Brow Beat

Norm MacDonald Had a Bad Day

Comedian Norm MacDonald, gesturing and talking.
Norm Macdonald, at a Last Comic Standing panel in 2015.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Comedian Norm MacDonald, whose new talk show Norm MacDonald Has a Show is coming to Netflix this Friday, probably envisioned his last week of launch publicity a little differently. The runup all went as planned: Netflix picked up his show, he got a thoughtful and fascinating profile in the New York Times, he got a trailer, he got booked for The Tonight Show. And then at 9:45 Eastern this morning, the Hollywood Reporter published an interview with the one-time “Weekend Update” host under the headline “Norm MacDonald Won’t Go Pundit on his Netflix Talk Show.” That may be true—MacDonald says he “decided very early there would be nothing topical” on the show—but he definitely went pundit on his Hollywood Reporter interview, offering contentious, topical remarks on Rosanne Barr, Louis C.K., Chris Hardwick, and the #MeToo movement in general. MacDonald says he’s glad the movement to eliminate sexual harassment and assault is slowing down, he thinks Hardwick got a raw deal, and he put Louis C.K. in touch with Roseanne so they could commiserate over the loss of their respective bodies of work, which he implied was a worse fate than, say, having Louis C.K. masturbate in front of you and then blackball you from comedy before you had a body of work to begin with. The interview went over so well that by the end of the day, his scheduled appearance on The Tonight Show had been cancelled and he issued an apology for his comments.

It’s easy to understand why MacDonald had a different perspective on Roseanne Barr’s downfall than most observers: One of his first jobs was writing on the original Roseanne, and he’d written for the reboot before Barr’s tweet about Valerie Jarrett brought the show to its abrupt end. So, on the page, it’s understandable MacDonald would make this plea for forgiveness:

I feel bad that Roseanne got fired. I think that we have to be more forgiving of people. I’ve spoken to Roseanne many times, and she’s always been in tears. She’s paying a mighty penance for whatever transgression you might think she did.

But the Hollywood Reporter also posted video of his statement, and his delivery and raised eyebrows on “whatever transgression you might think she did” make a lot of difference:

Things didn’t get better from there. After implying he didn’t think Roseanne had done anything wrong, MacDonald offered his thoughts on the #MeToo movement, expressing sympathy for Chris Hardwick, who is back on the air after actress Chloe Dykstra wrote an essay outlining allegations of abuse and mistreatment:

I’m happy the #MeToo movement has slowed down a little bit. It used to be, “One hundred women can’t be lying.” And then it became, “One woman can’t lie.” And that became, “I believe all women.” And then you’re like, “What?” Like, that Chris Hardwick guy I really thought got the blunt end of the stick there.

But it was the story MacDonald told about putting Louis C.K. and Roseanne Barr in touch with each other that drew the most fire, as MacDonald explicitly said that the people on the other end of Barr’s tweets or C.K.’s cock couldn’t understand the suffering of the people who created the situation to begin with:

Roseanne was so broken up [after her show’s reboot was canceled] that I got Louis to call her, even though Roseanne was very hard on Louis before that. But she was just so broken and just crying constantly. There are very few people that have gone through what they have, losing everything in a day. Of course, people will go, “What about the victims?” But you know what? The victims didn’t have to go through that. … who has ever gone through such a thing? All their work in their entire life being wiped out in a single day, a moment.

MacDonald also offered his thoughts on Michal Che, Colin Jost, Jimmy Fallon, racism in America (which says he learned about from Sacha Baron Cohen’s most recent show), and Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. But his comments about the victims of harassment were more than enough for the internet, and by early afternoon, even Dictionary.com was outraged:

MacDonald apologized for his comments on Twitter, saying he “would never defend” Louis C.K. or Roseanne Barr’s actions:

The apology was apparently too little, too late, and too conditional for MacDonald to appear on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon Tuesday night; the show issued a brief statement announcing they’d canceled his appearance:

Out of sensitivity to our audience and in light of Norm MacDonald’s comments in the press today, The Tonight Show has decided to cancel his appearance in Tuesday’s telecast.

There’s one mitigating factor here: MacDonald gave the interview before Louis C.K.’s return to the Comedy Cellar made it clear how little he’d learned, and also before the second round of Les Moonves revelations exposed another layer of the systemic rot permeating Hollywood. But even a month ago, suggesting that losing a career in comedy was a kind of suffering that victims of sexual harassment couldn’t possibly understand would have been nearly as jaw-droppingly clueless as it was today. The underlying message is that losing a standup career in an instant is a kind of suffering Norm MacDonald can imagine and understand, while being on the other end of racial slurs or being slowly pushed out of the industry by a powerful sexual harasser are kinds of suffering MacDonald can’t understand and prefers not to imagine. Norm MacDonald has some blind spots.