Norm Macdonald back in Aspen for Laugh Fest show on Thursday
IF YOU GO …
What: Aspen Laugh Festival
Where: Wheeler Opera House; Limelight Hotel; Limelight Snowmass; Silver City Saloon
When: Through Saturday, Feb. 22
More info: wheeleroperahouse.com
2020 ASPEN LAUGH FESTIVAL
WEDNESDAY, FEB. 19
4 p.m. - Consensual Improv at Silver City Saloon (Free)
7:30 - The Second City at the Wheeler Opera House (sold out)
THURSDAY, FEB. 20
4 p.m. - Becky Robinson and Jackie Tohn at Silver City (Free)
7:30 - Norm Macdonald at the Wheeler (Sold out)
FRIDAY, FEB. 21
4 p.m. - Janae Burris, Joe Praino, Becky Robinson at Silver City (Free)
5:30 - Vir Das at Limelight Lounge ($30)
7:30 - Taylor Tomlinson, Adam Ray, Dusty Slay at the Wheeler ($45)
8 - Vir Das at Limelight Lounge ($30)
SATURDAY, FEB. 22
3 p.m. - Dusty Slay and Joe Praino at Limelight Snowmass (Free)
4 - Janae Burris and Jackie Tohn at Silver City (Free)
5:30 - Nancy Norton at Limelight Lounge ($30)
7 - Trevor Noah at the Wheeler (Sold out)
8 - Nancy Norton at Limelight Lounge ($30)
Just about every stand-up comic who comes through Aspen feels obliged to ridicule the resort a little bit. Usually they offer a lame and lazy few lines about Aspen’s lack of oxygen and abundance of billionaires.
But every once in awhile, these obligatory jokes do score.
Maybe the best example of an outsider’s Aspen jokes came from Norm Macdonald, during a 2014 set at Belly Up. In his signature deadpan, Macdonald — sparking a lighter and mouthing a cigarette he never quite lit throughout his set — went through the litany of common sense deterrents to human life in Aspen, from the thin air to the common black bear home invasions, and buttoned it up hilariously with how absurd the home prices are.
Macdonald returns to Aspen on Thursday night for a sold-out headlining spot at the Wheeler Opera House’s Aspen Laugh Festival. It opened Tuesday with the annual Colorado Comedy Night and runs through Saturday at the Wheeler and other venues, including the festival’s first event in Snowmass Village and a closing-night performance by “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah.
In the years since Macdonald was fired from “Saturday Night Live” in 1998, he’s hit the road for stand-up shows between acting gigs in movies like “Dirty Work” and in a string of short-lived situation comedies and TV shows like “Norm” and “A Minute with Stan Hooper.” He’s blunt about why he keeps coming back to stand-up.
“It’s the only one I’m good at,” he said during a previous swing through Aspen, where he’s performed since the old HBO Comedy Fest days and where he is known to drop in to skate at local rinks during his visits.
In 2018 he premiered the first 10 episodes of “Norm Macdonald Has a Show,” a sort of anti-talk show deconstruction of the form that opened with David Spade, Macdonald and sidekick Adam Eget talking for 20 minutes about how Macdonald didn’t know how to do a talk show.
On the second episode, when guest Drew Barrymore doesn’t get Macdonald’s Dracula joke, Macdonald says with a wide smile: “I love when people don’t get it,” which is the closest thing you’ll hear to a Norm Macdonald mission statement. He doesn’t care if he gets the laugh, and that’s what’s made him timeless.
Many argue that he is the best “Weekend Update” anchor “Saturday Night Live” has had, and he made a case for himself as a great late-night style host with the Netflix series. But to hear him tell it, he’s a one- or two-trick pony made for doing stand-up and riffing as a guest of Conan O’Brien and David Letterman.
“I’m pretty good at being a guest on shows, but stand-up is the only one that I’m good at,” he said. “The other ones I just stumbled into from stand-up.”
His classic impressions of Burt Reynolds and Bob Dole on “Saturday Night Live” notwithstanding, he admits he’s not an actor.
“Stand-up is not good training for an actor,” he said. “If you do Second City or Groundlings or something, it trains you to be an actor. But stand-up would only train you to do, like, a soliloquy. It’s weird. … You’re just talking to yourself for an hour.”
His stand-up tends to be pretty dark, with its comedic possibilities turned up by Macdonald’s matter-of-fact delivery and what he calls his “weird voice,” a style that defined his “Weekend Update” years and has recently somehow carried bits as grim-seeming as one about his grandfather’s suicide.
On “Weekend Update,” Macdonald memorably used non-sequiturs and random references — David Hasselhoff, for instance, and Frank Stallone — to pepper the segment. That free-association-as-comedy style has been widely influential, most readily seen in shows like “Family Guy.”
The surrealist approach to the faux news desk, he said, was simply a result of the glut of talk shows in the ’90s: “It was because on ‘Update,’ it had already been done 100 times by the time I did it. There were like 20 talk shows, and all these monologues, so every joke had been done all week long, until on Saturday it would have been stupid to do. How are you going to do a joke about what happened on Monday? … So I said, ‘Let’s just do weird jokes.’ Even our political jokes weren’t really political. They were weird.”
On a recent trip to Spain, I discovered something that I believe tops the espresso martini. It’s called a barraquito.