The press tour for Norm Macdonald's new Netflix talk show, Norm Macdonald Has A Show, continues to be a shining example of how to completely derail a press tour. The brouhaha started on Tuesday when Macdonald decided to unload his Very Strong Opinions about comedy, the #MeToo movement and his sad celebrity friends in a controversial interview. Macdonald apologized on Twitter, but the damage was done: he was disinvited from an appearance on The Tonight Show, and he's had to spend multiple interviews trying to clarify and apologize for his initial statements... which has now led to him having to apologize for his apologies.
During that first interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Macdonald seemingly came to the defense of Louis C.K., Roseanne Barr and Chris Hardwick for their various scandals. "There are very few people that have gone through what they have, losing everything in a day," he said of C.K. and Barr. "Of course, people will go, 'What about the victims?' But you know what? The victims didn't have to go through that." He also said he was happy the #MeToo movement has "slowed down a little bit."
After the initial Twitter apology, Macdonald next appeared on The Howard Stern Show, where he argued that he "never defended" C.K. and Barr, and that he is "completely behind the #MeToo movement." He added, "you'd have to have Down syndrome to not feel sorry for — #MeToo is what you want for your daughters, and you want that to be the future world, of course. And I meet all kinds of women with terrible stories of what's happened to them. So, I wasn't talking about the victims. They asked me about Roseanne."
The Arc, an organization serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, criticized Macdonald for his "ignorance." They said in a statement: "It is disheartening that yet again we need to remind a public figure to show respect for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. What is particularly disturbing about Norm Macdonald's comment is that in his attempt to explain away his insensitivity to the #MeToo movement, he chose to mock a group of people who have a much greater understanding of victimization than he does. Mr. Macdonald's comment is doubly offensive and shows his ignorance about the disability community."
Macdonald then appeared on The View today, where he apologized for his "Down syndrome" remark: "It’s always bad when you have to apologize for an apology,” Macdonald told the co-hosts. “There is a thing with Howard where there’s a recklessness in the studio...There’s a word we used to use to mean stupid I was about to say that word, and then I stopped and thought about what’s the right word to say. I realized at that moment I did something unforgivable." Macdonald was seemingly referring to the word "retarded," which as the Times points out, he has used as an insult in the past.
Later in the segment, Macdonald got emotional adding, "The remark I made about people with Down syndrome was a terrible, terrible thing for me to say." He also tried to better explain his response about Hardwick, whom he previously said "got the blunt end of the stick there."
What I was talking about was Chris Hardwick, a particular comedian, a friend of mine. You know, if 500 women go against a man, obviously the guy is guilty. But the Chris Hardwick one, it was one woman against one man. So I was saying that I thought it was good that the pendulum was slowing and Chris Hardwick is as rehabilitated as he’s going to get - he still tells me he can’t walk down the street without people yelling stuff at him. But, that’s all I was trying to say.
In an interview on SiriusXM’s Unmasked series, hosted by Ron Bennington and due to air this Friday, Macdonald dug a little deeper to try once again to explain his conflicted feelings on C.K. and the concept of penance.
Comedians have said [Louis C.K.] should not be able to ever perform again. You know, if you’re a murderer you go to jail and they let you off twenty years later, and you try to get a job as a bus boy. And if the guy says “I’m not hiring that guy, he murdered.” But there’s penance, you know? And now you give him a job. That’s the humane thing to do. And then people go, “What about the murdered person?” Well, of course, he got worse. The guy that lost his life - he’s doing worse. But that doesn’t mean you can’t forgive or it’s impossible to forgive. I also don’t feel that anyone owes me an apology in public. I think, personally, that you owe an apology to anybody that you did ill to. You owe an apology to people that your actions hurt in a financial way or an emotional way. But nobody owes me an apology.
RON BENNINGTON: So that’s where your shock about comedians comes from?
I don’t understand why they’re so - I guess I just don’t understand how there can be no rules. If rules are drawn out and set down, then that’s one thing. I always thought the audience would decide whether you’re an objectionable comic or even a good comic. You know? So Louis went up here at the Comedy Cellar, and the audience let him know. I don’t know what happened. I wasn’t there. But if the audience don’t like him, then the club won’t book him. That’s how things work. Your heart can break for more than one person at the same time, you know? And a person can do a bad thing and you can feel sorry for that person, while feeling worse for the person that had the bad thing done to them.
You can watch the clip below:
During that Stern interview, Macdonald also got into how he learned he was cancelled from The Tonight Show (despite the fact that he actually defended Jimmy Fallon during the initial Hollywood Reporter interview):
Jimmy comes to me ... and he was like, 'How should we play this?' I said, 'I think we should say it at the end because if you say it at the beginning, you can't come back from that.' And he said, 'What am I supposed to ask?' And I said, "Jimmy, I don't exactly know.' So he leaves. Then someone suggested I start the show with an apology, and I go, 'It's not my show.' And Jimmy came back in and said, 'Can I talk to you, buddy?' He was very broken up about it. And he said, 'I don't know what to do. And I said, 'Should I not do the show?' And he said. 'I don't know. It's just that I have so much pressure from so many people.' He goes, 'People are crying.' And I say, 'People are crying?!' And he said, 'Yeah. Senior producers are crying.' And I said, 'Good lord! Bring them in and let me talk to them. I don't want to make people cry.' So Jimmy said, 'Come back whenever you want, but I think it will hurt the show tonight. And I said, 'Jimmy, I don't want to hurt your show. That is the last thing I want to do.'
Macdonald was asked about the crying staffers on The View as well, and responded, "I have been surprised because I never did anything. I spoke, but I don't want to be tossed in with people who actually did crimes, sins," he said, before joking, "I barely have consensual sex."
For anyone surprised to find Macdonald, a legendary stand-up comedian who has never been known for his topical political material, in a situation like this now, we direct you to the NY Times profile of him from last month for some clarity:
At 58, he said, he was having the disturbing experience of recognizing some of his own opinions as the thinking of an old man. There were new ideas about gender identity that he knew were right but couldn’t quite get his head around. He recounted what Dylan said to him when he broached this subject: “Why do you always need to feel you understand things?” The question had set him thinking, and he related it to me with a father’s uninhibited pride.
Many of these remarks he prefaced with the caveat that he knew he shouldn’t say them in front of a reporter. He couldn’t help it, though; he seemed compelled to speak honestly, the way he once felt compelled to finish a pack of cigarettes at bedtime. He even talked about politics. Mostly, though, he talked about his desire to transcend such things — current events, popular wisdom, even the quotidian details of his own life — to operate in the realm of the pure joke, one that’s still funny 100 years from now.
Next time, Macdonald might want to think about taking a page from Jerry Seinfeld's more taciturn book. When asked about Louis C.K.'s comeback attempt by Variety at the GOOD+ Foundation Benefit at Carnegie Hall last night, all Seinfeld said was: "It’s his thing to figure out the path. I don’t know the path to take."