Monday, February 23, 2009

Norm MacDonald and My Adventure In Idiocracy

I live in a college town. It's an arts community and a destination. I feel at home here and sometimes I forget that the rest of the country isn't just the same as this little city. That is...until I visit someplace else.

I get most of my impression of the world outside of my home through the television. For the last few years the quality of television has gotten really, really great. I've found that things I am watching are intellectually stimulating and surprisingly funny. The writers of today all grew up in the same generation as I did, I guess, and maybe that's why things speak to me so right-on these days. But, my view of the world is certainly distorted, since the programs that I am choosing to watch all lean in a certain direction. The Wire, Lost, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The Office, 30 Rock, The Bill Maher Show, and Flight Of The Conchords for example are all somewhat cerebral. They have lots of layers, they require some attention to absorb. If I watched more things like The Hills or The Girls Next Door or whatever, I would have a different idea about the people how I share this world with. Just like if I lived in a place other than a small arty college town.

Last Friday night I went to see Norm MacDonald at The Huke Lau in Chicopee, Massachusetts. I'd been to The Huke Lau twice before (both times as a performer) so I knew what to expect from the room and the food and drinks. It's a completely hokey-goofy-cheeseball place with fake tropical decor and scorpion bowls and the likes. What I didn't expect was the people who made up the audience at this show. Certainly, I was aware that there would be plenty of baseball hats and perfume in the room, but I kind of expected that fans of Norm MacDonald might have a bit of edge to them, since his humor and delivery always seemed a little slow and deliberate and unusual to me.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

The place was as I remembered it. It was loud and chaotic and unabashedly in-your-face. But the audience was straight out of the movie Idiocracy. Throughout the entire performance there was an almost constant barrage of meat-heads just yelling out, "Hey Norm!" or "Dirty Work!" or "Artie Lang!". It was hell. I felt like I was on a school bus.

Jerks with huge shoulders were just yelling out these phrases while Norm MacDonald was trying to make it through his jokes. His delivery is slow and rhythmic and sometimes his gags are sort of hidden near the end of whatever little story he is telling. On many occasions, he couldn't make it to the end of his sentence because this crowd of frat boys and girls couldn't stand listening to something that took more than thirty seconds to pay off. The whole time I felt like I had to lean in and really try to focus on picking up the jokes. That's not the way to see comedy.

How was he supposed to react to these shouts anyway? Why were you yelling "Dirty Work!" at him? Yes, he was in a movie called that. Now what?

The comedian himself seemed totally resigned to this life on the road. He charges people thirty bucks to sit in a room, drink, and yell at him and his job is to just stand there. I felt terrible.

Other people weren't yelling anything out. They were just having full-on loud conversations at their tables. It's one thing to talk during a musical performance (something that drives me nuts, too) but it's even crazier to do it at a comedy show. I mean, what's the point of even being there? Why'd you shell out thirty bucks to eat crappy food and order expensive drinks in an uncomfortable room if it wasn't to see the performer? I am completely at a loss.

The show ended and it was almost a relief for me, because I could finally relax. I didn't have to strain to not be distracted by the constant movement and blabbering all around me. I didn't have to sit with tensed shoulders and feel like Norm MacDonald was going to snap at any minute, yell "shut-up you room full of idiots", and then get pummeled to death by guys with something to prove.

If that's the real world, I'm glad I live in the fake one.


Rick said...

How horrible. I saw Brad Garrett out in Vegas a couple years ago, and the crowd acted exactly the same way. On the other hand, I also saw Jeff Foxworthy out there, and the crowd was polite and attentive.

ari vais said...

Did I ever tell you about my friend Frank Sebastiano's Norm McDonald story? He sent him a joke for SNL News, a really funny joke, just as a fan, that Norm used, and ended up hiring Frank (SNL did) and then taking him with to LA when he got fired from SNL. There are some great background stories to do with all this, including a roast for Norm on Comedy Central where he went with this gag, which was an odd choice to make, but in my opinion freaking hilarious, that the other comedy writers didn't care for at all.