If you’re like us, you’re probably spending most of your waking hours stressing out over the same thing: the pandemic rampaging across the globe. It’s not just about possibly contracting COVID-19, or about accidentally passing it on to others; it’s shut down all aspects of life, and there’s a chance by the end many will lose their jobs. A vaccine is nowhere near completion, so there’s only one cure for the panic, and it really is only palliative: You need to find things that make you laugh. One example, as per Vulture: Norm Macdonald’s recent stand-up set, in which he dedicated a good nine minutes to coronavirus jokes.
You can watch a surreptitiously filmed video of Macdonald’s set above, and spoiler: It’s good. Every subject is theoretically funny, but it takes a comic with ninja-like skills to find humor in something so un-funny as a super-virus that may leave over a million dead in America alone. Thankfully, Macdonald is that ninja.
The set happened at the Hollywood Improv on March 13, mere days before Los Angeles shut down all bars and restaurants, including comedy clubs. At first Macdonald treads lightly, not willing to be a mere shock jock. “I wasn’t going to talk about the coronavirus,” Macdonald says when broaching the subject, to a mixture of alarm and a kind of relief, as though some in the audience felt a weight lifted off their shoulders.
But he does talk about the coronavirus, and he does what a good comedian does best: He makes the unfunny funny. “My plan is to not die, survive long enough where they find a cure,” he said. “You know, some people will have to die,” he added, then started laughing at the awful thing he just said, “but finally they’ll find a cure for me.”
The coronavirus portion of Macdonald’s set walked a fine line, making jokes while expressing real concern for what’s going on. Some jokes were more gallows humor than others. “It’s funny that we all now know how we’re gonna die. It’s just a matter of what order at this point,” he said, to big laughs. He mocked the routines we (hopefully) all are doing, from avoiding touching our faces to epic hand-washing stints. “Remember the good old days, when washing your hands didn’t take three hours?”
Macdonald even confessed that making coronavirus jokes is essentially a form of therapy. “I’ll be talking all kinds of horses*it up here, but every moment I’ll be thinking, ‘Oh this disease,’” he told the crowd. He even said he’d been told not to talk about it during his set. “I was talking to the manager. He was like, ‘Nobody wants to hear about the f*cking coronavirus. They came here not to hear about the coronavirus.”
But Macdonald knew they did want to hear about the coronavirus, even if, by showing up to a public stand-up set, they were defying it. “Good choice you made, to come out and sit beside total strangers,” Macdonald told his audience.
Macdonald even saw an upside to the hell we’re facing. For one thing, this pandemic “comes at a good time,” which is to say in our brave new world, where we have “our f*cking magic phones and computers and everything,” he said. “I don’t need no f*cking people. It’s the last step between us and happiness anyway: people,” he joked. He said he was planning to spend what could be his remaining days watching television. “We got our TVs. F*cking more interesting people than anyone I know on there,” he said. “I can say I spent my last moments on earth with…Max Keller.”
You can watch the first part of Macdonald’s coronavirus set above and the second right here.