Norm Macdonald, who was recently booted from an appearance on Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” for daring to criticize the #MeToo movement for its potential to harm the innocent, is that rarity among today’s comedians: He is a conservative.
He dared to mock the politically correct — a faction of people that even John Cleese, who is no conservative, regards as toxic to comedy. Once upon a time such a joyless and dreary group would have been mercilessly lampooned by the anarchic Marx Brothers. These days, though, political correctness is sacrosanct, and comedians who subscribe to it bellow rather than produce laughs.
Like Cleese, Macdonald also understands political correctness destroys comedy. Thus he is bipartisan in his targets, even those he agrees with politically. During his time on “Saturday Night Live,” he announced on air his support for Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole in the 1996 election. And yet this did not keep him from mocking Dole in a funny impersonation.
Macdonald has a bravery missing from many of today’s comics regarding politics. In a 2000 appearance on “the View,” whose cast members Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar are exhibit A in how rage negates comedy, Macdonald dared to praise George W. Bush as a “decent man,” and accused Bill Clinton of murdering Vince Foster (the Deputy White House Counsel and one-time law partner of Hillary Clinton, whose suicide was suspicious).
Regarding Foster, Macdonald later said he was joking, but he did state that the Clintons were “corrupt.” Of George W. Bush, he expressed an open-minded view about the administration’s war against Iraq: “The war itself, you know, if it works it was worth it. But I don’t know if it’s going to work.”
But it is revealing what he hasn’t retracted. In a 2003 appearance on “The View,” he stated that he was going to renounce his Canadian citizenship because his country was not supporting the United States in the Iraq War. He also lauded Ronald Reagan as the best president in history. Macdonald said he was joking about revoking his Canadian citizenship, but, tellingly, did not retract his assessment of Reagan.
Macdonald is refreshingly self-deprecating about his political awareness in a time when comedians advertise their political sophistication. He said while living in Canada, “I never voted because I don’t want to make a mistake. I’m so uninformed that I don’t want that on my hands.” And yet he is canny enough to recognize political stupidity.
Take the case of Rosie O’Donnell warning that Trump is trying to establish a dictatorship, for example. “You know, people say stuff like, ‘You gotta wake up,” he said. “Trump and his boys [are trying to take over]. There’s a coup going on.’ That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard … I know coups are not undertaken by the President of the United States.”
“It looks like a coup going on the other way,” he added. “They’re talking about impeaching a guy before any investigation has even begun.”
But as with Dole, Macdonald’s assessment doesn’t prevent him from mocking Trump. He mocks how Trump is so ridiculous as to defy impersonations: “Trump often times is doing self-parody and nothing looks dumber than if you parody self-parody.”
Regarding Macdonald’s latest heresy—attacking the #MeToo” movement—he is open-minded enough to see its virtues and the dangers it can pose to the innocent: “While I think [the movement] is a great thing in a macro sense and will lead to a much better world, I don’t want anyone to be badly hurt that’s innocent in the process of getting there. And I could see it ending with an innocent person blowing their brains out one day.”
Scott Fitzgerald once defined a “first-rate intelligence” as the “ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Macdonald fits the definition. He balances open-mindedness with courage. He considers the possibility that he could be wrong while at the same time knowing that the politically correct are sometimes ridiculous.