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Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Norm MacDonald's Triumphant Return to the Fake News Anchor Desk

If you enjoyed Norm MacDonald’s perpetually-grinning, surprisingly-understated stint on SNL’s Weekend Update in the mid-90’s, it's a safe bet that you’ll love Sports Show with Norm MacDonald. In his recent interview with A.V. Club, MacDonald commented on his time in that anchor chair this way:

So on Update, the only real original thing was trying to take away the cleverness of the punchline and make it as blunt as possible. And then I tried to make the punchline as close to the setup as I could. And I thought that was the perfect thing. If I could make the setup and the punchline identical to each other, I would create a different kind of joke.

MacDonald’s jarringly-straight-forward comedic style — accompanied by flawless delivery — has a way of driving home the absurdity of his subject matter in an entirely unique way. MacDonald’s comedy is often a slow burn, moving from humorous to hilarious the further from the joke you get and the longer he holds the trademark grin that punctuates a majority of his jokes.

It took people a while to jump on board with his Weekend Update stint, his now cult classic film Dirty Work fell largely on deaf ears when it was first released, and his legendary turn at the Bob Sagat Roast was so brilliant that some people never caught up with it.

But for fans of MacDonald, his new show — which premiered last night on Comedy Central — should provide a welcomed dose of comfort. Sports Show (a title of which is hilariously simplistic in and of itself) is mostly made of its host firing off one-liners in front of a series of rotating images on a TV backdrop. It’s a format that feels very familiar, combining the best of Weekend Update with the feel of his stand-up. And in focusing on the world of sports, MacDonald has chosen a subject that offers up a never-ending supply of targets.

There are current jabs, such as this assessment of Michael Jordan’s of facial hair choice:

Now, Hanes, here’s what I see as your biggest problem with this commercial. You have Michael Jordan – which is excellent. And the commercial is effective in this way: it gets people to think about underpants. And that’s the good part. But, it also makes people think about the führer of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler.

And there are shots at more timeless subjects:

After reading all of these Yogi Berra quotes, I’m starting to think the guy was retarded.

Along with the rapid fire jokes, the episode featured a well-constructed monologue breaking down statistically why Tiger Woods is actually the most faithful man in the history of the world — while making the case that MacDonald’s monogamous Uncle Bert is the real sex addict. The rant showcased just how comically skilled MacDonald is, turning a bit that would feel outdated and overdone in the hands of many other comics into one of the highlights of the show.

Other bits that worked well were a rundown of exclamations prepared by golf commentator Jim Nantz in preparation for different winners at last weekend’s Masters (“Phil Mickelson is gonna be covering up those man boobs with a green jacket!”) and a “Guess which dougie dancer gets hit by an ice cream truck,” which paired videos of five athletes doing the dougie dance with an internet video of a man dougie’ing in the middle of the road. The ending, although completely obvious by design, still played well as MacDonald feigned shock and surprise at the inevitable outcome.

The only time the show fell a little flat came when MacDonald was off-screen, lending his voice to bit that saw him going “undercover” in makeup designed to make him look like Blake Griffin (Which was in reality Blake Griffin with Norm MacDonald’s voice dubbed over him). While the premise was good, it ultimately relied on the physical comedy skills of Griffin to try to sell it, proving that when it comes to Norm MacDonald, simpler is always better.

Colin Perkins is an author and comedian who has written for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,
McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, CollegeHumor, Cracked and Mental Floss.

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  • JoshUng

    I actually liked the Blake Griffin part of the show, but that was admittedly, not very "Norm MacDonald-ish."

    Overall, I thought the show was great. I do think some parts could use a little polish. Towards the end when Norm is complaining about "kids these days" and "Sad Bill Cosby" popped up shaking his head seemed a bit rushed, but the rest of the show was great.

    • http://www.twitter.com/becca_oneal Rebecca O'Neal
  • HerooftheBeach

    Damn it, Comedy Central, why isn't this online? Why is the whole archive of Mind of Mencia available to stream and not this?!

  • Nordberg

    And who is MacDonald's first guest on Sports Show? You guessed it, Frank Stallone!

  • http://www.twitter.com/becca_oneal Rebecca O'Neal

    I had a whole comment typed out and I deleted it! Anyway, I'm totally indifferent to sports, but the Blake Griffin part was PRETTY FUNNY! And Griffin was a good sport and had admirable comedic/physical timing.

    I probably won't tune in to the show regularly, but I'll DVR it and watch clips on line for sure. If only for Norm and because it's got a good writing staff.