Few comedians achieve the level of untouchable fearlessness that Norm Macdonald did in his life. Norm was Norm; he is almost impossible to fully characterize. His stand-up, and even his autobiography full of intricately crafted fiction, served one purpose: to be shockingly funny. If you invited him to do something, the only thing you could truly expect was that it would be funny. Perhaps nowhere was this more acutely on display than the time YouTube made the terrible mistake of letting him co-host the red-carpet preshow for The Big Live Comedy Show, its failed attempt to launch an annual live comedy show in 2013. The preshow, which Macdonald hosted alongside Kassem G and Jenny Slate, now exists only as a sometimes glitchy, pirated bootleg. “Norm was so great that day,” Kassem G told The Sports Bubble podcast in an interview in July 2020. “It was a day I’ll never forget because we were all told to dress up. Norm shows up in sweatpants … and he didn’t give a fuck, and I thought it was so great.”
As someone who has run several celebrity-interview studios similar to this, Macdonald’s performance is an actual dream. Celebrity interviews at events like this one are naturally very boring, with each performer entering the space armed with publicist-approved talking points for whatever they’re there to promote. Circumventing this to make the conversation interesting is a game every interviewer in this situation must play, and it is this that makes Macdonald’s performance nearly heroic. “All the stars are here!” he repeatedly announces before stumbling over the names of various YouTubers he reads off a stapled printout while also holding a prop cigarette. His intentionally out-of-touch and awkward presence relieves his co-hosts of the obligation to do anything but maintain a sense of decorum for him to repeatedly violate.
Throughout the show, he roasts every guest in his matter-of-fact way, referring to the Lonely Island as “Samberg and the other couple of fellas” and repeatedly decrying that “a sorcerer” (Justin Willman) was invited to the show after a magic trick injures Slate. At one point, he advises Garfunkel and Oates not to accept notes on their show from IFC: “Just say to them, ‘Listen, you fuckin’ picked up Maron!’” As the trio dutifully complete what is clearly a required demonstration of how to subscribe to a YouTube channel, Macdonald draws laughs without even saying a word. He just stares directly into the camera, heightening the awkwardness of the whole thing. The co-hosts and guests stay game for his antics, providing Macdonald with the perfect framework for his continued trolling.
“People would ask me if I was offended, and I was like, ‘No!’” Kassem said in last year’s interview. “It was a real treat.” “I was only delighted with Norm,” Slate tweeted in response to a fan asking if she was upset by Macdonald’s performance. “He’s a delight!” What truly made Macdonald so great was his commitment to never being anything other than what he was: a relentless troll who was also a total delight.