The Cana­dian co­me­dian’s mea culpa tour fa­mil­iar ground for pub­lic re­la­tions ex­perts

Calgary Herald - - YOU - CAS­SAN­DRA SZKLARSKI

There’s a mo­ment on Norm Macdon­ald’s new talk show where the Cana­dian comic muses on what is and is not ap­pro­pri­ate to say: “I al­ways felt that some ep­i­thets were less abra­sive than oth­ers, you know,” he tells his guest, a lively Drew Bar­ry­more.

“It’s like nav­i­gat­ing a one-inch tightrope on an ice skate,” she agrees. “That’s what talk­ing feels like to­day in this world.”

It’s an oddly pre­scient ex­change that ap­pears in the sec­ond episode of the new talk show, Norm Macdon­ald Has a Show, given the firestorm he has ig­nited in re­cent days.

While pro­mot­ing the Netflix se­ries, which pre­mièred this week, he’s had to is­sue an apol­ogy for sev­eral of­fen­sive re­marks, and then an apol­ogy for that apol­ogy af­ter fur­ther dig­ging him­self into a quag­mire. The standup vet­eran is known for speak­ing his mind, but the so­cial con­ven­tions, celebrity cul­ture and news in­dus­try have changed vastly since he skew­ered O.J. Simp­son and Michael Jack­son as the Week­end Up­date an­chor on Satur­day Night Live in the late ’90s, note sev­eral me­dia ob­servers.

Macdon­ald’s mul­ti­ple blun­ders are a good re­minder that celebri­ties are of­ten bet­ter off just keep­ing their mouths shut when asked to com­ment on hot-but­ton is­sues, says pub­lic re­la­tions guru Natasha Koif­man, of Toronto-based NKPR.

“Lis­ten, I wish they were a lit­tle more ner­vous,” Koif­man says when asked how these blun­ders con­tin­u­ally plague seem­ingly smart, vet­eran per­form­ers.

“They have to be su­per-care­ful and I think that some­times they for­get that what they say ac­tu­ally mat­ters.”

Macdon­ald has since said he was “con­fused” when he told The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter Tues­day he was “happy the #MeToo move­ment has slowed down a bit” and that his fa­mous pals Roseanne and Louis C.K. lost “ev­ery­thing in a day” while “the vic­tims didn’t have to go through” what they did.

The next day, he told The Howard Stern Show he was mis­in­ter­preted and he saw value in the #MeToo move­ment. But while try­ing to clar­ify his com­ments on sex­ual mis­con­duct vic­tims, Macdon­ald made an in­sult­ing ref­er­ence to peo­ple with Down syn­drome.

He ap­peared on The View on Thurs­day to apol­o­gize, say­ing “I re­al­ized at that mo­ment I’d done some­thing un­for­giv­able.”

His former tal­ent agent Louise Par­ent says she finds it hard to be­lieve he meant any of­fence, but ad­mits she hasn’t spo­ken to Macdon­ald in years nor read all the cov­er­age about what is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing his mea culpa tour.

“I know Norm, he’s an old friend and I know how he speaks,” says Par­ent, who rep­re­sented him in the late ’80s for act­ing jobs. “He ab­so­lutely is not some­body that would dis­re­gard the vic­tims at all.”

She said it’s a chal­lenge for celebri­ties to speak elo­quently on del­i­cate top­ics they’re of­ten asked to ad­dress with lit­tle no­tice.

“You get put on the spot very quickly and you say some­thing that maybe isn’t re­ported cor­rectly and then you get the back­lash,” says Par­ent, not­ing the 24-hour news cy­cle makes it es­pe­cially hard to stay on top of de­vel­op­ments.

“There’s coaches and man­agers and pub­li­cists (say­ing) ‘Here’s what hap­pened in the last hour,’ or, ‘Here’s what hap­pened in the last 10 min­utes.’ You’re sup­posed to be up to date all the time.”

Then there’s the fact that, as Par­ent puts it: “It’s Norm, that’s how he talks.”

Still, it’s no less bizarre to hear Macdon­ald ram­ble down an ar­ray of tan­gents dur­ing an in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press that took place be­fore his #MeToo com­ments made head­lines, and the back­lash that erupted.

He dis­cussed his dream to se­cure a res­i­dency at a Las Ve­gas casino, his side gig as the co-cre­ator of a dat­ing app called Loko and his ad­mi­ra­tion for Toronto crim­i­nal de­fence lawyer Marie Henein, best known for suc­cess­fully de­fend­ing dis­graced CBC Ra­dio star Jian Ghome­shi against sex­ual as­sault charges.

“Oh my God, she’s so beau­ti­ful. She’s the most beau­ti­ful woman I’ve ever seen in my life,” Macdon­ald said in an odd segue from not­ing that Hart Pomer­antz, the former com­edy part­ner of SNL boss Lorne Michaels, is now a lawyer.

“I’m sure peo­ple must hate her guts for de­fend­ing that guy,” he said. “They should un­der­stand the rule of law, (de­fence lawyers) are not be­tray­ing all of hu­man­ity.”

Then there’s his de­sire to re­turn to SNL so he can do an im­pres­sion of con­tro­ver­sial pro­fes­sor Jor­dan Peter­son.

Macdon­ald ex­pressed ad­mi­ra­tion for the fire­brand on Twit­ter back in Fe­bru­ary, with the mes­sage from his ver­i­fied ac­count stat­ing: “You changed my life years ago and I want to say thank you.”

Whether he gets the chance to ac­tu­ally do his im­pres­sion de­pends on get­ting the green light from Michaels.

Koif­man says it’s easy for some celebri­ties to for­get their opin­ions might dif­fer from most of the main­stream pub­lic, and that’s some­thing she’s con­stantly try­ing to ad­dress in her work.

“You can have an opin­ion but you do have to pay at­ten­tion to what the pub­lic is say­ing and what the pub­lic is feel­ing about a spe­cific topic,” she says. “The re­al­ity is celebri­ties are of­ten sur­rounded by a lot of ‘yes peo­ple’ — that’s part of the prob­lem. That doesn’t give them a very good per­cep­tion of what the pub­lic per­cep­tion is of things.”

Ela Vere­siu, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing at York Univer­sity ’s Schulich School of Business, says the old mantra that any pub­lic­ity is good pub­lic­ity is dead.

“I feel like there is an ob­ses­sion among celebri­ties ... with stay­ing rel­e­vant,” Vere­siu says.

“And then the nar­ra­tive usu­ally un­folds in a very sim­i­lar fash­ion — they say some­thing very con­tro­ver­sial, ei­ther through their own so­cial me­dia chan­nels or in an in­ter­view, it gets picked up, there’s a huge back­lash of ap­pear­ances and shows or per­for­mances get­ting can­celled, and then the celebrity back-ped­als and even­tu­ally apol­o­gizes.


Co­me­dian Norm Macdon­ald has spent the week say­ing sorry for a hand­ful of con­tro­ver­sial com­ments that seemed to keep pil­ing up on them­selves.

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