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I'm not one to lament the death of public figures. Not that I'm a callous person. It's just that…well, death happens. And at least when a public figure dies, we can always refer back to their body of work.
But I spent a lot of time yesterday rewatching clips of Norm MacDonald, a comedic legend who passed away yesterday at 61 years young.
You may not have found Norm MacDonald all that funny. You might not even know who Norm MacDonald was prior to yesterday. Or perhaps right now. Those realities speak volumes about who Norm was.
It’s been said that when people want to laugh, they watch a comedian. But when comedians want to laugh, they watch Norm MacDonald. Norm was, by all accounts, a comedian’s comedian.
I like the idea of being known as a podcaster’s podcaster, don’t you? With that, here are three lessons podcasters can learn from the life of comedian Norm MacDonald.
1. Know What Aspects Of Podcasting You Are Really Good At
This harkens back to the advice given by Tom Webster of Edison Research that I broke down a few weeks ago, but with a subtle twist: Know who you are and who you are for. And sure, why they are there. That’s still important.
Norm was quite good at a lot of aspects of comedy, but there were many he’s on record as saying he didn’t really enjoy. However, Norm was a master of the fundamentals of comedy, which is why he had a long career writing for comedy and was able to take the concept of comedic timing to an absurd extreme.
As a podcaster, you’ve acquired a variety of skills. You know there’s more to podcasting than just sitting behind the microphone, asking questions, or editing audio, right. You know that you don't have to be great at every one of those aspects. Nor do you have to enjoy doing every single “job” of podcasting. In fact, podcasting is already at a point where you can, if you choose, specialize in particular areas of podcasting. And you probably should do that, so you can get really good at a few of them.
Just make sure you choose the fundamentals and the mechanics of what makes podcasting work as something to get really good at. Just like Norm understood the fundamentals and the mechanics of what makes comedy work.
2. Surround Yourself With Others Who Are Really Good At Podcasting
I don't assume to have any sort of special knowledge about Norm's private life. But I know that he traveled in an elite circle of comedic greats in his professional life. Perhaps that was helped by the fact that comedians—particularly stand-up comedians— are inherently more social than solitary podcasters toiling away.
But we podcasters often have plenty of opportunities to be social with other podcasters, either virtually and IRL. We can also pick and choose which other podcasters we spend our time with to a large degree. Many of us are fortunate to choose which podcasts is we collaborate with to bring new projects to life.
Not that we should surround ourselves with our podcasting doppelgangers. Norm palled around with comedians with wildly different comedic styles than his. Nor should you work to become a sycophant to the biggest podcast stars. Norm’s buddies weren’t always the most in-demand comedians of the day. Tastes change, in comedy and in podcasting, even though the mechanics and the fundamentals stay relatively constant.
Who do you admire and respect in podcasting? Who feels the same way about the craft of podcasting that you feel about the craft of podcasting? Are you connected? If not, what steps can you take to make that happen?
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3. Don’t Try To Please The Audience
Arguably the most counterintuitive podcasting advice you’ve heard all day, but that’s Norm for you.
Throughout Norm’s career, he tried a lot of different things. Many things that, for many people, just didn’t work. I’d be surprised if 25% of the people I’ve known in my life would put Norm’s name on a list of the greatest comedians of all time. And a full 50% of my acquaintances probably don’t find him funny at all.
Ignoring the fact that 100% of that 50% are so very, very wrong, there’s this: Norm didn’t care. Few comedians try to appeal to everyone, but Norm took that to an extreme. He’d happily tell a joke on stage that maybe one or two people in attendance would get. Though those two people would be howling out peals of laughter.
Unbastardizing Tom’s quote mentioned earlier: Norm absolutely knew who he was for and why they were there. And he didn’t care much about those in attendance who he was not for, regardless of why they were there.
Instead, Norm knew that there was a good chance that somewhere in the audience were people who he was for. People who groked his approach to humor. Maybe that was only one or two people. Maybe it was half the room. It didn’t matter to Norm. He didn’t so much play to “his people” as much as he played to a particular kind of person.
That’s not playing to the audience. That’s having confidence that an audience for you is out there.
Thanks for the laughs, Norm. You were and remain an inspiration to me in all things I do.
If you found value within this episode, please consider passing some of that value back to me. You can do that a few different ways. One is with BuyMeACoffee.com/evoterra. Another is by considering a sponsorship of the program. Details at PodcastPontifications.com/sponsor.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.