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The Complicated Legacy of Norm Macdonald

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The news of Norm Macdonald’s death caught everyone off guard—the legendary Saturday Night Live comedian had been privately battling cancer for the past nine years.

An outpouring of tributes followed from comedians and fans alike, sharing anecdotes and reminiscing about their favorite Macdonald bits. But as many in the industry were mourning Macdonald’s passing, some women were bracing themselves, for they too had a story to share about Macdonald.

To many, Macdonald is considered part of the old guard of stand-up comedy. His cracks came fast and unexpected, often met with delayed laughter from the audience as they tried to keep up with him. He was a comic’s comic, known for his deadpan delivery and oft-rambling storytelling.

And he never shied away from ruffling feathers; if he thought it was funny, he would say it, those who may be offended be damned. Case in point: his firing from SNL in 1998 was reportedly because he wouldn’t let up on O.J. Simpson, who happened to be a close friend of NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer.

But while Macdonald was being memorialized, many glossed over some of his not-so-funny faults, save Slate. Perhaps one of the most dumbfounding pieces was an opinion column that ran in The New York Times that lauded Macdonald’s comedy for being “quite Christian,” because he admitted he was anti-abortion and pushed back on another comedian’s quip that compared the Bible to the Harry Potter books.

Yet Macdonald made a number of transphobic remarks, including that Brandon Teena “deserved to die”; continually dismissed and disparaged women, both on stage and off; voiced his disdain for the #MeToo movement; and stuck up for comedy pals who were accused of sexual harassment.

In 2018, he spoke to The Hollywood Reporter and griped about the #MeToo movement. “I’m happy the MeToo movement has slowed down a little bit,” he said. “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?’”

In that same interview, he expressed sympathy for his friends Roseanne Barr and Louis C.K., the latter of whom had admitted to sexual misconduct in 2017 after five women came forward with accusations against him, including that he would masturbate in front of them. Barr’s reboot of Roseanne was canceled by ABC in 2018 after she went on a shockingly racist Twitter rant about former President Barack Obama’s ex-adviser Valerie Jarrett, comparing her to an ape.

As one woman who worked with Macdonald during his time as a judge on Last Comic Standing in 2015 framed it to The Daily Beast, “If he’s comedy’s sweetheart, then that is a scathing indictment of the comedy scene, not a compliment to Norm.”

It was always hard to pin down exactly where Macdonald stood; if he was telling the truth, exaggerating a story to spin it into a........

© The Daily Beast

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