On September 14, 2021, renowned comedian Norm MacDonald passed away after a long, private battle with acute leukemia at the age of 61. Matthew Walther, contributing writer for the New York Times, editor for The Lamp, and contributing writer for The American Conservative, wrote an article on the Christian comedy of Norm MacDonald.
Cale took a look at his article, the state of Christian comedy, and the life of Norm MacDonald on The Cale Clarke Show recently.
Walther’s initial point was that the state of wholesome, Christian comedy has been on the decline for quite some time now. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who is an active member of society. We’re constantly faced with immoral entertainment at the hands of an evolving and progressive Hollywood. Christians are hard-pressed to pick through the filth of today to find digestible content for entertainment purposes.
Besides Jen Fulwiler, you would be forgiven for being unable to name another practicing Christian or Catholic comedian. When all of the obituaries came out for MacDonald, Walther found it surprising that nobody mentioned his faith, given that strong religious practices in his industry are a rarity. Cale pointed out that that may have been because when he did talk about serious topics or his private life, it was very difficult to separate the reality from the jokes. As a long-time comic, it can eventually blend together.
But one issue that MacDonald spoke out on explicitly and in no uncertain terms was the abortion issue. Pushing the unclarity of his jokes and ribbing aside, he did an interview with comedian, commentator, and host Dennis Miller a couple of years back where he expressed his views. “What side of the abortion thing did you come down on? Are you pro-choice or pro-life?” asked Miller. MacDonald stuttered for a moment, initially not wishing to expose his views. “It’s kind of unpopular,” he said. “I don’t like saying it because it’s unpopular…Nah, I’m very pro-life. I just don’t think a woman should have the right to choose to murder a baby.”
Cale implied that maybe this wasn’t very well-known because people opted to bury it, withholding celebrity endorsement of countercultural, moral conduct. While MacDonald is well-known for a great many things, Walther points out that he doesn’t get enough credit for the way his comedy honors the dignity of the human person.
At the roast of Bob Saget, MacDonald gave a litany of heartfelt jabs filled with dad jokes and one-liners aimed at celebrities around the room. And at the end, he said, “In all seriousness, Bob was the first comedian I ever saw perform when I was a boy, live, and I loved him. But one thing that bonds us as comedians is we’re bitter and jealous and we hate anyone who has any success, but Bob honestly has never had an unkind word for anybody, and I love him. And I hope everybody else does, so…I just wanted to say that. Thank you.”
Cale pointed out that much of MacDonald’s Christian messages were implicit or slid under the radar. He referenced an online exchange that MacDonald had with Richard Dawkins, the famed atheist biologist. In it, MacDonald wrote to Dawkins asking why a creature such as the homo sapien (which Dawkins believed existed purely for survival, reproduction, etc.) would commit suicide. If we exist solely for procreation and the perpetuation of our species, then why would we choose “non-existence”? MacDonald was pointing at the idea of a greater purpose. Catholics believe that the greater purpose is to love, serve, and honor God in the short time we have on this planet.
In one of his comedy sets, Norm asked his audience to consider the argument between theism and atheism and the way he looks at it. He said if he were to hazard a guess based on a 50/50 probability that one of them was absolutely correct, he would pick theism every time because of Pascal’s Wager: If there is a God, and you live immorally, you lose everything and suffer forever. If you live a morally just life, you gain everything and eternal happiness. And if the outcome is the same no matter how you live in the godless world, then risk vs. reward analysis would suggest you live as if there is a God. You have everything to gain if you’re right and only fleeting pleasure to lose if you’re wrong.
In an interview with Larry King years later in which he acknowledged his Christianity outright, he was asked if he believed in eternal life. He responded, “I don’t believe it. I have faith. What people don’t understand about faith is that you have to choose it.” Both Satan and saints believe in God. The difference between a demon and a saint is that a saint chooses God and a demon rejects it.
Listen to the whole discussion below:
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