It’s typically tempting to instantly canonize the deceased. But it’s by no means simply: Heaping undue reward on a useless man will be much more insulting than talking in poor health of his reminiscence.
Consider the case of Norm Macdonald. The comic, who died Tuesday after an unpublicized, nine-year battle with most cancers, was finest recognized in life for his O. J. Simpson jokes, a Comedy Central anti-roast, and a shaggy canine story a couple of moth. In his final decade, he developed a fervent cult following as he churned out ever more strange materials, typically relating his religion, loss of life, and the afterlife. Now that he’s gone, a few of his followers are turning to that late work and recasting him as a Christian apologist.
The impulse is comprehensible. Macdonald counted himself, in a obscure approach, as a Christian. And he held no quarter for individuals who mocked faith. In 2015, he was a decide on the NBC present “Last Comic Standing” when a contestant delivered a joke trashing the Bible as pathetic compared to the Harry Potter sequence. One of the hosts referred to as that efficiency “brave.” Macdonald was not impressed.
“I think if you’re going to take on an entire religion, you should maybe know what you’re talking about,” he stated. “J.K. Rowling is a Christian, and J.K. Rowling famously said that if you’re familiar with the scriptures, you could easily guess the ending of her book.”
Macdonald later advised the Hollywood Reporter that ripping on religion is passé lately. True bravery, he stated, is for an entertainer to do the other: “If a guy went up and said, ‘Jesus Christ is our lord and savior,’ I’d say, ‘Damn, that guy’s brave!’ Or, ‘The infidels must die under the sword of Allah!’ I’d go, ‘Goddamn, that’s a brave comic.’”
Macdonald would typically make these kinds of statements himself. During an interview with Larry King, Macdonald needled the longtime TV host for the “God-shaped hole” in his coronary heart. He did the identical factor to Jerry Seinfeld a couple of years later when the sitcom legend voiced doubts concerning the afterlife. For his personal half, although, Macdonald admitted solely to being “on a spiritual journey.”
Macdonald might have solely been dabbling in Christianity, however his criticisms of the post-Christian world have been typically incisive. He had no tolerance for scientism and laughed at atheists. He ceaselessly lampooned the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, and Bill Maher. And he wasn’t afraid to make darkish predictions a couple of future dominated by their successors.
“The Enlightenment turned us away from truth and toward a darkling weakening horizon, sad and gray to see,” he tweeted in 2018. “The afterglow of Christianity is near gone now, and a Stygian silence lurks in wait.”
But that was at all times the terminus of Macdonald’s perception. Like most of the finest comics, he noticed the enormity of the world and, since he was unable to do something about it, determined to snicker relatively than weep. It’s no marvel that Macdonald excelled at 9/11 jokes.
And it’s unsurprising that he had a tender spot for Russian literature, notably the work of Vladimir Nabokov, whose model he aped all through a lot of his memoir, Based on a True Story: Not a Memoir. Nabokov, Macdonald stated later, was training the “highest form of parody,” and was the type of comedian whose work he hoped to mimic. And in his approach, Macdonald succeeded: Many of his finest bits are basically Pnin, however slurred out the mouth of a drunken hockey fan. He by no means took himself too severely.
“I always bristle when people say, ‘The comedian is the modern-day philosopher,’” he advised New York in 2018. “There are modern-day philosophers.”
Maybe that humility helped him as Macdonald met his finish. Toward the top of his life, it appeared like he was working towards extra coherency in his religion, no less than to lots of his Twitter followers. It’s onerous to say what was going by way of his thoughts—and doubtless irresponsible to guess.
“Like everyone, I am in search of the true faith of course,” he tweeted in 2019. “It’s been a rather long tough journey, for me at least.”
Now that his journey’s over, we will solely pray that he discovered it.
Nic Rowan writes from Washington, DC.
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Image taken from a video of Norm Macdonald.