It seems that every big-name headliner we’ve seen this year has chosen somebody completely useless as their special guest. It kind of makes sense, because the headliner always looks way better by comparison…but I hate it. If I’m going to spend $50-$80 to see a comic, I want the whole show to be spectacular. If I can go to a local show and see ten amazing acts for five bucks, I should at least get two for $60.
Stevie Ray Fromstein, aka the Holy Atheist, was Norm Macdonald’s special guest. He’s a podcaster who bills his website as a place where “it’s impolite to NOT criticize religion.” That seems like it’d be right up my alley…but his act was dreadful. He’s a podcaster, and he delivered every joke in a stereotypical “newscaster” tone. It was flat and uninteresting, and so was the material.
Nobody needs to hear fifteen minutes of recycled circumcision jokes. Don’t get me wrong, I love circumcision humour, and I don’t even object to the use of “public domain” jokes in a set. What I do object to is bland, uninteresting comedy. If you’re going to tackle a subject as controversial as religion, you’ve got to push boundaries, be shocking and innovate. Comedy is about questioning things, not parroting the opinions of others.
Thankfully, Norm Macdonald was brilliant. He’s aged about fifty years in the last four months, which was very sad to see, but he’s still phenomenal.
It really hit me during his set how incredibly nuanced his writing is. He takes things that shouldn’t be funny and alters a minute detail, and suddenly it’s hysterical. He does a joke about vampires, and the thing that makes it work is that he pluralizes one word. One word. It’s the kind of talent that’s so subtle that people often overlook it.
Macdonald is erratic, he rambles and gets sidetracked and mumbles…and it’s amazing. You can’t take your eyes off him. He completely owns the stage, without being showy and over the top. If you get the chance to see him, do. (Seriously. Do it soon. He looks like he may die at any moment.)
His show at the River Rock Casino in Richmond on Saturday was proof of that.
Now, Amanda has already gone into detail on Macdonald’s opener, Stevie Ray Fromstein, and I’m going to add nothing about him to my review because I agree wholeheartedly with her. He was flat and uninteresting.
So, let’s get straight to Macdonald. His hour-long performance was really nothing more than a series of strange and surreal stories that seemed to almost come straight off the top of his head. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually improvised most of the night, considering he went off on so many tangents that jokes he began to tell were never actually finished.
His dry humour and often confused personality on stage served well for him because when a joke went horribly awry, he acted as though he didn’t know why he told it in the first place. The audience loved how self-deprecating Macdonald was, likely because it swept away any awkwardness when he said something that didn’t render a laugh.
In my opinion, Macdonald is one of the most underrated comedians working today. He may not always be gut-bustingly funny, but he is definitely always weirdly funny. If you like the idea of someone talking about a family of Dracula’s, or how porn today isn’t what it used to be, then Macdonald may be the right comedian for you.