Mitchell Lee “Mitch” Hedberg (February 24, 1968 – March 29, 2005) was an American stand-up comedian known for his surreal humor and unconventional comedic delivery. Hedberg’s comedy typically featured short, sometimes one-line jokes, and observational comedy, mixed with absurd elements and non sequiturs.Hedberg’s comedy and on-stage persona gained him a cult following, with audience members sometimes shouting out the punchlines to his jokes before he could finish them.
Mitch Hedberg was born on February 24, 1968, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the son of Arnold and Mary Hedberg. He graduated from Harding High School in Saint Pauland was married to Canadian comedian Lynn Shawcroft on February 25, 1999.
Hedberg began his career in 1989 playing open mic nights in southern Florida. Two years later, in 1991, he moved to Seattle, where, due to his continued efforts, his popularity increased. Hedberg did encounter some degree of difficulty: apparently he suffered from intense glossophobia, which sometimes led him to perform with his eyes closed. However, on her Twitter page, his wife Lynn refuted this claim.
He first achieved national exposure in 1996, performing at the prestigious Just for Laughs Montreal International Comedy Festival, which aired on Comedy Central. Hedberg appeared twice on The Late Show with David Letterman and became one of the show’s most successful American comedians. His eyes were closed during the Just for Laughs festival portion that was taped and aired on CBC and the Comedy Network.
Hedberg could be heard as the voice of Jimmy John’s radio advertisements during the months leading up to and after his death. He was also the voice of the Atlanta Thrashers “Hockey Love” ad campaign in 2002–2003. Every performance of the Insomniac tour, headed by Hedberg’s friend and former tour-mate Dave Attell, featured a toast to Hedberg at the end of the show.
He appeared in the 2005 film Lords of Dogtown; the film, released after his death, was dedicated to his memory.
Hedberg was known to be a drug user, referring to it in some of his jokes (“I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too”). Hedberg was arrested in Austin, Texas, in May 2003 for possession of heroin. On March 30, 2005, Hedberg was found dead in a hotel room in Livingston, New Jersey. Hedberg was born with a heart defect for which he received extensive treatment as a child. It was initially speculated that this condition may have played a part in his death. The New Jersey medical examiner’s office reported “multiple drug toxicity”, in the form of a cocaine and heroin “speedball”, as the official cause of death. His funeral was held at St. Ambrose of Woodbury Church in Minnesota.
Hedberg’s stand-up comedy was distinguished by the unique manner of speech that he adopted later in his career, his abrupt delivery, and his unusual stage presence. His material depended heavily upon word play, non sequiturs, paraprosdokians and object observations. His act usually consisted equally of compact one- or two-liners resembling those of Steven Wright, in addition to longer routines, often with each line as a punchline. Many of his jokes stemmed from his everyday thoughts or situations.
Because he suffered from stage fright, Hedberg often performed wearing sunglasses, with his head down, with his hair in his face or with his eyes closed in order to avoid eye contact with the audience. He would often stand upstage or perform with his back to the audience. He would also constantly move in one spot and, when holding the microphone in some skits, his nervousness would cause him to shake it uncontrollably.
Hedberg occasionally added disclaimers to the end of a joke to let the audience know that he shared their judgment of it, most notably acknowledging when jokes were poorly delivered or received with a resigned “all right.” He also toyed with audiences that failed to respond in the way he had intended them to, occasionally quipping, “That joke’s better than you acted.” During recordings for CDs, he would often say that he would find a way to edit a failed gag to make it seem well received, for example by “adding” laughter. Following such a failure on Strategic Grill Locations, Hedberg suggested, “All right…that joke is going to be good because I’m going to take all the words out and add new words. That joke will be fixed.”
Comedy Central Records announced the release of the first album of new Mitch Hedberg material on June 10, 2008. The album titled Do You Believe in Gosh? was released September 9, 2008 and contains material recorded at The Improv in Ontario, California in January 2005. Hedberg’s wife Lynn wrote the introduction, in which she stated that the performance was in preparation for an end of the year CD recording.
- “Alcoholism is a disease, but it’s the only one you can get yelled at for having. ‘Damn it, Otto, you’re an alcoholic.’ ‘Damn it, Otto, you have lupus.’ One of those two doesn’t sound right.””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.”
- “I haven’t slept for ten days, because that would be too long.”
- “I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too.”
- “I don’t have a girlfriend. I just know a girl who would be really mad if she heard me say that.”
- “I like an escalator because an escalator can never break. It can only become stairs. There would never be an ‘Escalator Out of Order’ sign. Only an ‘Escalator temporarily stairs. Sorry for the convenience.'”
- “I’m fucking sick of following my dreams. I’m just gonna find out where they’re going and hook up with them later.'”
- “I went to the store to buy a candle holder. They were out, so I bought a cake.”
- “I went to a store that said they specialized in hard to find records and tapes. Nothing was alphabetized!”