Toward the end of Hitler’s Dog, Gossip & Trickery, his new contribution to Netflix’s expanding lineup of stand-up comedy, Norm Macdonald admits to the audience, “Nothing I’ve said is really of substance.” Everyone in the room laughs on cue, just as everyone watching the new special at home will do as well, but Macdonald is being completely serious. After all, he’s not up there on the stage delivering a sermon. Instead, the Saturday Night Live alum is performing some of his best material in years, well-crafted jokes designed to make you laugh at the smallest, silliest things.
Yet this is the same man who, during his final appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2015, delivered what Letterman biographer Jason Zinoman dubbed the “most memorable of many emotional tributes” to the retiring host. “Mr. Letterman is not for the mawkish, and he has no truck for the sentimental,” a visibly emotional Macdonald told the Ed Sullivan Theater. “If something is true, it is not sentimental. And I say in truth, I love you.”
That moment and the comedy preceding it were infused with a great deal of substance. And seeing as how some of the same material, perfected by constant touring over the past two years, pops up in Hitler’s Dog, it’s difficult to accept Macdonald’s self-deprecation at face value. Though as the 57-year-old comedian explains to Uproxx, it has less to do with substance or self-reflective humor, and more to do with how he identifies himself as a working comic. Others have pondered why the Canadian entertainer doesn’t have his own TV show (or similar trimmings), yet Macdonald cherishes stand-up above all else. Hence why, when Macdonald realized I was calling him from Boston, he couldn’t help diving right into the city’s comedy history.
Norm Macdonald: I did the special in Boston.
Right. I was out of town then. I noticed you filmed it at the Wilbur.
Yeah, the Wilbur.
Yeah. I always like Boston. I like that theater a lot. Most comics’ comics have come out of Boston. It’s a very comedy-savvy audience, usually. Stand-up savvy, I should say. That part is always cool about Boston. It’s weird because, whenever you do Boston, you always do one night at the Wilbur, which is the cool theater. The next night — you don’t have to, but I always do — is at this Chinese restaurant. I can’t remember where it is, exactly. It’s about an hour away. I destroyed the first night, and the next night we were at this weird Chinese restaurant. I don’t know why, but stand-up has been done at Chinese restaurants ever since I began.
In the heyday of the Boston stand-up scene, the Ding Ho was one of the most popular comedy spots. It’s the Comedy Studio now, but there’s definitely a long tradition of great performers at that location. That, and Chinese food.