Oscar Nominations: None
Oscar wins: None
Stream Free: The Tube
If we are talking about the art of filmmaking, Dirty Work is not a good film. If you don’t like Norm MacDonald’s style of humor, Dirty Work is not a funny movie. However, Norm MacDonald is one of my favorite comedians and I think Dirty Work is one of the funniest movies of the decade.
This was a movie that no one wanted during production. MGM forced the producers and director Bob Saget to make many edits after the film had already been shot. They wanted to take the movie, which was shot with the intention of being an R-rated comedy and wacky, to be a PG-13. Once that happened, the execution time dropped to 82 minutes. The content cuts make the film even weirder. It will allude to things with or about adult content, but deftly handled to get it to a PG-13 rating. This may be the first time someone has compared Bob Saget to Alfred Hitchcock, but in the same way that Hitchcock subverted sex in his films, Saget does the same with horror comedy. You know it’s happening, but it’s up to the viewer to see it.
This was a movie that no one wanted immediately after production. He was either reviled by critics or simply ignored. The Austin Chronicle called Dirty Work “a terrible, wildly unfunny comedy.” The New York Times used the terms “ultimately stupid” and “brain dead.” Roger Ebert didn’t even bother to submit a review. The box was no longer polite. It opened the same weekend as Six Days and Seven Nights and Can’t Hardly Wait and finished a distant 9th.
It’s easy to say that this was a movie ahead of its time, but that’s not really true either. I don’t think Dirty Work would be successful or even come out in 2022. I don’t think there was ever a time when Dirty Work or Norm MacDonald were successful on a massive level. Or if there is such a time, it still has to be lived.
I’ve been a huge fan of Norm MacDonald ever since I saw him do Weekend Update on SNL in the mid-90s. I was lucky enough to see him do stand-up at Caroline’s in 2013 and 2014. He’s the funniest comedian I’ve ever seen and his fingerprints are all over the film. Norm co-wrote Dirty Work and it’s clearly his voice. Truth be told, there was probably no way I could not have liked this movie. But what makes me love it is the amazing cast.
Norma loved and respected comedy. Check out his admiration for David Letterman here (at the 7:45 mark):
Bob Saget also loved comedy and between the two of them, they assembled a cast of some of the funniest people on the planet. Chevy Chase. Don Rickles. James Downey. Chris Farley. They’re all in the movie, and each of them is in positions where they can be the funniest. Rickles is depressing people. Downey is a sad sack. Farley is overreacting. Best of all, Chase is at his Fletch/Ty Webb best. The way he can do line readings of things that aren’t jokes but make them hysterically funny is mind boggling. Chase was great in Community, but this is a different role. The Dirty Job is the last time we see Chevy Chase in all his restrained glory.
Watching Dirty Work, it’s hard to believe that Artie Lange and Norm didn’t know each other before production. Their friendship feels so natural and Artie totally gets the tone that Norm is going for. Their collaboration paid off again on ABC’s The Norm Show, which ran for three seasons. Because as unhappy as Norm is, the people he surrounds himself with in both this movie and his show are so good at reacting. Having Artie Lange in this movie makes it more fun.
If you don’t like Norm MacDonald’s sense of humor, then I won’t sell you on this movie. If that’s how you see the world, you’re not wrong to dislike dirty work. This is a matter of taste, not a matter of quality. This is not a particularly well made film. But if you like Norm at all and haven’t seen this, check it out this weekend. If you’re younger and only know him from people sharing videos of him after he died last year, check him out this weekend. Finally, if you love Norm and have seen this movie dozens of times, watch it this weekend. So many people involved in this film are dead, but because it’s Norma and his unique perspective, the comedy never really gets old. I promise if you enjoyed this movie in the past, you will enjoy it again.
95. Dirty work
98. Every Sunday
99. The wedding singer