Caricatures

What Went Right With… Mitch Hedberg?

Caricature of the late stand-up comedian Mitch Hedberg by whatwentrightwith.com

Mitch Hedberg was a great stand-up comedian and he possessed an unconventional style that can only be described as Steven Wright channelling Snoop Dogg. Despite his onstage persona being the result of stage fright, his look (which consisted of wearing sunglasses and keeping his head down with his hair in front of his face) all combined brilliantly to add to his overall stage presence. Mitch’s voice was also very unique in the world of stand-up comedy, his nonchalant conversational delivery and his mellow tone was the epitome of a free-spirited stoner. These days everybody and their mother smokes weed and coke is consumed almost as much as err… Coke, but along with this commercialisation of drug-taking the associated aesthetics have now also been hijacked by mediocre morons… Russell ahem Brand. The stereotypical surfer-style voice has also been appropriated by every conformist prick ranging from imbecilic celebrities to suit-wearing twats, but back in the nineties being a phased out, long-haired drug user was cool and Mitch Hedberg’s style fitted perfectly into a decade that included the likes of Bill And Ted and Beavis And Butt-Head.

Even though Mitch’s topics veered greatly they felt connected because of his personality, it was almost like hearing his internal monologue or train of thought expressed out loud. That’s not to say his comedy was incidental or trivial in any way, his jokes were just the right mixture of surreal and the day-to-day. These days we have comedians like Tim Vine endlessly spurting unrelated puns or Stewart Francis giving back-to-back one-liners, but with Hedberg there was a sense of personal experience, his jokes weren’t just written for laughs, they were more like situations which Mitch had actually encountered and found funny enough to add a little abstract slant to them. Jokes like “This shirt is dry clean only which means it’s dirty” or “I play blackjack, I’m not addicted to gambling, I’m addicted to sitting in a semi-circle” are an example of his creativity when it came to the mundanities of day to day existence. Mitch had a flair for taking an aspect of ordinary life such as dying your hair and creating a humorous line like “I got my hair highlighted because I thought some strands were more important than others”.

There were of course more surreal jokes such as “I think Bigfoot is blurry, that’s the problem. It’s not the photographer’s fault, Bigfoot is blurry and that’s extra scary to me. There’s a large out-of-focus monster roaming the countryside”. There were also clever short jokes usually resolved in the same sentence like “I’m against picketing but I don’t know how to show it”. Then there was some more lengthier, more conversational style jokes like…

I’d never join the Army because ‘At Ease’ was never that easy to me. I don’t relax by parting my legs slightly and putting my arms behind my back, that does not equal ‘ease’… ‘At Ease’ was not being in the Military”

and…

Some songs have a special meaning for a man in regards to a special woman, but this can backfire because maybe the song had deeper meaning to begin with but now it’s been cheapened… ‘We are the world we are the children, we are the ones who make a better life [sic] so let’s keep on giving’…remember that song baby, the night I fucked you in the pet cemetery? …That’s our song”

It’s annoying that there aren’t any official DVD’s, Blu-ray’s, or streaming services that contain videos of Mitch Hedberg’s performances, you can of course watch short clips within compilation shows as well as some of his specials uploaded to YouTube (which eventually get blocked due to copyright grounds) but if you want an unadulterated dose of Mitch, the only way to hear his routines is via his three CD’s “Strategic Grill Locations”, “Mitch All Together”, and “Do You Believe In Gosh?”.

In the outstanding 1999 album “Strategic Grill Locations” Hedberg maintains his smooth and easy-going style, this release includes all the quotes from above and it also includes his ever popular line “I used to do drugs, I still do but I used to too”. This album hilariously opens with Hedberg stating that he “dressed up for the CD”, it includes great one-liners like “I haven’t slept for ten days because that would be too long”, and the CD closes with the genius “Dufrenes party of two” joke.

For me the album “Do You Believe In Gosh?” isn’t Hedberg’s best work but “Mitch All Together” is fantastic. I have to say that by the time the noughties came, Hedberg was was much snappier and quicker, I don’t know whether it was the effects of certain drugs or whether he finally got over his stage-fright but in both “Mitch All Together” and “Do You Believe In Gosh?” he sounded like Jesse Pinkman on speed. That doesn’t mean his style changed drastically, if anything he got more efficient at his observational comedy, in “Mitch All Together” there was more great one-liners like “My fake plants died ’cause I did not pretend to water them” and there was also some hilarious food and snack-based jokes like…

I order a club sandwich all the time. I’m not even a member man, I don’t know how I get away with it”

and…

What do sesame seeds grow into? I don’t know, we never give them a chance… what the fuck is a ‘sesame’?”

and…

They say the recipe for Sprite is lemon and lime but I tried to make it at home, there’s more to it than that… ‘Want some more home-made Sprite?’ Not until you figure out what the fuck else is in it!”

