Sunday, April 14, 2024

Norm MacDonald Delivers Inspired Set to Packed Improv Room

Never one to miss a Norm MacDonald appearance in South Florida, I attended his 7 p.m. gig at the Palm Beach Improv Saturday night and was overwhelmed by the abundance of new material. Only one joke – a hilarious bit about eating at home the way you do at restaurants – was recycled from

previous tours. Otherwise, we were treated to a fresh palette of absurdist humor, including lengthy riffs on suicide by hanging – “Ever notice in strip malls, the rope store is always right next to the rickety stool store?” — and its sundry cousin, auto-erotic asphyxiation. He also touched on Internet pornography, vegetarianism, teachers, religion, people with disabilities, his incomprehension of political news and, naturally, prison rape, a perversely appealing topic of comedy in Norm’s oeuvre dating back to his “Weekend Update” days.

Watching Norm this time around, it occurred to me, more than ever, that his strength is not unlike Richard Lewis’. Norm, too, is a stream-of-consciousness comic: He’ll begin on one topic, detour into another, which in turn detours into another in a seemingly unscripted and directionless comedy itinerary. Sometimes, he remembers to circle everything back to the beginning (with the audience’s help) and sometimes not, but it doesn’t matter as long as it’s funny.

Not every moment of Norm’s act was hilarious; his protracted deconstruction of the art of conversation, for instance, was no match for his centerpiece of the evening: a wonderfully inspired riff on cannibalism. Norm has the unparalleled ability to take seemingly irrelevant or anachronistic subjects and address them as if they’re of paramount importance; this was a perfect example of that.

Normally, I don’t mention opening-act comedians at these shows, but Norm took the risk of booking Stevie Ray Fromstein, a veteran Canadian comic and one of Norm’s fellow-writers on “Roseanne” in the early ‘90s. It’s a notable choice because Fromstein, who goes by the nickname “The holy atheist,” is almost as polarizing a voice as Bill Maher. His act has evolved into one entirely devoted to religion. Delivered with the desert-dry, deadpan monotone of Steven Wright, many of his jokes point out God’s “mistakes” and question Biblical platitudes and inconsistencies. Sometimes, there isn’t even a joke there, just an observation bound to offend a significant portion of the believers in the room. The sound of proverbial crickets followed many of his one-liners, and a heckler voiced his displeasure a few times.

He was also quite funny, particularly when devoting several minutes to the subject of foreskin. His set may have been a dud for most of the audience, but he made a new fan out of me.

 

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