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‘Nothing Special’, shot just before Norm Macdonald’s death, is the comedian’s latest Netflix offer.

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On the afternoon of June 28, 2020, Norm Macdonald had an idea. This was not a normal day. The next morning, there would be a stem cell transplant at the City of Hope Medical Center just east of Los Angeles. The cancer, which had been in remission for seven years, had returned.

“Lojo, I want to shoot tonight,” he said.

“Oh, son. No dear?” said.

“Lojo” is her best friend, neighbor Lori Jo Hoekstra – they lived in the same apartment complex in Los Angeles – and her production partner for more than two decades. In 2013, after doctors diagnosed Macdonald, she temporarily moved to Arizona with him, as Macdonald disappeared from the public eye for four months to get his first stem cell transplant. This time, the procedure would take place closer to home. But that would also make it harder for Macdonald to stick to his original plan for the next Netflix stand-up special.

He ready for the stage and plans to record a double performance in Los Angeles. Then coronavirus The pandemic has hit, closing entertainment venues across the country. At about the same time, Macdonald’s monthly visit to the hospital revealed that the original cancer, multiple myeloma, had metastasized. myelodysplastic syndrome, this can often lead to acute leukemia. The diagnosis caused Macdonald and Hoekstra to turn around and unsure of next steps. Except for one thing: Whatever happened, Macdonald wanted to make sure his material was shown.

And it will. “Nothing Special” as he previously called it died in september 61 years oldComplications from cancer begins streaming Monday on Netflix. It features footage of a group of friends and fans – David Letterman, Dave Chappelle, Molly Shannon, Conan O’Brien, David Spade, Adam Sandler – discussing the comedian on camera after watching his latest work together.

Norm Macdonald was Tolstoy in sweatpants. Even when he texts you in the middle of the night.

“To be honest with you, I had that kind of joy that Norm is back,” O’Brien said in an interview about the experience. “I felt like you were here with us. Isn’t that a nice gift to be with Norm a little longer?”

People like to say that he’s nothing like Norm Macdonald, and they say it because it’s true. He worked in a business run by dealmakers and compromisers, and yet he could never commit to doing anything less than his own way. His pattern was that he had no pattern. In 1997, when he hosted the “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live”, a senior NBC executive told him to stop making jokes about former football star OJ Simpson, who was acquitted in a high-profile murder case. Macdonald told more jokesuntil fired. Ten years later, it came to an irreverent roast by comedian Bob Saget filled with a series of stale, G-rated Dad jokes, they were so awful they were perfect. His late night TV appearances were as follows: legendaryLike him tweetathons.

Macdonald’s devotion to his art also extended to his personal life. He never explained why, but those closest to him think he kept his illness a secret because he believed it would be bad for his comedy she. The audience would look at him differently. Booking agents and TV producers might pause before giving him a gig. In a culture immersed in the confessional, Macdonald could have benefited from the sympathy and inevitable publicity that talking about the cancer battle would bring. Instead, all he says is Hoekstra, his close family, including manager Marc Gurvitz and his older brother Neil; mother, Ferne; and her 29-year-old son, Dylan.

Hoekstra may have rolled her eyes or groaned when she said she wanted to film the night before Macdonald’s transplant. This was not Macdonald’s first voyage. threw an idea it seemed difficult and even illogical to him. But as orderly and meticulous as Macdonald was proudly shy, Hoekstra often cast aside his initial skepticism and did his job, which was to realize Macdonald’s ideas.

“I wasn’t sure which cameras to use. or where to shoot” he says now. “At first, I think we sat him in a chair a little farther away. Then we decided to move on to illuminate and get even closer. That’s why we shot where we did it.”

They settled in his apartment. An HD camera captured Macdonald from the front and an iPhone from the side. For illumination, Hoekstra turned on a bright lamp, and Macdonald sat on the kitchen counter, clean-shaven, wearing headphones and a blue sports jacket over a pink golf shirt. Aggie, the French bulldog, barked a few times.

“Hello everyone,” Macdonald said as the camera turned. “Norm Matchdonald. And that’s my comedy special. TRUE.”

And for the next 54 minutes, Macdonald delivered his material nonstop.

For Hoekstra, working on the special following Macdonald’s death was a distraction. Now, after delivering the final cut, she struggles with how to talk about it.

He grapples with whether his celebrity panel is moving away from Macdonald’s performance. He’s also not sure what to share from the comedian’s life. Macdonald didn’t want anything to come out about his illness, but there are things Hoekstra wants people to know about what he’s been through.

Rounds of chemotherapy in 2013 led to neuropathy in his feet that caused constant pain, so bad that he described it as walking on shards of glass or through fire. This is why Macdonald, who likes to play tennis and golf, has been inactive for a long time. It’s also why she doesn’t always get flaky when she gives up on social commitments.

Then there was the physical appearance. At just over 6 feet tall, blue eyes and dimples, 1990s Macdonald had the leading male appearance and briefly dated supermodel Elle Macpherson. But after being diagnosed with cancer, she had to use dexamethasone, a powerful steroid that caused her face to swell.

“I’m a fat idiot and here I am,” he faked. eating fried chicken‘ during his [YouTube talk show]”She was doing it to find a reason to gain weight,” says her brother Neil, a journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Hoekstra says Macdonald’s focus often falls on comedy at the expense of everything else. She has seen him do hundreds of shows over the years without repeating the same material in the same order. If he seems dysfunctional in many other areas of life, whether it’s losing his hotel keys or forgetting how to log in to his email, it’s because of how much he cares about his job. That’s how Macdonald was able to extract nearly an hour of material the night before his stem cell transplant, without looking at a single note.

