Following his death, fans of iconic comedian Norm Macdonald may want to circle back to one of his only starring roles in Dirty Work.
Fortunately, the 1998 comedy is currently available to stream on HBO Max for those hoping to get a glimpse at a brief time in America when Adam Sandler wasn’t the definitive off-beat movie star from that era of Saturday Night Live alums. The bizarre and very off-color movie follows Norm Macdonald and Artie Lange as childhood best friends turned adult slackers who realize they need to come into some money very, very quickly.
The duo grow up together learning from their mentor, who turns out to be fathers to both thanks to his swinging lifestyle. He teaches them to always get back at people who wrong them, no matter how elaborate the revenge scheme needs to be. When their mentor has a heart attack and requires $50,000 for treatment, Norm Macdonald and Artie Lange’s characters start a “Dirty Work” business that will essentially let them pull off incredibly crude, high-stakes and destructive revenge plots for cold, hard cash.
The movie came out around the time that Norm Macondlad was let go from Saturday Night Live, allegedly for making fun of O.J. Simpson, who was a friend of then NBC boss Don Ohlmeyer. As Consequence notes, it offered the now-jobless comedian a crack at pivoting his career over to movies. However, Norm Macdonald’s comedy style was notoriously apathetic, which worked well behind the Weekend Update desk on Saturday Night Live, but wasn’t exactly what people were looking for in their movie stars. Meanwhile, Adam Sandler had just come out with The Wedding Singer a month prior and would go on to release The Waterboy the same year, two movies with a surprising amount of heart peppered into their yucks. Thus, it solidified his place as the go-to SNL alum to helm a movie back then.
Critics at the time blasted Dirty Work for both its raunchy humor as well as Norm Macdonald’s performance. Not only did the film earn almost 100 percent lousy ratings, but it was also a box-office failure. The combined star-power of Norm Macdonald and Artie Lange only amounted to roughly $10 million on an estimated $13 million budget. However, that’s not the end of the story for Dirty Work.
Thanks to the enduring legacy Norm Macdonald had in TV and film, as well as Artie Lange being able to discuss the movie frequently as a co-host of The Howard Stern Show, audiences circled back to Dirty Work throughout the early and late 2000s, giving it another chance and developing a cult audience for the over-the-top comedy. While it’s still a critical failure with a depressing 14 percent critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, there’s a big disparagement with its audience score, which sits around 65 percent, further proving that you can’t count the enduring appeal of Norm Macdonald out.
Now that the movie is streaming on HBO Max and there’s renewed interest in the life, times and comedy of Norm Macdonald, it’s possible that the public’s reception to Dirty Work will go up as people stream it for a dose of nostalgia in an effort to honor the late star.
Deadline was the first to report that Norm Macdonald died at age 61 on Tuesday after a lengthy nine-year battle with cancer. Unlike other stars who find solace in being open with their fans about their illnesses, Norm Macdonald decided to wage his fight in private, likely in an effort to ensure that his legacy was more about the times he made people laugh than the times his illness bummed them out.
His longtime friend Lori Jo Hoekstra made sure to note to the outlet that, in life, Macdonald was most proud of his comedy, always doing what made him laugh regardless of how the public perceived the jokes. Nowhere was that sentiment more prevalent than in Dirty Work. So, if you’re looking to honor the late comedian not by his most laugh-out-loud performance, but by the kind of thing that tickled him, you could do a lot worse than going back and giving Dirty Work another try.