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Norm Macdonald Defends Louis C.K. and Roseanne Barr
Norm Macdonald has a new show; it’s called, quite simply, Norm Macdonald Has a Show and it premieres September 14 on Netflix. Macdonald is also doing a lot of press for the new series, which is the streaming service’s latest attempt at a late-night program. And naturally, with the world being the way it is—and with comedy as a whole trying to tackle the complications of our current culture wars, from Trumpian mania to the #MeToo movement—Macdonald has a lot of thoughts about some spicy hot topics. And that’s fine. He’s a comedian with a talk show, and that’s his job.
And it’s in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter that Macdonald has aired a few of those controversial thoughts, namely about two of his controversial friends: Louis C.K. and Roseanne Barr. I don’t need to give you much background here: Louis C.K. publicly admitted to sexually harassing female comedians; Roseanne Barr tweeted a racist comment about former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett, which led to the cancellation of the Roseanne reboot and launch a second reboot (watch The Conners this fall on ABC!) without the show’s creator and star.
Macdonald has a personal connection to both of these comedians beyond just being professional peers; C.K. wrote the forward to his memoir, and Barr gave him his first TV writing job on the original iteration of Roseanne. So, naturally, Macdonald put his two publicly disgraced friends in touch as they faced personal and professional implosion:
Roseanne was so broken up [after her show’s reboot was cancelled] that I got Louis to call her, even though Roseanne was very hard on Louis before that. But she was just so broken and just crying constantly. There are very few people that have gone through what they have, losing everything in a day. Of course, people will go, “What about the victims?” But you know what? The victims didn’t have to go through that.
Here’s the thing: I’m not even mad, or annoyed, or surprised that Macdonald is defending C.K. and Barr. I feel like I’m supposed to be upset by the notion that their victims (specifically C.K.’s victims, as Barr never really harassed anyone, and Valerie Jarrett herself said she wasn’t bothered) haven’t gone through the hurt and pain that they face. I mean, it’s fundamentally untrue, particularly in C.K.’s case; he literally assaulted women, which is still a controversial thing to say if my Twitter mentions tell me anything. (Many men disagree with me! And most anonymous dudes with cartoon avatars will probably see this post and tell me to kill myself or whatever.) Victims of sexual harassment and assault—even if it’s something like being locked in a hotel room and forced to watch a man masturbate, which a lot of monstrous people think is not that big of a deal—have to live with that trauma forever. In the case of the women C.K. harassed, they spent nearly 15 years thinking about it while C.K. denied the stories publicly as simple gossip; he came out of his little nine-month comedy exile last month to perform at the Comedy Cellar, and the backlash was swift (and, I believe, justified).
But I digress.
You see, I am not mad at Norm Macdonald. I disagree with him, but I see what he’s doing. He’s a comedian, someone who pushes buttons and creates conversations; he also has some dear friends who fucked up and faced consequences for their fuck ups. We’re in a weird time, surely, when we’re enforcing punishments socially instead of legally—mostly because in the vast cases of sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault, the legal system doesn’t actually function to protect victims and punish abusers. (Once again: Go ahead and tell me on Twitter that I’m wrong if you feel that way.)
But I have a job, too, just like Norm Macdonald, which is why I’m writing this. It’s not because I want to. If it were up to me, I’d be writing about a lot of other things that didn’t involve the subjects of sexual harassment and racism in the entertainment industry (and in the world at large). Oh, would I have the opportunity to instead write about something that Norm Macdonald did two decades ago that I enjoyed. (For example: his Burt Reynolds impression on SNL! That was funny. Or the David Letterman one. I still say “Uhh, ya got any gum?” and chuckle to myself.)
Eddy Chen / Netflix
Norm Macdonald can be funny, and he can also be wrong. And that’s fine. He’s got a platform to say something, and so do many other people (including myself, and so do all of the strangers on the Internet who call me names when they disagree with me). But let’s be honest here. Louis C.K. and Roseanne Barr are two wealthy people. They would likely receive second chances if they actually put forth effort to understand why many people believe what they did was wrong. Louis C.K hasn’t done that; he essentially took a vacation. Roseanne Barr hasn’t done it either; she has cried and yelled and gone on television to talk about her free speech being taken away (it wasn’t) and claimed she’s not a racist.
Second chances are earned! Even Norm Macdonald must believe that. And while his famous friends are having a shitty year, they haven’t, as he suggests, “[lost] everything in a day.” You can watch episodes of Louie and Roseanne on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (and many of C.K.’s specials on Netflix). You can pay for them, meaning C.K. and Barr make a little bit of money, too. Or you could instead be mad about what another famous person has said in an interview, or be mad at me. Up to you!
In the meantime, there are a lot of people making comedy—Norm Macdonald included—that fill in the gaps left open by these two ousted comics. Maybe instead of looking back and arguing over what will (or should) happen to them, we can put our focus to the countless other voices who are making efforts to move on and move forward.