Mitch Hedberg: Comedy & Tragedy


You may have heard of Mitch Hedberg.  It seems now as though lots of people have.  Hedberg’s comedy is like most great secrets: if it’s great enough, eventually every body will find out about it but, quite often, not until it’s far too late to do anything about it.

Mitch died on March 29, 2005 with cocaine and heroin in his system.  He would have turned 40 years old just this last February.  It wasn’t until a couple of days afterwards, April 1st or so, that I found out about his death and I immediately called my friend Jeremy who was also a fan of his.  After looking into it a bit more, Jeremy informed me that there was some speculation that the whole situation could possibly just be a prank because of its timing with April Fools Day.  I knew that the only similarity to the news about Hedberg’s death and some Andy Kaufman-esqe scheme, is that they were both actually dead.  I had met Mitch Hedberg twice before and his death and, although it was beyond incredibly tragic and unfortunate, it did not come as a shock in the slightest. 

I say that I “met” him, and that much is true, but to think that he would have even remembered our encounters is probably just wishful thinking.  He was performing at a venue called The GO Club in Olympia, WA, which later became JAKES (a gay danceclub).  His wife Lynn Shawcroft, a comedienne, was opening and MC-ing the show.  When he shook my hand the first time, he actually missed the target.  He then, without coordination, stumbled around at 1/4 speed into a complete circle before coming back around and connecting into an actual formal greeting.  I could already tell that he probably wasn’t in the best shape then.

In tribute to the 3yr anniversary of his death, I have posted the article below.  It was originally written for and printed in the May, 15th 2003 issue of the Evergreen State College newspaper, the Cooper Point Journal.  I wrote it after the second time that I attended one of his performances.  In reading it now, it is apparent that, even back then, there were clear signs that his health was in Jeopardy.

You Could Have Gotten Some Hedberg

Picture this: Last Thursday May 8th, tons of sad hippies arrive at the Eastside Club expecting to drink “dank” beers on “Thirsty Thursday” only to find out that the club is renovating.  They lower their heads, dreadlocks blocking their tears, and are forced to go home on one Thursday night not reeking of cigarette smoke.  Sound tragic?  Does it make you want to sponsor one of these poor unfortunates?  Good news folks…this doesn’t have to be the case if you follow my example.  When I saw that the bar was closed, I simply headed over to the GO Club to see Mitch Hedberg perform on comedy night, chuckled my ass of, and still was able to arrive home with my dreadlocks smelling of second hand Marlboro Reds.

Mitch Hedberg is a funny bastard and I meant to alert you to his arrival but was unable to make the CPJ deadline.  I was in LA and I went to use the computer lab to email the article but, unlike thoughtfully lazy Evergreen students, they completely log off when using computers at UCLA so that passwordless random people like myself are unable to take advantage of their electronic services.  Nobody seems to take my advice anyway, so I’m sure that you the reader will pay no attention to my entertainment suggestions even though you should.  I’m smart and I know what’s good.  Hell, I listened to me and had a fabulous time.  Also, I know this is off the subject, but is anybody aware that there is a mall in the middle of the UCLA campus?

I first saw Mitch Hedberg on TV in 1999 but didn’t see him live until he performed last year at the GO Club, a club that he says “sounds like they want you to leave.”  He said that he performs at a lot of colleges and that, if he were in school, he would take his tests at restaruants because “the customer is always right.”  Mitch always seems to be telling drug jokes.  He stated that he likes the Fed-Ex driver because “he is a drug dealer and doesn’t know it.”  He joked that, although it seems like it, he doesn’t smoke pot before a performance because he gets paranoid and he prefers cocaine and Xanax.  “Coke doesn’t give me anxiety and Xanax makes sure ans fuck it don’t,” he says.  He made an animal joke where he claimed that he hasd a talking parrot “but it did’t say, ‘I’m hungry.’ So it died.”  He then made a hybrid drug/animal joke saying that drug dogs are not man’s best friend and they they are “tattle tails“.

Although Mitch performed a solid set with at least 90% fresh new material, there were a couple of weird deja vu similarities to the last time that I saw his act.  He repeated a joke that he had told earlier in the night late in his set.  The first time that I saw him, he immediately realized it when nobody was laughing and turned that into a joke.  I had wondered if it was planned but, when he was unable to recover as smoothly this time, I realized that he had simply fucked up.  Another similarity this time was when Hedberg tries to hook up with coke mid-performance.  Last time he asked, “Is anybody a cop out there?” and when nobody responded he said, “Okay then, let’s do this,” and told an audience member that they would talk later.  After the show, when I met him backstage, he seemed spun out as he signed next to Ike Turner’s name in my Book of Mormon.  I can’t say if he was high or not, but he sure did seem that way and he sure is getting skinny nowadays.  I have a feeling that he might have been joking at first but, when it worked at the GO club last time, he figured that he just might try it again.  He seemed fairly sober this time but, if I am right, it works as one more agrument in convincing you to see his routine while you still can.  It’s like Mitch’s friend comedian Marc Maron says, “If they drug tested people in my business, there would be only 3 comedians left and 2 of them would work with puppets.

You can find out more about Mitch on his official website  On the site you can do everything from purchase his album to view live video clips of his standup.  There’s even a section titled “Things Mitch Would Recommend if He Recommended Things” where it says “Read Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ if you think you’re fucking up your life.  You’re not.  Not as hard anyway.

Attending comedy shows is a good way to cure boredom and the GO club has comedy night every Thursday.  I was bored in LA after we lost track of the girl in the fat-suit filming a “Dr. Phil” segement on Muscle Beach.  We went to a show at The Comedy Store and it turned our day around.  There’s nothing more interesting than something you’ve never experienced, and if you’ve never seen live stand up, then you owe it to yourself to check it out.  This Thursday (tonight) the GO Club has Dustin “Samuel ‘Screech’ Powers” Diamond performing.  That should be funny if it’s not funny, if ya git what I mean.

The show that I referred to attending those 5 years ago in Hollywood had another growing comic headlining by the name of Dane Cook and he bombed like Hiroshima.  Since then his career has blown up like Nagasaki.  Comedians seem to have as many opportunities as they have ever had before, but, unfortunately, Mitch isn’t around to reap the benefits of a career that was really starting to blossom before it was cut short.

According to Wikipedia, he was actually arrested for Heroin possession in Austin, TX the very same month that I originally wrote about the accounts above.  One of the best one-liners that Mitch Hedberg ever delivered was “I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too“.  He died far too young but it is nice to see that he, at the very least, is beginning to get the recognition in death that he so richly deserved when he was still alive.

Dead C
Here is a clip of Mitch Hedberg from Just For Laughs: Stand Up, Vol. 2: On the Edge – 02

Dead C

Located in Seattle, Dead C is the founder/editor, as well as the principal writer and photographer, of Monster Fresh. Creating the site in 2007, he did so with a specific dream in mind. Unfortunately, being a muscle relaxer-fueled fever dream, it's hard to recall all of the details. "I remember that my mom was there, but it wasn't actually her in the dream, it was actually 70s heart throb, Jan Michael Vincent. And everything took place here, in this room... but it wasn't actually here... it was different. The colors were washed out and, for some reason, there was a raccoon kicking it with us and it was wearing a holographic monocle."

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - Flickr - YouTube