I was surprised when I opened up a Doug Stanhope disc and saw in the liner notes that Mitch and Dave Attell were his favorite comics. Stanhope is such a hard guy. But when Hedberg died I realized that to Stanhope, Mitch was the comedian he longed to be in a world where he didn’t have so much angst. No politics, no bad breakups, no feeling that the world was closing in on him. Just a sweet stoner with no cares in the world relating all the goofy thoughts running through his head in an infectious drawl.
I first saw Mitch live in San Francisco, and although I loved him it wasn’t exactly a set that went well. Your average comedy club audience is mostly filled with straights who decided to get their laugh on for a night.
Doug Stanhope: What’s my name? You don’t have the slightest idea what my fucking name is … You’re only here because you got free passes or something.
Mitch was once on That ‘70’s Show which was genius casting, because he was like an Eagles roadie who’d smoked a laced joint and popped back into the world unscathed 20 years later. A little of it was an act, but Hedberg was probably the least confident comedian in the history of the medium. He’d slouch before the mike, his long hair flowing over his tinted blue sunglasses, and stare at the ground like he had his jokes written at the base of the microphone. He could be slaying an audience and he would still spend more time apologizing for himself than actually telling jokes. On the right night, that was just as funny.
Mitch released his Comedy Central Special as a bonus DVD to his last album. You can watch the edited version where Mitch is spewing out jokes like Don Rickles or you can watch the unedited version that is three times as long and a complete mess. I think you know which version I prefer.
The night in San Francisco, the crowd was looking at Mitch like he was modern art being shown backstage at the Jerry Springer show. After awhile, people starting buying him drinks just to see how hammered he would get. Not one to be confrontational, Mitch kept accepting them until his wife Lynn walked onto the stage and took one out of his hands, which was hardly the worst thing she did to Mitch during the show. After about 15 more minutes of more Mitch ramblings, Lyn started yelling out “Tell them about the CD’s,” which Mitch proceeded to ignore until she yelled it out for about the 17th time. Finally, in true Hedberg fashion he replied “I ain’t gonna waste my time for what like three people … would anyone here actually buy this crap?” Me and two other guys cheered yes.
A couple of years later, I met him outside of Largo, and asked him about the show. Thinking back it was probably sort of insensitive of me. When, I introduced myself to David Cross and told him that we had a mutual friend from his comedy past, he treated me like a fungus, who could blame Mitch for going off on me after bringing that night up.
“You were there? That’s hilarious.”
I don’t know how to describe it to you but the instant you met this guy you realized that he didn’t have a cruel bone in his body. Maybe the sweetest thing God ever produced. He spent like 20 minutes smoking with me. He introduced me to his wife. I asked him if he got sick of staying in so many hotel rooms and his answer was “No way, we love it.” I’m guessing Mitch was thinking of the genius way he’d found to get the world to clean up his room for him.
After his death, I read about how he’d met a couple of college kids and after hearing about their sweatbox dorm room returned the next day with an air conditioner. The only celebrity death that’s ever left me severely depressed.