Last week, Charlie Sheen recovered from another disastrous performance to “two standing ovations” at New York’s Radio Music Hall..
The same week, Sports Show with Norm Macdonald premiered on Comedy Central following an hour long special from Macdonald a few weeks ago; the new hour garnered rave reviews and tons of positive Internet buzz. The juxtaposition of these two events (Sheen’s and Norm’s), though seemingly not intertwined, can at the very least be seen as a race between art and spectacle.
Consider this: On Feb. 22, Macdonald ended almost two years of silence on Twitter by actually tweeting. This was an actual news item online. Norm actually got himself trending on Twitter, as many who followed “live-tweeting” during the Oscars telecast remarked that Norm’s Oscar tweets were the funniest. On March 3, this was totally eclipsed by Charlie Sheen, after stirring up more trouble with Two and a Half Men and ejecting a stream-of-consciousness rant in TV interviews; gained the Guinness World Record for the fastest person ever to gain one million followers. Norm’s follower count then ceased to be of any importance to the mainstream media.
Over the last month, both Macdonald and Sheen have been frequently in the public eye as they’ve taken their careers into their own hands, starting their own shows. The world has literally been watching as Sheen launched My Violent Torpedo of Truth Tour, Defeat is Not an Option going from city to city, waiting to see him crash and burn like a Michael Bay movie. Much of the sentiment, though Sheen’s live tour has oscillated back and forth between “standing ovations” and “bombing,” has been along the lines of “what will Sheen do next? Is he going to blow another gasket and say more crazy stuff that can go viral?” His antics have even become a tired premise for jokes at open mics.
On nearly the other side of public opinion, comedy nerds, “old guard” fans of SNL, and Norm Macdonald’s personal legion of followers have been thrilled at his return to the spotlight. Running through the interview circuit on late night TV and blogs for his most recent and celebrated activity on Twitter all the way to the debut of Sports Show, the world, it would seem, is glad that someone who unequivocally knows how to make people laugh is back in a forum where he can do so. Clips and quotes from both his stand up special, Me Doing Stand Up and Sports Show have been posted furiously around the Internet, though not as much as Sheen’s rants, but with very few, if any, people watching ironically in disgust. As Macdonald’s has headlined a few shows in Los Angeles since the beginning of the year, fans have flocked to see indeed what Norm will do next, but excited in anticipation as if the next film starring Daniel Day Lewis had finally arrived.
The timeline between the two figures brings up an interesting dichotomy, as mentioned before, between art and spectacle, and more specifically between wanting to watch someone fail and wanting to watch someone succeed. Conceptually, both Sheen and Macdonald are making fools of themselves in such ways that people want to watch. Still, while Macdonald is widely beloved by his fans, millions of people are anxiously awaiting Charlie Sheen to spiral out of control.
It seems the mainstream doesn’t even want something to be good. They want to a man losing his mind. Despite their being a vast difference in reception critically, the movie Transformers made more money than There Will Be Blood, just like Norm Macdonald currently has only just over 200,000 followers on Twitter and Charlie Sheen has well over 4 million.