The Late, Great Mitch Hedberg

by David Mindich, http://neovox.cortland.edu, October 1, 2010

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On August 12th of this past summer comedienne Lynn Shawcroft, along with Mary and Arne Hedberg, held a second memorial service for the late great comedian, Mitch Hedberg.

Mitch was born on February 24th, 1968 in St. Paul, Minnesota to parents Mary and Arne Hedberg. After graduating from high school Mitch moved down to South Florida and began a career in standup comedy--a real laid back individual-- as it states on his comedycentral.com bio, he moved there more so for the sun rather than the actual stand up scene. Mitch began honing his act at local comedy clubs, riding in the back of his landlord's pickup truck in order to, as comedy central states, "avoid any of the negative conversations his landlord would try to have with him." It was at these clubs that Mitch developed his truly unique style.

Steven Wright is the only other name that comes to mind when listening to one of Hedberg's sets. A king in the realm of deadpan humor, Mitch chose not to discuss political matters or current events, but rather to consider the much more surreal. While other comics took cheap shots at Bush, Mitch would muse on what constitutes a good Christmas gift (with a severed foot being the ultimate stocking stuffer, in his opinion). It was in these trivial affairs that Mitch found his niche: "Dr. Scholl's spent far too much time in school; I would have purchased the same product from a Mr. Scholl-- it doesn't take a doctorate to realize that stepping on a cushion would be more comfortable."

Hedberg's style was best described as dead pan surrealist one liners. His humor mostly being observational, he was even dubbed "The Next Seinfeld" by Time Magazine. While most fans of comedy can tell you that this style was certainly not originated by Hedberg, no one can say that his delivery was anything less than all his own. Known for having extreme stage fright, Mitch would almost always tell his jokes from behind a pair of tinted aviators; if it wasn't from behind glasses, it was with eyes clenched tightly closed. He would occasionally joke about his stage fright on stage, saying that he closes his eyes because he "painted an audience enjoying the show more on the inside of his eyelids." You could feel his nervousness wax and wane depending on how a set was going, but it would never fully dissipate as he would shift and tremble through set ups and rush through punch lines. He would deliver each line with such a melodic staccato that his jokes would sometimes seem more like poetry than humor.

Mitch's laid back life style blended straight into his humor, often telling jokes that wouldn't work, recovering solely through impromptu apologies: "You didn't get that one? Me neither, I don't know why I do it!" He even chose to go "open mic" on his first CD, having written down all the jokes he could think of onto a few sheets of paper that morning and reading straight off of it. His style dripped of a geniality that has never been matched by any other comic. Going to see a Hedberg show was going to see Mitch squirm and struggle in an attempt to win over an audience. And while it sometimes took longer than he had planned (his Comedy Central special was edited down to almost half of his stage time) he almost always would (he was met with huge applause upon deciding to throughout his planned act and just rattle off every joke he knew half way through the set). His shows almost never felt like an act-- it was so much more intimate than that. Being somebody who enjoyed his humor didn't make you feel like a fan, it made you feel like a friend.

Mitch was also a well know drug user, he would often joke "I used to do drugs, I still do but I used to too." There have even been reviews written about him, toward the end of his life, which stated that he would often ask the audience to throw pills on stage which he would then take then and there. This is why the announcement of his death on March 30th 2005, due to a drug overdose, came as little surprise to many of his fans.

While it may have only been shocking news to some, it was devastating news to all his fans, new and old. For perhaps the most tragic part of his death was that it happened just as his career was finally begging to truly take off. Having just finished a high profile tour with Lewis Black and Dave Attell, garnering a huge increase in number to his dogged cult following (many fans frequent his memorial board, even now, five years after his passing) and dying while in the midst of preparing an act for his long awaited HBO special, Mitch left his fans wanting one thing: more. More comedy, more nervousness--just more of our friend Mitch.

It was for the second time in 5 years that fans were able to get just a little of that, at the Paramount theater in Andersen, Indiana this summer. Fans and friends came from across the country to feel just a little of Mitch's geniality once again as they swapped stories, watched unaired clips, and rare footage, and even gain some answers through a Q&A with Mitch's widow, Lynn, and his parents. After five years, it seems unlikely that there will be another memorial for Mitch, but because of who he was, you can bet that Mitch will always be remembered.

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