Friday, May 12, 2006

Mitch Hedberg

I took advantage of the awesome internet connection speeds I had in China to download some of the stand up comedy I had been missing out on. I took in a whole lot of the Dave Chappelle Shows, Russell Peters of course, who is an amazing Canadian/Indian comic, Triumph the Comic Insult Dog, and other artists featured on Comedy Central. Those are actually the easiest clips to download. They are 20 minutes long and there is a pretty good variety to choose from using Limewire. I also managed to get hold of some old Richard Pryor clips but the one act that really cracked me up was Mitch Hedberg.

This guy was something else. He appears on stage hiding behind tinted glasses and his long hair. His appearance is reminiscent of a 70’s stoner straight out of the movie Dazed and Confused. He goes through his routine looking at the floor and sometimes facing the audience with his eyes closed. Between jokes he wanders around the stage mumbling and giggling to him self. He clearly had issues with stage fright. As he delivered a barrage of one liner’s he sometimes cracked himself up and had to stop to laugh. Other times when one of his jokes went flat he would also giggle and innocently admit defeat.

Mitch Hedberg’s humor was really quite off beat and original. It is not slap stick humor but it hits a anti-logical point in the brain and echo’s. There is just something about his presence and delivery that keeps you smiling. The way he draws out his syllables to make a word sound 3 times longer than it should and the dry wit through which he views life. He is naïve and unpretentious. His jokes are merely observations and have absolutely no political or satirical foundations. He is not trying to make any point nor mock other people. It is difficult to explain the affect he achieves so I can only implore you to get hold of his work by whichever means you find most convenient.

Here are a couple of quotes from his routine. They stem from the most common observations. They are not the same without his intonation or nervous smile, but give them a shot anyways.

I was in a casino, minding my own business, and this guy came up to me and said, You're gonna have to move. You're blocking a fire exit.' As though if there was a fire, I wasn't gonna run. If you're flammable and have legs, you are never blocking a fire exit. Unless you're a table.

An escalator can never break; it can only become stairs. You would never see an 'Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order' sign, just 'Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience.'

Is a hippopotamus a hippopotamus, or just a really cool Opotamus?

I want to climb a mountain — not so I can get to the top — cause I want to hang out at base camp. That scene's fucking fun as shit. You sleep in a colorful tent, you grow a beard, you drink hot chocolate, you walk around... "Hey, you going to the top?" — "Soon."

I went to a restaurant, and I saw a guy wearing a leather jacket, eating a hamburger, drinking a glass of milk. I said, "Dude, you are a cow. The metamorphosis is complete. Don't fall asleep or I will tip you over."

I like swiss cheese. It's the only cheese you can draw with a pencil and still identify. You can draw American cheese, but someone will think it's cheddar. "That's Swiss!" "Yes, it is." "But how did you know?" "Because of the fucking holes!" Swiss cheese is a rip-off; it's is the only cheese you can bite and miss. "Hey Mitch - does that sandwich have cheese on it?" "Every now and then!" I got some swiss air on that bite.

I like Kit-Kat, unless I'm with four or more people.

I saw a wino; he was eating grapes. I was like, "Dude — you have to wait!"

See, I write jokes for a living, man. I sit in my hotel at night and think of something that's funny and then I go get a pen and write 'em down. Or, if the pen's too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of wasn't that funny.

I'm gonna fix that last joke by taking out all the words and adding new ones.

I like to close my eyes onstage, cuz I have drawn a picture of an audience enjoying the show more on the back of my eyelids...

I like to hold the microphone cord like this, I pinch it together, then I let it go, then you hear a whole bunch of jokes at once.

I wanna hang a map of the world in my house. Then I'm gonna put pins into all the locations that I've traveled to. But first, I'm gonna have to travel to the top two corners of the map so it won't fall down.

I was walking by a dry cleaner at 3 AM and there was a sign that said, "Sorry, we're closed." You don't have to be sorry. It's 3 AM and you're a dry cleaner. It would be ridiculous for me to expect you to be open. I'm not gonna come by at 10 and say, "Hey, I was here at 3 AM and you guys were closed. Someone owes me an apology."

I wish I were a locksmith. I'd be pimping that shit out. I'd be all like, "Hey, I'll trade you a free key duplication for—" [laughs] ... That joke made me laugh before I could finish it. Which is good, 'cause it doesn't have an ending.

I have a king-sized bed. I don't know any kings, but if one ever needed to sleep over, I guess he'd be comfortable. "Oh, you're a king, you say? Wait until you see what I have in store for you! It is to your exact specifications...I did not know you guys were all the same size. I think I can set your lady up too!" When I was a kid, I used to lie awake in my twin-sized bed wonderin' where my brother was...