“Nothing mattered to him except that he stood up,” she says. “Obviously there were serious things in his life that he also dealt with, namely illness. But professionally and in life, it was all about comedy.”

“Nothing Special” is unlike anything you’ve seen in Macdonald or any stand-up, really. An Instagram Live often has more in common with an aesthetic than the slick specials offered by Netflix. It’s also a strange feeling to watch a stand-up comedian do his entire routine without an audience. Drew Michael did this for the 2018 HBO special, but it’s just as stylized as an Absolut Vodka. “Nothing Special” is bare of necessity.

“The form is different,” Letterman says in the post-performance chat. “Strictly speaking, it’s not stand-up. This is something else.”

Neil Macdonald says he’s worried about how the special invitation will be received—not for Macdonald, but for Hoekstra, whose devotion to his younger brother has left his family “in awe.”

“You know, audiences can be brutal,” he said. “Norm didn’t give an f— if he bombed. But it is.”

Hoekstra and Macdonald had a friendship that went deeper than many marriages. After meeting on SNL, where he was an assistant writer, Macdonald recruited him to be part of the “Weekend Update” team with him and senior writer Jim Downey. When Macdonald was fired from SNL, he followed her to Los Angeles to work on sitcoms and then on a host of projects, from stand-up specials to his sports show for Comedy Central and the 2018 Netflix talk show “Norm Macdonald Has a Show.” worked. ”

“Friday became the kind of girl and manager of Norm,” says Downey, a longtime SNL writer. “He couldn’t have done it without she, she.”

“It was by far the most reliable sounding board for what to wear on a special night,” says comedian Josh Gardner, who first worked with Hoekstra and Macdonald on SNL in the 1990s. “They were really kind of left-handed, a pianist’s right hand.”

‘Speaking of privacy’

In June 2020, Neil Macdonald had flown from Canada to donate blood for his brother’s transplant. At first things went well. Macdonald seemed to be gaining weight and strength; produced a rough script for a movie adaptation of the critically acclaimed, best-selling comic, “Based on a True Story: A Memoir.” He began to organize stand-up concerts. Then, in early 2021, doctors told him he needed another stem cell transplant. Neil donated again, and in March 2021 Macdonald debuted, as usual, under his own pseudonym, Stan Hooperoperation is done.

He rented a place in Newport Beach and walked along the water. His health had stopped, but there were also hopeful days. It’s booked for its regular run on Broadway’s Carolines for November 2021. He texted Gardner in June.

“Would you like to open a private concert for me in Puerto Rico?” he wrote. “November. 5 babies.”

“Speaking of privacy,” says comedian Colin Quinn, “he arranged a job with me to build a few casinos in August, and we texted each other. ‘Hey, I can’t wait to do the concert. Yeah, me too.’ ”

Quinn never quite figured out Macdonald. But he knew he loved being with her.

“I would have loved to have filmed him and just interviewed him, not about anything personal, because he didn’t like it,” says Quinn, who has replaced Macdonald as the “Weekend Update” announcer. “When you watch small episodes with him, he’s just one of those guys you want to hear him talk about.”

Voiceover from the hospital

In July, Macdonald walked in for a round of chemotherapy, which is normally an outpatient. But due to the pandemic, doctors asked him to stay overnight. That’s when he somehow got infected. He would never leave Hope City again, having spent the last six weeks there.

He never talked about dying. He thought he would get better. In late July, while in the hospital, Macdonald voiced for Seth MacFarlane’s show “The Orville” – something no one on the other side knew. Hoekstra found a private room and turned off the beeper monitors and the hospital intercom so no one could tell where he was Zooming from.

And a month before he died, Macdonald told Hoekstra he wanted to see the show they were shooting. So he ran home and searched a box of about 50 unlabeled video memory cards, and eventually found the June 28 footage and went back to the hospital. Macdonald watched him from his bed and handed over his notes.

Nobody else knew. After Macdonald’s death, it was left to Hoekstra to tell Gurvitz and Netflix. Everyone initially had the same concern: What does the norm look like? Nobody wanted to see a gaunt The cancer patient is panting, trying to tell jokes. But this isn’t Macdonald from “Nothing Special.”

“It looks great,” says O’Brien. “The way he shoots really includes his secret weapon, those eyes and those dimples. And his inner light shines stronger than ever before. I mean, he didn’t look like a shrunken man in any way.”

Earlier this month, O’Brien agreed to host a special celebration of Macdonald at the Fonda Theater in Los Angeles. There were about 250 people in the room, including Dylan, Neil, Hoekstra, Bill Murray, Bob Odenkirk, Kevin Nealon, and Judd Apatow.

O’Brien called Macdonald “The most completely original person I’ve ever met. He didn’t look like anyone, didn’t talk like everyone else, or didn’t follow many of the basic principles of comedy. He lived in his own strange world populated by hobos, French Canadians, card snipers, trappers, a wooden-legged pig, farmers, hooligans, and for reasons no one would ever understand, Frank Stallone.

O’Brien looked at the crowd as he collected his tribute and said wistfully how much he would miss Macdonald doing what no one else could.

“Selflessly, I don’t feel bad for Norm,” she said. “I feel bad for all of us.”

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