Norm Macdonald’s ‘Nothing Special,’ filmed before his death, was the comedian’s last Netflix production

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On the afternoon of June 28, 2020, Norm Macdonald had an idea. This is not a normal day. The next morning, he will have a stem cell transplant at City of Hope Medical Center, east of Los Angeles. The cancer came back after seven years in remission.

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

“Good guy. Really?” she said.

“Lojo” is Lori Jo Hoekstra, his best friend, neighbor — they live in the same apartment complex in Los Angeles — and production partner for over two decades. In 2013, after doctors diagnosed McDonnell, she temporarily moved to Arizona with him to receive his first stem cell transplant after he disappeared from public view for four months. This time, the procedure will take place closer to home. But it would also make it hard for MacDonald to stick to his original plans for the next Netflix stand-up special.

he is Ready And plans to record two shows in Los Angeles.Then coronavirus The pandemic hit, closing entertainment venues across the country.Around the same time, MacDonald’s monthly hospital visits revealed that the original cancer, multiple myeloma, had metastasized to myelodysplastic syndrome, which often leads to acute leukemia. The diagnosis left Macdonald and Hoekstra dizzy and unsure of what to do next. Except for one thing: No matter what happens, MacDonald wants to make sure his material is on display.

It will. “Nothing special,” he previously named he died in september 61 years old, Complications from Cancer, starts airing on Netflix on Monday. It included a group of friends and admirers – David Letterman, Dave Chappell, Molly Shannon, Conan O’Brien, David Spade, Adam Sandler – who watched his final work together in Discussing the comedian on camera.

Norm MacDonald is Tolstoy in sweatpants. Even if he texts you in the middle of the night.

“Honestly, I’m happy that Norm is back,” O’Brien said of the experience in an interview. “I feel like he’s with us. It’s not a great gift to get along with Nomdor.”

People like to say no one can say it like Norm Macdonald because it’s true. He works for a business run by dealmakers and compromisers, but never promises to do anything that isn’t quite his way. His pattern is no pattern. In 1997, when he was the anchor of Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update,” a senior NBC executive told him to stop making jokes about former soccer star OJ Simpson, who was in a high-profile show. He was acquitted in the murder trial. Macdonald tells more jokes, until he was fired. Ten years later, he came to Blasphemy on comedian Bob Saget with a set of cliché G-rated dad jokes that were so bad and so perfect.His late night TV appearance was legendarysame as his Twitter Marathon.

MacDonald’s commitment to his craft extends to his personal life. He never explained his reasons, but those closest to him thought he was hiding his condition because he thought it was bad for his comedy. Audiences will see him differently. Booking agents and TV producers may stop before giving him a gig. In a culture steeped in confessionalism, MacDonald could have benefited from the sympathy and inevitable publicity that comes with talking about his cancer battle. Instead, the only people he told were Hoekstra, manager Marc Gurvitz and his immediate family, including his brother Neil; mother, Finn; and son Dylan, 29.

When MacDonald told her he wanted to shoot the night before the transplant, Hoekstra might have rolled his eyes or moaned.This is not the first time MacDonald throw an idea This made her feel difficult or even unreasonable. But Hoekstra, who is as methodical and meticulous as MacDonald, usually just shrugs off her initial doubts and gets her job done, which is what makes MacDonald’s ideas a reality.

“I’m not sure which cameras we’re going to use Or where to shoot,” she says now. “At first, I thought we had him sit in a chair a little further away from us. Then we decided to move, for lighting, just to get close. That’s why we shoot it where we shoot. “

They settled in her apartment. An HD camera filmed Macdonald from the front and an iPhone from the side. Lighting, Hoekstra turned on a bright light while Macdonald was clean-shaven, wearing headphones and a blue sports jacket over a pink golf shirt, as she sat at the kitchen counter beside. Her French bulldog, Aggie, barked a few times.

“Hello everyone,” MacDonald said as the camera rolled. “specification Apple ComputerDonald. This is my comedy special. that’s right. “

For the next 54 minutes, MacDonald kept passing his material.

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

She wrestled with whether the celebrity panel would affect MacDonald’s performance. She’s also not sure what to share about the comedian’s life. MacDonald doesn’t want anything about his illness to come out, but Hoekstra does want people to know what he’s going through.

Several rounds of chemotherapy in 2013 resulted in neuropathy that left his feet with persistent pain that he described as walking on shards of glass or walking through fire. That’s why MacDonald, who enjoys playing tennis and golf, went through a long period of inactivity. It’s also why he doesn’t always become vulnerable when he drops his social commitment.

Then there’s his appearance. The 1990s MacDonald was just over 6-foot-1, had blue eyes and dimples, had the look of a leading man, and had a brief date with supermodel Elle Macpherson. But after he was diagnosed with cancer, he had to continue taking dexamethasone, a powerful steroid that caused his face to swell.

“He pretended, ‘I’m a fat slacker, here I am eat fried chicken,’in his [YouTube talk show], but it’s a total bull —” said his brother, CBC’s Neil, “and he did it to come up with a reason to put on weight. “

MacDonald’s focus remains on comedy, often at the expense of everything else, Hoekstra said. Over the years, she saw him do hundreds of shows without repeating the same material in the same order. If he’s underperforming in many other areas of his life — whether it’s losing his hotel keys or forgetting how to log into his email — it’s because he pays too much attention to his work. That’s it, MacDonald was able to complete nearly an hour of material without looking at a single note the night before the stem cell transplant.

