his mouth.
For example: “You know, Larry, my clothes make me look slimmer. But they did not fool that flight of stairs that collapsed under my astonishing new girth.”
First, who talks like that in the 21st century? But more important, why did this prompt hysterical laughter from Larry King and the millions watching Norm videos?
Truly, you will not get a laugh repeating these words to someone. You will have to make your audience imagine Norm saying it. Only then, maybe something close to a laugh will emerge – most likely a pity laugh.
It was that rare vessel of Norm Macdonald, saturated with the breath of God, that made the bones come alive.
Yes, the prophet Ezekiel comes to mind – a Holy Fool, if there was one. He brought a pile of bones to life by the breath of God. Likewise, Norm could take a pile of words and make people feel alive.
Every joke seemed like an inside joke. And everyone was the only one in on the secret.
And even if a joke seemed to go too far, he delivered it so tenderly and transparently, it was impossible to assume malintent.
The saints would shine in a similar way, emanating the light of truth from their hearts. It made them undeniable.
And yet, they all carried their crosses, the thorns in their sides:
Ezekiel baked his bread in cow dung; John the Baptist ate locusts; Elijah was fed by ravens; and Norm Macdonald did Saturday Night Live.
He had a soul, a bright one.
We pray for that soul to live in eternal memory.