Once again, the third time appears to be the charm when it comes to just saying some words about a controversial topic without making it sound like something everyone else at Thanksgiving dinner would just silently, awkwardly cringe at without wanting to acknowledge.
Norm Macdonald has had the kind of week that makes publicists find a back-alley doctor to supply them with a triple prescription of Xanax. First, it was some jarringly tone-deaf statements about how the victims of sexual harassment and racism don’t have it as bad as the comics who had to publicly account for their appalling behavior—statements that got him booted from a Tonight Show appearance. Next, he made an apology for those comments that got him in trouble all over again, because he chose to use people with Down Syndrome as an example of what it means to have no empathy. And while in between there were some other not-so-great takes that seem well-intentioned but still really missed the mark—in part because he thought apologies were a good time for more outdated jokes about gender—Macdonald seems to have finally just realized a simple and sincere apology is the best route at the moment.
During an appearance on The View, Macdonald was given the opportunity to clarify his previous statements, and he took the chance to really dig into the actual context of his comments. Beginning with his initial interview about Louis C.K. and Roseanne’s actions, he stressed that he simply meant that he didn’t think many people had gone through the specific experience of his two friends, and therefore couldn’t really relate, not that the victims didn’t have it as bad. (The relevant clip from The View is below the excerpted quote.)
When this went down with Roseanne I called her the next day and she was crying the whole time. I was worried about her. She seemed really in a bad place. I said, ‘I can’t talk to you about this, I’ve never been through anything like this’ and I know Louis and he’s been through this and has had everything taken from him …. you should talk.” And [the reporter asked,] ‘What about the victims?’ and I said, “Well, the victims haven’t gone through this. This particular event. Of course, the victims have gone through worse than that.
From there, he went on to address the “Down Syndrome” comments, which he called “unforgivable.” “There used to be a word we would all say to mean stupid that we wouldn’t say any more,” the comedian explained. “You know the word I’m talking about? Stupidly I was about to say that word and I stopped and [wondered] what the right word was to say, and I said a different word that was equally [offensive]. I realized at that moment I said something unforgivable... The remark I made about people with Down syndrome is terrible.”
All in all, it was a more thoughtful, reasoned statement from somebody who is frankly probably not used to having to worry about such things during interviews, given his normal topics of discussion, and probably engendered some positive conversations. Ironically, all this came just a week or so after a moving New York Times Magazine profile of the comic in which he opens up about having difficulty changing with the times, and learning lessons from his son about the value in not trying to dig in your heels and get all reactionary about sensitive political topics you may not fully understand. “It’s always bad when you have to apologize for the apology,” he said during that View appearance, finally reminding everyone of the comedian they found so charming in the first place.