September 15, 2021

I didn't even know he was sick.

It was the summer without cheer.

Marred in memory by countless days all the same, long spent oppressed under the dry heel of summer’s inferno, I remember mostly the white-washed skies of Los Angeles as being filtered through a filthy haze—thanks to California wild fires and a newfound delight in Marlboro Lights.

So, too, there were the nights. Those I remember less, having purposefully drowned my 24-year-old hippocampus with a constant barrage of six-pack anesthetics, all in the hopes of avoiding the insomnia-bred spirals that dragged me into the quicksand of my own regrettable past.

Thankfully, the summer of 2017 is four long years gone. I made it out alive. I owe this primarily to Mr. Time himself, but also to the very few sources of joy that remained by my side during that time. Sure, I could spend a good minute writing about it all—those grueling details you never asked for. I could even go so far as to provide you with the grotesque play-by-play of what those debauchery-filled nights looked like, condensing the timeline of my destructive antics down to the hour, the minute, and perhaps even, the nitty gritty gram. However, lucky for you, I’m not gonna do that. And I say that for both of our sakes.

Instead, I come to you in the face of today’s news, which is what has sparked the memory of those ugly summer days, and furthermore, is the only reason I bother to mention them at all. It is a piece of news that marks a significant loss for humanity—a loss of which I feel prompted to speak on, if only for the reason that it involves the subject who single-handedly made me smile during my darkest of times: my favorite comedian, Norm Macdonald.

I was at work when I learned that Norm had died. I received three text messages telling me so.

“Sixty-one years old,” I was told. “Secret battle with cancer for nine years.”

I couldn't fucking believe it. The old chunk of coal...dead?

My initial thought was that it had to be a joke—some Andy Kaufman-esque ruse; or perhaps there was the possibility that some internet troll had just gone and changed Norm's entry on wikipedia for shits and giggs. Either way, I had to investigate. Two seconds later, I found TMZ at the top of the page, the first to confirm. Fuck!

Below it were the headlines from the NY Times, NBC, Twitter...every platform and outlet pretty much said same thing: Norm Macdonald, 1959-2021. Talk about an awful punchline.

But do you want to know what the worst part of the joke was? 

I didn’t even know he was sick.

 In fact, that is what the whole world was saying—close friends of Norm included. They were also the same exact words Norm himself used as the punchline in one of my favorite comedy bits he ever produced (skip to 4:36).

During the summer of 2017, I had become so addicted to the dopamine hits Norm gave me that I even told the girl who has been cutting my hair since college about it. Her reaction? Abrupt laughter. Yeah...followed immediately by a reply that rocked me to my funny bone. She said: “You know I cut his hair?”

And it was true! Norm would apparently come in from time to time for a simple haircut, she told me, sitting in the same seat as I, always bringing someone with him since the man had never learned to drive a car. It was a moment of synchronicity that blew my then miserable mind. I mean, seriously, what were the odds? Nothing Norm would ever have bet on in his gambling days. It had to be next to impossible.

With this revelation, my love for Norm only grew. Then, in January of 2018, I had the opportunity to see the old chunk of coal perform stand up live; and so, one rare, wet evening, I ended up finding myself driving from Hollywood to the Irvine Improv by way of Friday night rush hour. At the time, I was taking a booze hiatus and since I could find no one else who shared the same Norm obsession as I, I decided to cruise solo. All that mattered to me was that by fighting my way through panic-induced drivers who had seemingly never seen a drop of rain before, I would be eliminating the risk of never being able to see Norm perform his art live and in-person.

The traffic ended up being so bad that when I arrived I didn't think I had time to run to the restroom without risking a shitty back-corner seat, even though I had left my apartment two hours before doors were to open. Instead, my dumb ass thought the better idea would be to piss in a Dasani water bottle.

I laughed my goddamn ass through that show—with piss all over my pants. But did I give a shit? Hell no. I had one of the best seats in the house.

Not often is it that one gets to be in the same room as one of their heroes. In light of today's news, I am sure as hell feeling lucky to have been able to witness Norm Macdonald live—especially after having watched so many countless hours of his podcast, Norm Macdonald Live.

Thank you for all the smiles you have given me, ya dirty dog. You have no idea how much they've meant.

All rights reserved.
Brando Conklin © 2021