“Nothing was important to him other than standing up,” she said. “Obviously, he’s had some serious things in his life too, which are illnesses. But in career and in life, it’s all about comedy.”

“Nothing Special” is unlike anything you’ve seen from MacDonald, or, really, any stand-up comedy. It’s more aesthetically similar to Instagram Live than the fancy specials that Netflix usually puts out. It’s also a strange feeling to watch a stand-up comedian go through his entire show without an audience. Drew Michael did it for his 2018 HBO special, but it was as stylized as Absolut. “Nothing special” is inevitable.

“The format is different,” Letterman said in a post-performance chat. “Strictly speaking, it’s not standing. That’s another story.”

Neil MacDonald said he was concerned about how the special would be received – not for MacDonald but for Hoxstra, whose family was “in awe” for his loyalty to his brother.

“You know, the audience can be relentless,” he said. “Norm didn’t give him any advice if he was bombed. But she would.”

Hoekstra and Macdonald’s friendship is deeper than many marriages. After her SNL meeting as a writer’s assistant, MacDonald recruited her to be part of the “Weekend Update” team with him and senior writer Jim Downey. When MacDonald was fired from SNL, she followed him to Los Angeles to make a sitcom, then a string of projects, from his stand-up special to his Comedy Central sports show and his 2018 Netflix talk show “Norm” Macdonald Has a Show”. “

“She became Norm’s Friday girl and manager,” said Downey, a longtime SNL writer. “He couldn’t have done it without her.”

“She’s by far his most trusted material, especially what to wear,” says comedian Josh Gardner, who first worked with SNL’s Hoekstra and Macdonald in the 1990s. “They’re really kind of like a piano player’s left hand, right hand.”

‘Speaking of secrets’

In June 2020, Neil Macdonald flew in from Canada to donate blood for his brother’s transplant. At first, things went well. MacDonald appears to have gained weight and strength. He wrote a rough script for a film based on his critically acclaimed best-selling graphic novel, “Based on a True Story: A Memoir.” He started booking stand-up shows. Then, in early 2021, doctors told him he needed another stem cell transplant. Neil made another donation, and in March 2021, MacDonald, as always, signed in under his pseudonym, Stan Hooper,Formalities.

He rented a place in Newport Beach and walked along the water. His health has leveled off, but there are hopeful days. He’s scheduled for Caroline’s regular run on Broadway in November 2021. In June, he texted Gardner.

“Would you like to do a private show for me in Puerto Rico?” he wrote. “November. 5, baby.”

“Speaking of secrets,” said comedian Colin Quinn, “he booked a show with me in August to go to some casinos and we texted each other. “Hey, I can’t wait for the show. Yes, neither did I. “

Quinn could never quite figure out MacDonald. But he knew he liked being around him.

“I would have loved to take a picture of him, just to interview him, not anything personal, because he didn’t like that,” said Quinn, who replaced MacDonald as the “Weekend Update” anchor. “He’s just one of those people you want to hear when you watch small clips with him.”

Voiceover from the hospital

In July, MacDonald underwent a round of chemotherapy that was usually outpatient. But because of the pandemic, doctors wanted him to stay overnight. That’s when he somehow got infected. He will not leave City of Hope again, where he will spend his final six weeks.

He never talks about death. He thought he would recover. In late July, MacDonald was in the hospital voicing Seth MacFarlane’s show “The Orville” — unbeknownst to anyone on the other side. Hoekstra found a private room and turned off the beeping monitors and hospital walkie-talkies so no one knew where he was zooming in.

A month before his death, MacDonald told Hoekstra that he wanted to see the special they filmed. So she ran home, rummaged through a box of about 50 unlabeled video memory cards, eventually found the June 28 footage and hurried back to the hospital. MacDonald looked at it from the bed and gave her the note.

Nobody knows. After MacDonald died, Hoekstra left it to Gurwitz and Netflix. Everyone’s initial concern is the same: how does Norm look?No one wants to see haggard Cancer patient panting, trying to tell jokes. But this isn’t the MacDonald in “Nothing Special.”

“He looks great,” O’Brien said. “The way it was shot, it really had his secret weapon, those eyes and those dimples. His inner light was as strong as ever. I mean, it didn’t look like a guy who was weakened in any way.”

Earlier this month, O’Brien agreed to host a private McDonnell celebration for MC 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’s name is Macdonald “The most completely original person I’ve ever met. He doesn’t look like everyone else, doesn’t speak like everyone else, doesn’t follow many of the basic principles of comedy. He lives in his own strange world full of homeless, French Canadians, Califfs, catchers, wood-legged pigs, farmers, hooligans, and Frank Stallone, for reasons no one can understand.”

As he wrapped up his homage, O’Brien looked at the crowd and mused about how much he would miss MacDonald doing what others couldn’t.

“I don’t feel sorry for Norm, selfishly,” he said. “I feel sorry for all of us.”