Though neither Kevin Nealon nor Norm Macdonald presently boast the status of internationally quoted body builder, network sitcom namesake, and edgy ESPY Awards host that, between them, they once did, the twin bill featuring two respected and influential comedians is hard to pass up. Combining for more than 100 television and film credits, 14 seasons of still-beloved Saturday Night Live characters, and close to 60 years of stage time, the two comedy vets who might each struggle to fill a theater today became a can’t-miss pairing in the intimate setting of Potawatomi Hotel & Casino’s Northern Lights Theater. During the first of two sold-out shows Saturday, the accomplished humorists and their drastically different styles came together for close to 90 minutes of topical new material, classic characters, and a Q&A session.
Following a short opening set by Stevie Ray Fromstein (aka “The Holy Athiest”), Macdonald—the clear crowd favorite—shuffled out and used the casino setting as a quick causeway for his late show-tested realization that the “Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” motto is essentially just a guarantee for prostitute discretion. Barring that early bit, the entirety of Macdonald’s set was delivered in his patented slow-percolating, seemingly stream-of-consciousness style with, apparently, no topic untouchable. He referenced Caitlin Jenner with some antiquated but ultimately harmless material that found him pondering how a person who won the decathlon now struggled at tennis, before moving on to another name in the news. “Cosby,” he said. “That guy ain’t no lady. He ain’t no gentleman neither. He’s a cad.”
He turned blue humor into gold, including jokes about Cosby’s assaults, the lawyer of mass murderer Richard Speck fighting to have a burglary charge dropped, and a rambling story about selling his soul to “the wrong fucking devil” at a bar for two Coors. Now 51, Macdonald spent about a third of his stage time discussing his diminishing sex life and his aversion to role playing. “I was just thinking we’d split up and keep our dignity,” he deadpanned with his trademark wry grin, for one of the largest responses of his unfortunately short but exceedingly enjoyable 30-minute tenure before he gave way to his comedic counterpart.
Nealon brought about a change of pace in both the figurative and literal sense, as he chased Macdonald’s brazen and unpolished half hour of humor with a set overflowing with rapid fire, well-rehearsed, monotone subtleties. Imagine the best dad jokes you ever heard, and you’re probably close to what Nealon toted to the casino. “You can follow me at AshleyMadison.com,” he started early on. “I go by JaredSubway.” He quickly and smoothly transitioned from lamenting that cars couldn’t run on petroleum jelly to the difficulty of committing suicide in an electric car. The vast majority of his stage time was culled from his 2012 special, Whelmed, But Not Overly, including harmless bits about crop dusting Jack Nicholson at a party, how he’d make a bad juror for a trial of a pretty woman, and tsunamis being so powerful that they suck in letters from other words. Of course, he indulged the crowd with some requisite Weeds and Happy Gilmore quotes, a story about Hans and Franz’s origin, and some thoughts on his State Farm commercial co-star, Aaron Rodgers. “He’s quiet. He’s shy. I think I could take him,” Nealon said. “I just have to sucker punch him and have a car waiting.” When he hit a lull mid-way into his set, Nealon expertly transitioned to his famed Mr. Subliminal SNL character and did some regional crowdwork. (“You live in Glendale? Oh, I know where that is—white trash—it’s a nice neighborhood.”)
After about 30 minutes on stage, Nealson called out Macdonald for a Q&A session where both were asked to discuss experiences with Hunter S. Thompson and Chris Farley. “Will there be any questions about living people?” Macdonald quipped for one of the biggest laughs of the night. If there was any doubt who the audience came to see before the final segment, it became abundantly clear when virtually every question started with “This one’s for Norm,” including a Norm Macdonald Live-related query from a couple who apparently decided to start a family based on something he said during his 2010 Pabst Theater appearance. “Fuck the podcast. I brought a fucking child into this motherfucker!” Macdonald said. Sadly, the last question was squandered with a request for Macdonald to do a Bob Dole impersonation instead of a request for a Bob Uecker anecdote. Brief sets and character requests aside, Kevin Nealon and Norm Macdonald joined forces to put on a diverse and memorable show befitting of their SNL cachet.