Life and Career of Mitch Hedberg

March 29th marked 10 years since the passing of one of the funniest comics in history, Mr. Mitch Hedberg. Gone too soon, Hedberg was known for his one liners and his unique stage presence. The little things he did from his great use of delivery to his ridiculous observations never fail to put a smile on my face. In a world where comedy is now dominated by intense storytelling, Mitch kept things simple and it won over the hearts of many. Even though it’s been a decade, his legacy is still intact among those who love to laugh.

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Mitchell Lee Hedberg was born on February 24th, 1968 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Before comedy, he worked as a cook but quit wanting to achieve his dreams as a comedian. Influenced by such funnymen as Emo Phillips, Steven Wright, and the stoner duo, Cheech & Chong, he then moved to Florida to perfect his craft before settling down in Seattle. After his shows garnered rave reviews, he started appearing on various late night talk shows including multiple appearances on Late Night with David Letterman. Soon enough, Mitch Hedberg amassed a sizable following and it didn’t take long before he was headlining shows and receiving top billing on comedy festivals. At one point he drew high praise from Time magazine when they compared him to Jerry Seinfeld with his observational humor. In that moment, Mitch was set to become the next big thing.

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Mitch had a unique look with his long, grungy hair, and colored glasses. You take one look at him onstage and you didn’t know what to expect. He was also always incredibly nervous while performing, many times looking down to the floor. Sometimes, he would even appear inebriated during his set to ease his fears. These tactics were eerily similarly to the ones used by late Doors frontman, Jim Morrison, who during his first few shows with the group, would turn his back to the audience out of severe stage fright. Once Mitch got going though, there was no stopping him and audiences always responded well to his act.

Like every popular comedian, he later transitioned into acting. Hedberg appeared on an episode of the hit sitcom, That 70’s Show, in 1998 as a disgruntled chef, a callback to his previous profession and not his last either. Shortly after, he was offered a big money sitcom deal with Fox but it sadly never materialized. Man, I would have loved a sitcom starring Mitch Hedberg. It probably would have been cancelled after one season but hey, Mitch always had more of a cult following.

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He was then able to secure his own Comedy Central presents half-hour comedy special in the program’s first season in 1999. That same year, he released his very first comedy album, Strategic Grill Locations. The recording includes some of his most memorable jokes like the Dufrene family, who had their name called in a restaurant table waiting list but never responded. Ever wondered what happened to them? Maybe they’re hungry. The cutest infestation of Koalas was another key one along with toying with hotel minibars, and U.K. Smokey the Bear substitute, Smackie the Frog.

In 1999, Mitch also released his very own film; the independent comedy, Los Enchiladas!. Written and directed by and starring Hedberg himself, the picture details all the crazy characters who occupy a small Mexican eatery throughout a single day. So basically, it’s Clerks but set in a restaurant. It’s loosely based on his experiences in the restaurant business and stars many of his good friends and fellow comedians including Dave Attell and Marc Maron. The latter appeared with him in the Cameron Crowe 2000 film, Almost Famous. The part of the road manager for the legendary rock band, The Eagles, came natural to Mitch as his hippie appearance was barely altered. Crowe was so impressed with Hedberg’s work that he offered him the small role. Los Enchiladas! was never commercially released and in fact, has only been seen publicly a handful of times. I’m sure you could come across it via the wonders of the internet but I’m sure we’d all love an official DVD/Blu-ray release.

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In 2003, his second album, Mitch All Together, came out and received a wider release than his previous effort which he jokes about in the opening saying “the only way I can get my first CD into stores is if I take one in and leave it”. This show was even funnier than its predecessor.

One of Hedberg’s most famous quips that appeared on that recording was about a vampire doctor named Dr. Acula who sucked blood from people’s necks. This joke as later used in a season five episode of the popular medical comedy series, Scrubs.

Though he was shy on the outside, he didn’t hold back on many subjects in his act. One being his drug use which he famously joked about with “I used to do drugs. I still do but I used to too”. He would also crack jokes about bongs and having his latest fixes delivered by FedEx. He was arrested in 2003 for heroin possession but the incident didn’t seem to phase him and his family and peers started to worry about him. Every celebrity does drugs so surely, Mitch wouldn’t be affected, right?

On March 29th, 2005, Mitch was found dead by his wife, comedienne Lynn Shawcroft, in a New Jersey hotel. He was 37 years old. Cocaine and heroin intoxication were stated as the official cause. In a surreal moment of foreshadowing, Mitch was interviewed by Penthouse in 2001 and after being asked how he’d like to die, he replied “First I’d like to become famous then overdose”.

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He had a brief appearance in the skateboard themed biopic, Lords of Dogtown, released just a few months after his death. In 2008, three years after his passing, a posthumous recording, Do You Believe In Gosh?, was released. In 2014, Shawcroft released pages from his personal notebooks that were filled with jokes and various doodles.

I myself am a huge fan of Hedberg’s. He epitomized what I feel like I’d be like if I was a standup comedian. Just telling one liners a certain way that would leave the crowd in stitches always spoke to me. I tend to be nervous whenever I have to speak in front of groups of people as well but feeling the vibe and using humor is a surefire way to ease the tension from the number of eyes staring you down in the crowd. That’s something Mitch taught me and many others. Now, if only I possessed even a quarter of the talent that man had. I have zero doubt in my mind that if he was still alive today that he’d be one of if not the biggest comedian around.

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It’s a shame that he passed before Twitter became a phenomenon. His jokes and personality were tailored made for the social media platform. And now, for my favorite Mitch Hedberg lines:

“I went to a record store, they said they specialized in hard-to-find records. Nothing was alphabetized”

“I bought a doughnut and they gave me a receipt for the doughnut. I don’t need a receipt for the doughnut. I’ll just give you the money, and you give me the doughnut, end of transaction. We don’t need to bring ink and paper into this. I just can’t imagine a scenario where I would have to prove that I bought a doughnut. Some skeptical friend: “Don’t even act like I didn’t get that doughnut! I got the documentation right here…oh, wait it’s at home…in the file…under “D”.”

“I wanna get a job naming kitchen appliance. Seems like the easiest job ever. You know, refrigerator, toaster, blender… You just say what the thing does and then you add ‘-er’. Kitchen Appliance Naming Institute. “What’s this do?” “It keeps shit fresh.” “Well, that’s a ‘fresher’. I’m going on break.”

“People think I’m into sports just because I’m a guy. I’m not into sports. I mean, I like gatorade but that’s about as far as it goes. 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 liquid has not touched my lips for some time.”

“I went to a pizzeria, ordered a slice of pizza, and the fucker gave me the smallest slice possible. If the pizza was a pie chart for what people would do if they found a million dollars, the fucker gave me the “donate it to charity” slice. I would like to exchange this for the “keep it!”

“I opened up a yogurt and underneath the lid it said, “Please try again,” because they were having a contest that I was unaware of. I thought maybe I’d opened the yogurt wrong. Or maybe Yoplait was trying to inspire me. “Come on Mitch, don’t give up!” A message of inspiration from your friends at Yoplait. Fruit on the bottom, hope on top.”

“The Kit Kat candy bar has the name “Kit Kat” imprinted onto the chocolate. That robs you of chocolate! That’s a clever chocolate-saving technique. I go down to the factory, “You owe me some letters!”

 

Farewell, my friend.

 

 

Written by Matthew Reine

is a New Yorker with a strong passion for film and television. Also the biggest Keanu Reeves fan you know.

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