Remembering Norm Macdonald (1959-2021).
Comedian Norm MacDonald performs on stage at the Saban Community Clinic’s fiftieth Anniversary Dinner Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on November 13, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Greg Doherty/Getty Images)
In his introduction to Hobbes’ Leviathan, Michael Oakeshott speculates as to what makes one a thinker. It’s not information one accumulates, says Oakeshott. It is, fairly, a perspective, a disposition with which one is born. As he says:
Philosophy springs from a sure bent of thoughts which, although completely different in character, is as a lot a pure reward as a flair for arithmetic or a genius for music. Philosophical hypothesis requires so little in the manner of a information of the world and is, compared with another mental pursuits, so unbiased of book-learning, that the reward is apt to present itself early in life.
These phrases got here to my thoughts this week as I mirrored upon the life, and premature loss of life, of Norm Macdonald. Norm’s path to turning into one of the most revered stand-up comedians of his technology was unlikely. Born into poverty in rural Canada, Norm suffered from debilitating social nervousness till a definitive second redirected the course of his life, as Norm’s sui generis reward manifested itself.
One day, Norm’s father requested him to stroll a household pal to the retailer. The man was blind and requested Norm to explain the highway and timber and sky to him as they walked. Norm recounts that this train—of naming and describing creation—took him outdoors of himself, thus assuaging his nervousness. From then on, Norm was an observer and describer of the world.
To be certain, Norm’s take was distinct. He had what Oakeshott known as the “natural gift” of a bent thoughts. He noticed a homeless man with a canine and thought-about the expertise from the vantage level of the pet—“this is the longest walk ever!” Whether he was behind the Weekend Update anchor desk, a microphone, or his Twitter account, Norm invited us to see the world from his idiosyncratic perspective.
The line between philosophy and comedy is already skinny, and Norm blurred it additional. His quasi-memoir, Based on a True Story, is as humorous as you’d anticipate when you’re an informal fan, and as profound as you’d anticipate when you’re an avid devotee of Norm’s work. There, Norm interprets his playing habit as a quest for hope:
Most folks would assume it’s the wins that maintain the gambler going, however any gambler is aware of that this isn’t true. As you place your chips on the craps desk, you’re feeling nervousness and impatience. When the purple cube hit the inexperienced felt with a thunk and you’re declared the winner and the chips are pushed towards you, you’re feeling reduction. And reduction is okay, however hardly what a person would give the entire relaxation of his life to achieve. It needs to be one thing else and the finest I’ve give you is that this: It is a specific second. A magic second that happens after the putting of a guess and earlier than the consequence of that guess. It is after the purple cube are thrown however earlier than they lie nonetheless on the inexperienced felt the place they fall. It is when the cube are in the air, and so long as they’re there, time stops. As lengthy as the purple cube are in the air, the gambler has hope. And hope is an excellent factor to be hooked on.
For many, comedy is a cynical train of enumerating the irrational absurdities of life. Not so for Norm, as he stated: “Smart man says nothing is a miracle. I say everything is.” He went out of his technique to see and title the miraculous magnificence of creation. Norm was to Christianity what Woody Allen is to atheism. He didn’t speak about the world for a residing out of resentment or anger, however out of love and boyish curiosity. It was as if we have been the blind man and he was taking us all on a stroll, cautious to explain the regular, mundane objects round us in such a manner that we might see the world afresh.
“The Enlightenment turned us away from truth and toward a darkling weakening horizon, sad and grey to see,” tweeted Norm, “The afterglow of Christianity is near gone now, and a stygian silence lurks in wait.” Norm Macdonald lived in an enchanted cosmos—vivid in shade, teaming with life. Norm noticed in another way, and due to this fact extra, than secular man. His eyes didn’t simply look at brute objects, however by them, seeing the inner coherence and grandeur of nature.
Norm remained, to the finish, a person of hope. Peter Kreeft calls hope “a kind of prophetic intuition that beneath all appearances and all apparent injustices, reality is just, is good, and has to be good, in the end.” He goes on to say that to have hope is “a kind of almost mystical intuition, a seeing. It’s a judgment, an assertion.”
The man who gave us Turd Ferguson was born with the eyes of a thinker, a mystical instinct to see as Oakeshott thought Thomas Hobbes noticed. By religion, Norm Macdonald’s eyes have been mounted on hope as he fell asleep, and when he awoke those self same eyes beheld hope’s substance.
Dustin Messer is pastor for Faith Formation at All Saints Dallas in Dallas, TX. Before finishing his doctorate at La Salle University, Dustin graduated from Boyce College and Covenant Theological Seminary. He was a fall 2020 Constitutional Fellow at The American Conservative.