I have an oscillating fan at home; it looks like it's saying 'Noo...' so I like to ask it questions that a fan would say 'no' to. "Do you keep my hair in place?" "Do you keep my documents in order?" "Do you have three settings?" Liar! My fan fuckin' lied to me! Now
I will pull the pin up. Now you ain't sayin' shit!"

Xylophone is spelled with an X. It should be a Z. Xylophone ZZZ X, I don't fucking see it. Next time you spell Xylophone, spell it with a Z. If someone tells you that's wrong, say "no it ain't." If you think that that's wrong then you need to get your head Z-Rayed. It's like X didn't have enough to do so they had to promise it more. "Okay, you won't start a lot of words, but you will have a co-starring role in Tic-Tac-Toe. And you will be equated with hugs and kisses. And you will mark the spot. And you will make writing 'Christmas' easier. And you will incidentally start 'xylophone.' Are you happy now, you fucking X?"

One time a guy handed me a picture of himself, and he said, "Here's a picture of me when I was younger." Every picture of you is of when you were younger. "Here's a picture of me when I am older." "You son of a bitch, how'd you pull that off? Let me see that camera."

Whenever I hang around a group of friends, I try to make sure we hang out clockwise. That way, if we're photographed, we are easy to identify. ... (to audience member) ...what, you don't get that one? Neither do I; I don't know why I do it. I just have this thing in me that won't let me drop it.

I hope the next time I move I get a real easy phone number. Something like 222-2222. I would say, "Sweet." People would say, "Mitch, how do I get a hold of you?" I would say, "Just press 2 for a while, and when I answer, you will know that you have pressed 2 enough. Instead of 'hello,' I say STOP!!!"

I called the hotel operator and she said, "How can I direct your call?" I said, "Well, you could say 'Action!' and I'll begin to dial. And when I say 'Goodbye,' then you can yell 'Cut!'"

My belt holds my pants up, but the belt loops hold my belt up. I don't really know what's happening down there. Who is the real hero?

You know when you go to a concert like punk-rock and the kids get on stage and they jump into the crowd? People think that's dangerous, but not me... because humans are made of 95% water, so the audience is 5% away from a pool.

I had a job interview at an insurance company once and the lady said "Where do you see yourself in five years?" I said "Celebrating the fifth year anniversary of you asking me this question."

I was only going to put in 3 or 4 but they were just too damn funny. I am sure some of you may not like this but Ro and Rishi will love it for sure. So I dig Mitch Hedberg’s comedy and I decided to do some research on him. Hopefully I could find out what he has been up to recently and maybe catch him live some day. In that process I just found out that he died on the 29th of March 2005. He was found in a hotel room in New Jersey. It was a heart attack that most likely resulted form a drug overdose. He was 37 years old. MTV covers the incident.

His career probably peaked around the late 90’s when he was commissioned by NBC to have his own TV series. He was expected to take over as the next Seinfeld, which was the most popular show of that era. Although Mitch was hysterical, I could never imagine his brand of humor on a television show. He seemed at home on stage and his act was not an ‘act’. His performance was the most genuine I have seen. That is probably why the show never materialized.

Although that project fell through, Mitch did appear on Letterman at least 10 times, and he continued to tour the country with mostly successful shows. He was gaining notoriety amongst his circles and he was respected by fellow comedians. He was playing to sold out halls. But he was still down to earth. I read one account where after playing at a college he was talking with some students and they complained about the stifling heat in their dormitory. The next morning Mitch showed up at their door with a brand new air conditioner.

As many famous personalities do, Mitch slipped into the heroin induced reality. Some time in 2003 he was arrested for possession and from there he continued the downward spiral. This article which is a review of a performance he gave closer to the end of his career was actually quite disturbing. He was belligerent and out of focus during the entire performance. It reminds me of Morrison or Cobain, both disillusioned as they fell from grace, finally left to die alone.

When I was younger I did find tales like this tragically romantic. Burn out and never fade away. Live hard and die young. But now I feel robbed. I would like to have seen what else The Doors, Hendrix, Joplin, and so many others would have created had they not died so young. I guess the realization for me is that it’s easy to look from a distance at these shooting stars and admire that flash of beauty. But when you are close to them the intensity can burn you and leave you scarred for life. It’s the ones who are left behind that suffer. His goal was to have a HBO special and plans were in the works before his demise. He would have wanted to stick around for that.