His longer more conversational jokes also began to sound more in-depth with multiple jokes within a given topic…

I’m not into sports, I like Gatorade but that’s about as far as it goes. And by the way, you don’t have to be sweaty and holding a basketball to enjoy a Gatorade, you could just be a thirsty dude. Gatorade forgets about this demographic. I’m thirsty for absolutely no reason other than the fact that liquid has not touched my lips for some time. Can I have a Gatorade too or does that lightening bolt mean ‘no’?

If you’ve never heard Mitch Hedberg’s stand-up I’d recommend the albums “Strategic Grill Locations” and “Mitch All Together”, they show the evolution of his style and they are both side-splitting from beginning to end.

The fact that Mitch Hedberg died relatively young, he avoided all the inevitabilities that come with celebrity and fame, he is now immortalised as a man in his early thirties and he is now permanently frozen in the minds of his fans. We may have felt sorrow when his death was announced but at the very least we don’t have to witness him becoming lame, we don’t have to see him selling out, and we don’t have to watch him become hackneyed. The one positive from someone passing in their prime is that they’re permanently captured in people’s minds at their peak, if you think of Mitch Hedberg today you will undoubtedly think of a cool stand-up comedian from the late nineties, and that’s a great thing for his legend and for the posterity of his work.

Mitch Hedberg’s routines which consisted of non-sequiturs and surreal ideas garnered him a relatively small fanbase during his lifetime, so small that it was labelled “a cult following”. This to me is always a good sign, I mean when was the last time you heard anything avant-garde or unusual with a huge amount of fans? Being mainstream is always detrimental to creativity and Mitch Hedberg along with other greats like Stewart Lee and Eddie Pepitone are always at the fringes of comedy, the general public are always unaware of something brilliant, to me a “cult following” is a must for an artist’s credibility. This was very obvious when Hedberg performed his “Comedy Central Presents” Special to an uninitiated crowd, you could hear murmurs and whimpers instead of full-blown laughs. With every untried audience Hedberg performed to you could hear the cogs beginning to turn, with people slowly warming to him. By the end of his Comedy Central Special the audience were finally in tune with his style but at that point it was too late, the show was over. Unfortunately this turned out to be a metaphor for Mitch Hedberg’s career as a stand-up comedian; he brought a unique style that most people didn’t get, praise for his comedy was belated to say the least, and now when these same people yearn for more there isn’t any. Similar to Bill Hicks, I guess when someone is truly worthy of being labelled “one of the greats” it is usually bestowed to them posthumously.

Let’s Remember Mitch All Together.

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2 replies »

  1. Great article, loved it. RIP Mitch….he was one of the best comedians of that time, I loved his one liners.

    Here are a few more to share:

    I want to ride in a cold air balloon. “This isn’t going anywhere!”

    I can whistle with my fingers, especially if I have a whistle.

    This one commercial said, “Forget everything you know about slipcovers.” So I did, and it was a load off of my mind. Then the commercial tried to sell slipcovers, but I didn’t know what they were!

    I’m into carpooling, because sometimes my car gets hot and needs to refresh itself.

    Imagine if you were a drummer, and you accidentally picked up two magic wands instead of sticks. There you are, keeping the beat, the next thing you know, your bass player turns into a can of soup.

    I’m a hard act to follow, because when I’m done, I take the microphone with me.

    Why is Cloud 9 so amazing? What is wrong with Cloud 8? That joke came off the top of my head, and the top of my head ain’t funny!

    I wear a necklace now because I like to know when I’m upside down.

    I read that MTV’s Real World got 40,000 applications. That’s amazing, such an even number. You would have thought it would be 40,008.

    I bought a scratch off lottery ticket, but then I accidentally spilled calamine lotion on it, so it did not need to be scratched. Shoot! I will not know if I have won!

    I ate one anchovy, and that is why I did not eat two anchovies.

    As a comedian, you have to start the show strong and you have to end the show strong. Those are the two key elements. You can’t be like pancakes. You’re all happy at first, but then by the end, you’re sick of ’em.

    I saw a billboard for the lottery. It said, “Estimated lottery jackpot 55 million dollars.” I did not know that was estimated. That would suck if you won and they said, “Oh, we were off by two zeroes. We estimate that you are angry.”

    I wish they made fajita cologne, because that stuff smells good. What’s that you’re wearing? That’s sizzlin’!

    I have an idea for sweatshops: air conditioning! That’s simple. 14 year old boys working twelve hour days? “Yeah, but they’re comfortable!”

    I spilled some vodka on the carpet, and I vacuumed it up, and the vacuum got drunk. I had to take the Hoover to detox.

    If you can’t sleep, count sheep. Don’t count endangered animals. You will run out.

    So funny lol…..and I agree with you 100% not many comedians like that around, he was original, had his own style and look going…he was the best. It is a shame we only have a few cassettes left of his work, thank goodness for YouTube I guess.

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