I thought of this while watching Norm Macdonald's new (terrific) standup special on Comedy Central. Norm constantly seems to be looking at the world through the eyes of a little kid and pointing out how silly it all is. But what takes it to another level in this special is the topics he's discussing: mortality, heart attacks, addiction, murder, graves, etc. His innocent-seeming approach combined with the heavy topics makes it something else to watch.
He's been hitting the press circuit lately and it's interesting to learn more about his approach. At Weekend Update, he said he was “doing a specific experiment, where I was trying to strip all cleverness from the joke and try and make it as blunt as possible. I always told everybody the perfect joke would be where the setup and punch line were identical.” Here's an example of that from his new Sports Show.
Not the best joke. But it's funny in its own way that the joke is him just saying the truth. Reminds me of one of my fave bits I've ever seen him do. It was back in the 90s during an interview and he was talking about Joe Camel:
So great. Next time Norm was on the show, Dennis Miller brought it up again and called Norm "a profane child."
Norm also talked about this blunt approach in an Onion interview.
AVC: How important is it to you to be original?
NM: Kind of all-important. I’m not original, but I strive toward it as much as possible. I tried really hard on Weekend Update to do something that I considered original, which was, I tried to cut all cleverness out of the joke. I’ve always been very averse to innuendo, especially sexual. I find it cowardly or something. Like on Will & Grace, my mother will laugh at it, then I’m like, “You know what that joke’s about, right? Like, that one guy fucked that guy in the ass.” And then she’s aghast, and I’m like, “That’s what he just said when he talked about the tunnel! So why didn’t he just say it?” It always maddens me that people can laugh at sexual innuendo, then you say what it really means, and they’re like “Ah! I can’t hear that!” 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.
And lastly, Bill Simmons just interviewed Norm on his podcast too. Interesting discussion in there of how Wright, Hedberg, and Rodney are three guys he thinks of as having the ideal sync between performance style and writing.