September 15, 2021 - 11:18am

Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 was not a victory for comedy. Almost overnight, late night-talk show hosts became political pundits; stand-up comics metamorphosed into preachers; and once-hilarious film stars turned into the goons they were supposed to be mocking. With one exception, the worst thing to come out of it was a genre of Resistance comedy, in which Twitter stars lip-synced the president on Twitter to online adulation. 

By 2017, even the almost irreverent South Park creators admitted they were struggling:

If you have like a little monkey and it’s running himself into the wall over and over and you’re like, ‘That’s funny, but how am I gonna make fun of the monkey running himself into the wall?’ I can discuss the monkey running himself into the wall, I can copy the monkey running into the wall, but nothing’s funnier than the monkey just running himself into the wall.
- Matt Stone and Trey Parker

Another comedian agreed. “Trump is doing self-parody. Nothing looks dumber than parodying self-parody”. 

That man was Norm Macdonald, who passed away at 61 yesterday. Famously unwilling to mould his comedy to the whims of the zeitgeist, Macdonald made just one joke about the president in the four years: “Americans hated Hillary Clinton so much that they voted for someone they hated more than Hillary Clinton”.

This is what made Norm’s comedy: it was impossible to predict who would be the target of his jokes (which often included himself), be it teachers, 9/11 heroes, O.J. Simpson, the Clintons or black children. “A joke should catch someone by surprise — it should never pander,” he said. 

Perhaps that’s why he was more in tune with the country than other comedians. As early as 2015, he predicted that Trump could become president when most people dismissed his candidacy as a joke. To him, the greater fear was the “lunacy of the left”, suggesting that the #MeToo movement had gone too far and that cancelled people deserved a second chance. Still, if there was even the faintest whiff that he was straying into political territory, he would conclude his perorations with something like  “everyone is a fucking idiot”. 

Such was his popularity across the political spectrum that tributes have come in from Justin Trudeau to Tucker Carlson, Adam Sandler to John Cleese, who have all mourned his death. ‘In the old days, a man could just get sick and die. Now, they have to wage a battle,” Norm Macdonald said in his 2011 special. “When an old man dies, people say, “Hey, he lost his battle. . . . That’s no way to end your life.” 

Norm Macdonald didn’t ‘lose his battle with Leukemia’; very sadly, he got sick and died.

is UnHerd’s Newsroom editor.