The Improv Life: My First Comedy Teacher, Norm Macdonald
You learn comedy by mimicking the people you look up to, the people who make you laugh the most.
In my early forays into comedy as a teenager, I was just ripping off Norm Macdonald bits and tried to pass them off as my own.
I learned to say outrageous things, just flat out lies, in the most straight man way possible, just like he did in Weekend Update.
I guess you would call it deadpan, but I never leaned into the punchline, or hinted that I was doing a bit. I just said bizarre, absurd things in a very matter of fact way to whoever was around.
My friends knew I was doing a bit, but other people would just continue talking to me as normal with me being an emotionless ass.
I would always say, “Note to Self,” pantomime a tape recorder, and record some absurd sentence that I thought was funny. “Note to Self: create secret language for my friends and I to talk about that thing we all do in private when no one is watching, but people know what we’re doing.”
I always used “Note to Self” to make a zinger about whatever was happening around me while the thing was still relevant. I guess I was learning timing from Norm.
Or even now, I still do his fake shock. In Dirty Work, or Weekend Update, he would say a joke with some surprising piece of information, act a wee bit shocked (but not really) to drive home how insane or absurd is the joke he just delivered.
Like he would say a joke with a little bit of shock, expect the audience to get it, hold for a moment, and then either address if the person got it or moved on.
Dirty Work taught me how to fish for funny people in life. If you’re working with someone and you softball them a joke with a light delivery, and wait for them to get it or not, their response (going along with your bit or going over their head) will reveal if they’re cool or not.
Out in the wild comedians have to sniff each other out. Bits are a way for us to find each other and seek refuge in each other’s company.
You always gave me refuge, Norm. And you taught me more than I ever knew. RIP, brother.