That Awful Norm MacDonald Interview is Actually a Gift

Norm Macdonald. (Netflix)

Ex-Weekend Update anchor, five-season SNL cast member and stand-up comedian Norm Macdonald has just found himself a trending topic for the first time in, well, ever, thanks to a dunderheaded interview with The Hollywood Reporter. In the interview, Macdonald dug himself into crater-sized holes on topics including #MeToo, racism, Roseanne Barr and the so-called politicization of late-night. He's come under such heavy fire for it that The Late Show canceled an appearance he was scheduled to make.

Indeed, Macdonald's Q&A makes for a jaw-dropping and deeply frustrating read. In it, amongst other things, he says he's "happy the #MeToo movement has slowed down a little bit." On job losses related to the movement, he says, "That's not healthy—that there is no forgiveness," and that "the victims didn't have to" lose "everything in a day" the way that their famous abusers have.

Macdonald also explains that he has "always faced...the lunacy of the left," but, until he watched Sacha Baron Cohen's Who is America? series, he "never really bought into this notion that everybody is racist—because there was a black president, you know?" Yet he asserts that his friend Roseanne Barr, who recently lost her job over a racist tweet, is "certainly not racist. That's just crazy."

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The level of offense and upset the interview has caused is entirely understandable, but there is a silver lining to this whole sorry story. What Macdonald has just given us is the insight we've been waiting for about why powerful men have allowed so much horror to go on for so long, and just how much they fundamentally don't understand what everyone else deals with.

As #MeToo and #TimesUp have progressed, it has been difficult to fathom why so many famous men are so hesitant to speak up or be allies. Just days ago, Olivia Munn found herself objecting, entirely alone, about Shane Black's decision to cast a convicted sex offender in The Predator. Perplexingly, of all of her castmates, only one —Sterling K. Brown—has spoken up in support of Munn.

At January's Golden Globes, despite a room full of women wearing black and dedicating the entire night to speaking out about #TimesUp, the vast majority of male attendees (even the ones accepting awards for playing domestic abusers) stayed silent on the subject. It was impossible not to wonder what they were all so afraid of.

Season 10 of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee offered us some insight when it premiered in June. Jerry Seinfeld and his guests made repeated references to #MeToo that were, frankly, mystifying. In one episode, on his way to pick up Kate McKinnon, Seinfeld calls her. "Are you here?" McKinnon asks. "Should I, like, um, come to the car?" Bafflingly, Seinfeld responds: "I would appreciate it if you were not so suggestive in the white-hot, radioactive, sexual misconduct rodeo world we now live in." Seinfeld doesn't appear to be joking. McKinnon shouts "Oh my GOD!" in disbelief.

In another episode, Alec Baldwin displays a similar confusion about basic human interactions with women. “I put my arm around my wife the other day," Baldwin tells Seinfeld, "and literally my arm... like, it was an electric charge. I put my arm around my wife’s waist and then went, ‘Oh, I’m sorry! Was that inappropriate?’”

In yet another episode, Seinfeld, standing outside the Beverly Hills hotel where Harvey Weinstein is said to have assaulted a number of his victims, says “You know Harvey Weinstein is in there somewhere?" His guest, Dana Carvey, responds: “Are you going to try and top people about how disgusted you are? It’s a competition online.”

If Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee gave us vignettes into the incredibly confused world of the Successful White Man, the Norm Macdonald interview has given us the full story. What is now clear is that a lot of them can't figure out where the lines are because they are much more likely to be friends with one of the accused than they are to be friends with an accuser.

The interview finally gives us an insight into the root of the unwillingness to look outside of one's own bubble. Rather than trying to understand the perspectives of victims, these men simply skirt the issue and carry on with their lives. They seem to think that, like Indiana Jones at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, if they close their eyes when faced with the explosion, their not seeing anything will somehow save them.

One of the most remarkable expressions of that kind of privilege happens when Macdonald brings up, of his own accord, Hannah Gadsby's Nanette, the critically acclaimed Netflix special that stunned audiences with its explorations of misogyny and homophobia. "I have never seen the Nanette thing because I never wanted to comment on it," he says.

Remarkably, Macdonald does, in fact, go on to comment on Nanette at some length, entirely secure in expressing potentially damaging opinions about a lesser known, queer, female comedian, having never bothered to even watch her show. "From what I have read about it," he says, "[Gadsby] is saying that comedy is now not about laughter." (At no point during Nanette does Gadsby say this.) "And of course that's a slap in the face of a traditional stand-up comedian who thinks that comedy by dictionary definition is about laughter."

"Nanette doesn't sound like stand-up to me," Macdonald continues. "That sounds like a one-woman show. And one-person shows are, to me, incredibly powerful. But it's not stand-up comedy and it's not the same thing."

And there it is: the sound of a successful man writing off a less famous woman's work before he's even seen it, and subsequently asking for it to be removed from his own male-dominated profession and pushed into a more marginalized genre solely dedicated to the expressions of women. In doing this so casually, and with such an inherent lack of self-awareness, Macdonald unintentionally demonstrated exactly how women are kept on the fringes of so many professions. If you've ever wondered how so many glass ceilings got installed in the first place, Macdonald just basically gave us a tutorial.

For so many months now, it has been impossible to grasp why self-confessed sexual harassers like Charlie Rose and Louis CK feel fine about inching their way towards career revivals before they've even sat out one year. It's been confusing to watch famous men look away from industry-wide problems even while they're being highlighted by a national spotlight. And it's been difficult to figure out if these men were being unhelpful for villainous reasons, or ones that had more to do with a general self-centeredness. Macdonald just proved it's more about the latter than the former, not that it changes the end result any.

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Truly, Norm Macdonald's interview, in its obliviousness, has captured the very crux of white, wealthy, straight, male privilege. We finally have some real insight into the corners that have stayed the most silent all these months, and, most importantly, we can now understand why those corners were so quiet in the first place: complicity.

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