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‘The Tonight Show’ Decision To Cancel Norm Macdonald Proves Comedy Is Giving Up On Itself

‘The Tonight Show’ has gone from a delightful and apolitical show to one that comes across as terrified of upsetting progressives.


The Hollywood Reporter published an interview with comedian Norm Macdonald in advance of the September release of his Netflix talk show, in which he wasn’t questioned, so much as interrogated regarding his political beliefs. He was asked about the political climate, racism, and other celebrities’ personal mistakes. (What kind of journalist would you be in 2018 if you didn’t ask your interview subject about their thoughts on sexual harassment?)

He’s asked to comment on President Trump “emboldening” racists in the second question. “I live in L.A., where I’m always faced with the lunacy of the left,” Macdonald said. “I didn’t know that the same lunacy existed on the right. So I never really bought into this notion that everybody is racist.”

To his credit, Macdonald rolled with the unnecessarily political questions, and answered them honestly and directly. Asked if he was looking forward to a “swing left” of politics, he replied, “not necessarily.” He also commented on Me Too, which has gotten him very hot water, and resulted in NBC cancelling a scheduled appearance on “The Tonight Show.”

He said he’s glad the Me Too movement seems to have slowed down:

It used to be ‘One hundred women can’t be lying.’ And then it became, ‘One woman can’t lie.’ And that became, ‘I believe all women.’ And then you’re like, ‘What?’ Like, that Chris Hardwick guy I really thought got the blunt end of the stick there.

Macdonald didn’t say that women shouldn’t be believed when they report sexual harassment, but simply suggested the movement is vulnerable to people taking advantage of its substantial visibility. To him, Chris Hardwick seemed to be a victim of that circumstance. Perhaps you feel differently. Perhaps many people feel differently than Macdonald does, but it’s his opinion that some women might not be telling the truth. This doesn’t automatically mean he doesn’t care about people who are sexually harassed.

He added:

The model used to be: admit wrongdoing, show complete contrition and then we give you a second chance. Now it’s admit wrongdoing and you’re finished. And so the only way to survive is to deny, deny, deny. That’s not healthy — that there is no forgiveness. I do think that at some point it will end with a completely innocent person of prominence sticking a gun in his head and ending it.

He named two of his friends, Rosanne Barr and Louis C.K., as people that had their careers ended as a result of their admission of guilt. “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.”

This seemed to be the most controversial point of the interview, in that he suggested Barr and C.K. should possibly be forgiven. Barr, who has expressed nothing but regret since her bafflingly racist tweet, had only one victim — Valerie Jarrett, who has stated that she is “just fine.” Whether you personally like Rosanne or not, Macdonald is absolutely right that her career was destroyed in a single day because of a short, confusing message she sent on the internet. He is also right to point out that her victim didn’t go through that.

C.K. is a different story. He did issue a public apology, and he did disappear. Many people will never enjoy his comedy again, and that is absolutely their right. However, there is no court of public approval in which progressives get to vote people out of existence. If C.K. mounts a successful comeback, it will be because he convinces enough people to fill a comedy club that he is truly sorry. Macdonald never implies otherwise. In light of the controversy following his comments, he reiterated on Twitter that he did not approve of his friends’ behavior, but in no point in the original interview did he say that he did. He simply marveled at how quickly a career can become undone in the modern age.

The title of the article is, “Norm Macdonald Won’t Go Pundit on His Netflix Talk Show,” yet the point seemed to be that he is guilty of wrong speak because he doesn’t want to play progressive pundit. Fans of Macdonald won’t tune in to hear the comedian do his best Hannah Gadsby impression. Macdonald holds the uncomplicated opinion that comedy should be funny, and his show will undoubtedly keep that a priority.

On Tuesday, Macdonald was in New York City for his scheduled appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon, when he was told that it would be best for the show if he did not appear on it. David Marcus wrote about the absurdity of this decision by NBC.

Since the September 2016 appearance of Trump, “The Tonight Show” has struggled to decide whether or not they should be political. Fallon was riding high before then, modernizing the show with viral video, delighting fans with lip sync battles and his ever-deepening friendship with Justin Timberlake. After the Trump Interview, in which Fallon employed his normal good humor antics and did not condemn the then-presidential candidate for being a racist swine, he received a good amount of backlash. He even lost some viewers over the period during the election and inauguration.

It was an unprecedented time in American History, and for a few months, people wanted a little more politics in their comedy. Colbert saw a huge surge, and even shows like “Full Frontal” did fairly well … for a while. I discussed the free-fall of late night ratings in political comedy in a piece that shows how progressive politics are killing late night comedy. The surge fizzled, and America was ready for comedy to be funny again, but Fallon and “The Tonight Show” adopted a new stance: fear of offending their viewers. Fallon, who had previously been apolitical, had publicly expressed deep regret for having Trump on his show and treating him like a human being. 

Of course Fallon treated him like a human being. Why on earth wouldn’t he? He was a presidential candidate, and whether or not Fallon agreed with his politics should never have come in to play. Candidates have appeared on talk shows for years without the hosts grilling them over their differing opinions. Why should this instance have been different?

Fallon and his producers felt the need to apologize for it, and since then, their once delightful and apolitical existence has come across more like a show that is terrified to make progressives mad. This theory was soundly proven on Tuesday when they cancelled the appearance by Macdonald.

He had done nothing to warrant a dismissal from a show worried about offending their “sensitive viewers.” Maybe not everyone liked what he had to say, but since when are we as a nation of television viewers too sensitive to watch a controversial comedian sit down to an interview? If Macdonald is too offensive for late night comedy, because he refuses to conform to the demands of progressive ideologues, then there is no hope for comedy in late night TV.