Mitch Hedberg was born on February 24, 1968 in St. Paul, Minnesota. He died on March 30, 2005, and thousands of people hoped they'd been the victims of a cruel, early April Fools joke. He was a stand-up comedian.
It seems that almost any mention of Mitch must be acompanied by several quotes from his routines. Most of his jokes are less than three sentences long and refreshingly context-free; his delivery could be described as "laid-back rapid-fire non-sequitur." Mitch didn't strut around the stage, do impressions of famous people, or wear outrageous clothing. He stood in front of the microphone, hitting you with one comedic sucker punch after another, pausing only to let the audience's or his own laughter subside. For the encore of the Comedy Central show that was arguably his breakthrough performance, he sat on the stairs on the stage, holding the microphone, long hair covering his face, nearly motionless for the entire encore. His jokes justified themselves without the aid of theatrics.
Mitch swore a lot in his routines, but in an innocuous way. His jokes were not obscene, scatological, or sexual; they were just fuckin' funny. He didn't go for the cheap shots, didn't take swipes at public people when there was so much potential for comedy in, say, rice: "I like rice. Rice is great if you're hungry and want 2000 of something."
Though he ran away from home and spent time in jail for reasons involving drugs — on the subject of which he says "I used to do a lot of drugs. I still do, but I used to, too" — Mitch said that he had a "kick-ass" childhood. He skipped high school a lot, aside from drama class, and worked a series of menial labor jobs until he tried his skill at an open mic night in Boca Raton, Florida. For all intents and purposes, the rest is history: eventually he won the grand prize at the Seattle Comedy Competition in 1997; appeared in and lent his voice to several TV shows; and even wrote, directed and starred in a movie, Los Enchiladas!, which was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival in 1999.
Mitch didn't complain or get pissed off about things in his routines. Instead, he looked at appallingly banal things, like the contest result ("Please Try Again") on the lid of a yogurt cup, in ways both upbeat and offbeat. "I thought maybe I had opened the yogurt wrong. Or maybe Yoplait was trying to inspire me," he would say. "Come on Mitch, don't give up! An inspirational message from your friends at Yoplait. Fruit on the bottom, hope on top."
In case I haven't adequately described Mitch's style to you, here's a non-comprehensive list of people he's been compared to. It will ensure that you have no idea what to expect from him.
- Most commonly, Steven Wright, for his style of delivery and tendency to use one-liners. In typical Mitch style, Mitch's response goes like this:
I mean if there's anyone who I would be compared to, I guess he would be the closest. That's cool, I got no problem with that. I'm not trying to say that I got something that's exactly brand, brand new and you never seen it before. You know, even Orange Crush probably comes from some other orange pop back in the heyday.
- Jerry Seinfeld, for his finding funny material in apparently boring topics. Or something. They're really not all that similar.
- Geddy Lee, frontman of Rush, because of his appearance, I guess.
- Christopher Walken. Um. Mitch himself made this comparison, referring to his delivery, I think.
- Mickey Rourke in Barfly. I don't know who that is, but this comparison was made by an Amazon shopper.
- Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, also because of his appearance.
Mitch was on Letterman ten times. He was called "the greatest comedian ever" and "the funniest new comedian in the world." He was found dead in a New Jersey hotel from what, as well as anyone knows, was heart failure, three days ago as of this writing. Seven months ago, he said in an interview with the Pioneer Press, "I really want an HBO special bad." That special was in the works when he died.
But wherever he is right now, he's probably just chuckling and saying "Fuck it," in that Mitch way of his. He died at the top of his game.
Things You Should Buy
Strategic Grill Locations, Mitch's first CD, sixty minutes of unedited, hard-core fuckin' comedy. None of Mitch's fuck-ups, missteps, or asides to his bass player Chuck have been removed. In his own words, Mitch "dressed up for the CD."
He explained the name of the CD thus:
It's a line from one of my jokes. I was a short order cook before I did comedy, and I would put a hot dog on a grill, and the manager would come over and say, "Put the hot dog in the right hand corner of the grill, so if you get a lot of orders, you'll have all this space available." That's how I knew he wasn't a dreamer, because the day you give up your dreams is the day you have strategic grill locations.
The CD contains jokes about, among other things: pet frogs, ant farms, alternatives for the word "totally," not having slept for ten days, and flying chairs.
It is sweet.
Mitch All Together, Mitch's second and hopefully not last CD, with a DVD containing his Comedy Central special in its entirety. Mitch is more intense here than he is on Strategic Grill Locations, but the quality of his jokes is undiminished.
The name of this CD is from a joke about corn on the cob.
The CD contains jokes about, in part: homemade Sprite, hotel naming committees, the Temptations, tartar control toothpaste, and a crate of forks.
You should totally get it.
R.I.P. Mitch Hedberg
Colin, Chris. "He just reinvented comedy, and boy are his arms tired." Salon.com, 22 Jun 2001.
Covert, Colin. "St. Paul-born comedian Mitch Hedberg dead; heart failure blamed." Star Tribune, 31 Mar 2005.
Harris, Chris. "Comedian Mitch Hedberg Found Dead In New Jersey Hotel Room." MTV News. 31 Mar 2005.
Peiken, Matt. "Comedian Mitch Hedberg dead at 37." Pioneer Press, 31 Mar 2005.
Peiken, Matt. "Mitch's glitches." Pioneer Press, 10 Sep. 2004.
[Mul]Doomstone. Interview with Mitch Hedberg.
Riffing With... Mitch Hedberg.