"Young comedians are always trying to ape someone else. Even when they're good you can always tell where their influence was. 'This guy is doing a Seinfeld with a twist.' 'That guy is doing Sam Kinison toned down a notch.' And then you see someone like Mitch, and it's like his brain was put in backwards." -- Conan O'Brien, in Entertainment Weekly (March 2005)

“Only the offbeat ones die young: John Belushi, Freddie Prinze, Andy Kaufman, Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison and now Mitch Hedberg, another great one. These people all had very different universes to offer us, and they've all been taken away." -- George Carlin, in Playboy (October 2005)

"As he once said, the reason he wasn't a household name is because all of his fans (like me and my Strokes bandmates) live in apartments." -- Albert Hammond Jr., in Rolling Stone (April 2005)


Jax said...

Man, I loved this post. I thought it was the perfect blend of comedy and reality. Great way to start off with Mitch Hedberg and his humor, and then to give us a glimpse of his life and what it was, or could have been like.

Yeah, I've also been one to admire people who displayed flashes of brilliance and gave the world a brief but potent taste of what they were capable of...very much like the people you mentioned. I used to think that it was unfortunate for them to have gone because if they were around they could have blown us away some more...again, just like you said.

But as 'sad' as it is on the one hand, I'd have to say that there's a lot to be said for the wonder and awe that they allowed us to experience for that brief moment. And they will always be remembered for what they said, did, and what they were famous for. Like Mitch here. He's going to be remembered for his humor and stuff by some of us, and there will be others of us who'll remember him for his fall...still others will use him as 'another' example of what drugs will do to a person. But life still goes on...and as much as there won't be another Mitch Hedberg...well, there'll be someone else won't there?

Brilliant post Avi! And I like this sense of humor too. It's a very interesting blend of things mundane, as random as they are, but put across, or worded in a most honest manner.

Will definitely be looking out for some of his stuff.

Avi said...

Thanks dude. Now days most comedians get laughs by taking the piss out of other peoples faults. Like fat jokes, or retard jokes. So many successful comedians just get by playing the race card. It was so refreshing to hear and see an artist like Mitch.

I wonder though if artists like Cobain and Morrison would have gained the fame they did had they lived on. I am not sure I would have wanted to see Elvis or Hendrix running around on the stage like the Rolling Stones are now. Die young and live forever. They are all legends because of it. Maybe that is also what made their work so prolific, like 2pac. Like tragic heroes in some way I guess.

AmitD said...

Elvis? Didn't we see him go onstage fat and drunk and done? I definitely think that death adds to their fame exponentially. It's like looking at a fine woman with clothes on... you always wonder what she could look like butt neked and always expect great great things should that ever occur. As soon as the clothes come off, either you get what you expect but get used to it later on or just get disappointed.
These guys basically died with their clothes on... I'm just glad I saw what I saw and heard what I heard before they went.

Anonymous said...

Dude, that was fuckin' hysterical. shared it with some of my friends. really needed it as was having quite a shite day. Wanna get a dvd of this cat. possible? Saw a comedian that was off the hook the other day. Carlos Mencia. Could not stop laughing. I was literally in a ball I was laughing s hard. Check him out. Anyway, gotta jet. awesome blog! - Min

Jax said...

Yeah, that's true what you say about legends dying young and living forever Avi. "There's nothing more pathetic than an aging hipster," as Dr. Evil says to Austin Powers. Good analogy by Amit too...although the origins, true though it may be, are most intriguing.

I've definitely got to check some of that stuff out man. And this Carlos Mencia guy is pretty funny too. I caught some stuff of his on Comedy Central a couple of years ago.

Another comic I like is Eddie Izzard. And by far two of my all-time favorite shows have been Delirious, and Eddie Murphy and John Leguizamo, respectively.

Avi said...

Hey Min. We is missing you out here. I downloaded Mencia too. Hillarious. Wish we had a comedy club out here. You managed to meet up with Surri yet?

Jax, Love the Dr. Evil quote. Delirious and Raw were the first Stand up shows I watched. Fucking classic.

blizzardofoz said...

Mitch is fucking awesome man.

I've watched a few of his shows on Comedy Central and about pissed myself each time.

And like you said, he reminds me a lot of Cobain (without the shotgun and a lot funnier ofcourse).

I totally didn't know he passed away. That blows! He was a riot man. Seemed like a guy I would totally hang with a smoke a doobie. Such a damn shame.

Anyhoo, 'twas a good post man! Thanks for sharing.

lividlinguistics said...

Hello. I stumbled across your blog while looking up Mitch Hedberg. I don't know you, clearly, but you seem interesting. I started a blogger myself but I'm not entirely sure I'm using it to its full capacity. I guess I'll play around with it. Is there any way to save profiles of people you find intriguing?