Netflix has packaged Macdonald’s performance, which runs a little over 50 minutes, with a half-hour discussion featuring six of his friends: Dave Chappelle, David Letterman, Adam Sandler, David Spade, Conan O’Brien, and Molly Shannon, who spend another 30 minutes or so reminiscing about him while deconstructing what viewers just saw.
Chappelle calls the stark setting “very endearing,” while Letterman notes that without an audience to respond to the material, “We weren’t watching standup comedy. Without that audience, you don’t get the full measure of Norm.”
What you do get is a clear reminder of Macdonald’s quirky sense of humor as he flits from topic to topic, occasionally engages in odd digressions and endures the kind of interruptions that have been common to work experiences during Covid, from his dog barking to answering a phone call and saying sorry, but he’s in the middle of taping a comedy special.
While Macdonald knew his time might be short, there’s nothing morbid or maudlin about the presentation, which essentially trains a camera on his face and lets him rip. The comic does mention living wills and a few other matters that touch upon mortality, but it’s no different in tone than his routine about preferring to gamble at Native-American casinos (“I look on it as a form of reparations”) or strategizing about cannibalism should he ever be on a plane that crashes in the Andes.
Beyond that, Macdonald’s performance and the ensuing conversation/analysis (taped during Netflix’s recent Netflix Is a Joke comedy showcase) benefit from a relaxed quality, taking viewers behind the curtain where they can listen in on comics’ process and thoughts.
However one responds to the various jokes, there’s something more sweet than sad about that. Macdonald is gone, but he was able to orchestrate his own curtain call, saying goodbye with a little help from his friends.
“Norm Macdonald: Nothing Special” premieres May 30 on Netflix.