If you haven't visited the website for the late, great Mitch Hedberg recently, then today would be a perfect day to do so.
Recently relaunched by his widow, comedian Lynn Shawcroft, the Mitch Hedberg site boasts a wealth of information -- not just old stuff, but also previously unreleased video clips, jokes and views of handwritten pages from his personal joke notebooks.
Here's one such joke:
How to get to space. Build a ladder, don’t stop until you can jump off and not fall down. -MH
Coincidentally, Sirius XM satellite radio is celebrating Hedberg this weekend.
Today on Sirius XM Raw Dog Ch. 99, the channel will present an exclusive concert from the Mitch Hedberg personal archives. Air times: 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Friday, May 27; 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. Saturday, May 28.
Then, on STORYTIME WITH Mark Says Hi! : Tribute to Mitch Hedberg, "It’s a very special hour as Mitch’s wife Lynn, his friends comedians Doug Stanhope, Mike Birbiglia and Rob Cantrell open up Mitch’s personal notebook…take a look inside…and a loving look back at the late great Mitch Hedberg." Air times: 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Friday, May 27; 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. Saturday, May 28.
Clips after the jump!
Today's snapshot comes to us via Mike Birbiglia via Lynn Shawcroft. Earlier this week, Jeopardy used a classic joke from the late Mitch Hedberg for an answer. You know the question? Of course you do.
At the 2004 Just For Laughs galas in Montreal, Mitch Hedberg presented a set that included some classic jokes, plus a few bits that found their way onto his posthumous CD that's out today, Do You Believe in Gosh?
For a smaller stage look at how Hedberg had a really playful onstage nature about him, watch these clips from Go Bananas in Cincy, courtesy of Hedberg's family and Rooftop Comedy.
Tonight, comedy clubs in six cities across America will salute the posthumous release of Do You Believe in Gosh? by the late, great comedian Mitch Hedberg, with "Mitch Across America: One Nation Under Gosh." Read my review of Hedberg's third CD here.
Hedberg's widow, Lynn Shawcroft, will perform along with Al Madrigal, Todd Glass, Nick Thune and others at the Hollywood Improv on Melrose. Arj Barker, Leo Allen, Rob Cantrell, Todd Barry, Bonnie McFarlane, Marc Maron, Russ Meneve and Tony Camin are on the bill at Comix in New York City. Mary Mack and Shane Mauss are among those toasting Hedberg in his native Minnesota at Acme Comedy Co. Ron Reid hosts a show at Laughs in Kirkland, Wash., near Hedberg's comedy "home" where he blossomed his unique voice in Seattle, that includes a slide show from his road manager, Greg Chaille, and performances by Billy Wayne Davis, Emmett Montgomery, Dan Carroll, Jesse Case, Joe Vespaziani and Jeremy Whitman. Josh Sneed, Tommy Johnigan, Geoff Tate, Nikki Glaser, Tim Northern, Ryan Dalton and Will Hardesty will help celebrate him at Go Bananas in Cincinnati (Rooftop Comedy has a series of live clips from Hedberg performing at Go Bananas). Brendon Walsh and others honor Hedberg in the clever Cap City club in Austin, Texas.
I wrote a column about Hedberg that appears in today's New York editions of the Metro newspaper. Each club tonight will host comedians who knew Hedberg and/or were inspired by him.
Rob Cantrell toured as opening act for Hedberg (and Stephen Lynch) in 2004, the year before Hedberg died. Here are some thoughts Cantrell sent my way worth sharing:
Mitch Hedberg was a nice guy and a super talented comic/artist who was a huge inspiration to me and a lot of other comics. I am still sad about his passing and wish he was still here. Mitch was a good dude who worked hard, was funny and cool. Cool as in, a pleasure to be around. Funny, he always was silly and smart. He worked hard building a major following without TV/movie exposure, he got big mostly on word of mouth. He is like the Allman Brothers of Stand-Up.
He loved comedy and put his craft before most everything in his life, including his health. The theater tour with Steven Lynch was huge, the shows were 'Comedy Fun-Land.' They were at big venues like the Warner Theater in DC, Electric Factory in Philly and Town Hall here in New York, packed with cool and intelligent comedy crowds. His fans were great because they were trained to listen and always appreciate something different. We were driving to Buffalo from Pittsburgh and we pulled over at a Karate/Fireworks store (how could you not) and bought bottle rockets which we set off outside the green room after a show giving the fans an extra treat of a grand finale of three-and-a-half bottle rockets. Mitch, Lynn and I also bought karate suits at the fireworks store.
Listening to Mitch Hedberg's posthumous CD, Do You Believe in Gosh? (available Sept. 9 on Comedy Central Records), it's difficult for me to maintain objectivity.
After all, I knew Mitch Hedberg. I interviewed Mitch Hedberg. I performed alongside Mitch Hedberg. And no comedian is, or will ever be, Mitch Hedberg. The world lost this comedian much, much too soon in 2005. In fact, when Hedberg died in March 2005, he was just starting to develop a new hour of material that he would have recorded that October. Instead, we get treated to an even earlier version of his last new jokes, recorded at one of the Improv clubs two months before his death.
You can preview the CD here. For my review, and a chance to win a free copy of the CD, read on!
Comedy Central announced today that it'll release the posthumous third album from stand-up comedian Mitch Hedberg, "Do You Believe in Gosh?" on Sept. 9, including 40 minutes of material previously unreleased and three previously unheard prank phone calls Hedberg made for the network's Crank Yankers show. Hedberg had recorded this stand-up two months before he died in March 2005. He was only 37. Having known and worked with Mitch, it's still tough for me to think about this without wishing he were still alive and telling outrageously clever jokes.
Rooftop Comedy celebrates the life and comedy of Mitch Hedberg by posting video clips from a May 1999 performance at Go Bananas in Cincinnati. They'll post a new clip each Monday until they run out, honoring the late comedian who would've turned 40 on Feb. 24. I've noted my Hedberg connection before. The funny thing about these clips, aside from the jokes themselves, is seeing Hedberg in his natural element. This isn't a Comedy Central taping, or even a CD recording. You see the Hedberg I saw, acknowledging jokes that don't quite work, engaging the club audience, at times brilliant and imperfect, sometimes within the same minute.
A link to this week's clip (apparently, Rooftop doesn't allow full embedding?):
Comedy Central's annual "Stand-Up Showdown" airs today, rebroadcasting the top 20 stand-up specials as voted online by fans over the past month. It's airing now!
The full schedule/countdown...which began at 11:30 a.m. today...(with applicable taping season)
20) Loni Love (season 11)
19) Doug Benson (season 8)
18) Chelsea Handler (season 11)
17) Steve Byrne (season 10)
16) Maria Bamford (season 11)*
15) Rich Vos (season 7)*
14) Dane Cook (season 3)
13) Stephen Lynch (season 12)**
12) Mike Birbiglia (season 10)*
11) Demetri Martin (season 8)
10) Mitch Hedberg (season 1)
9) Jim Gaffigan (season 3)
8) Pablo Francisco (season 4)
7) Kyle Cease (season 10)
6) Mitch Fatel (season 11)
5) Lewis Black (season 6)*
4) Frank Caliendo (season 8)
3) Lisa Landry (season 11)
2) Josh Sneed (season 11)
1) Jeff Dunham (his Spark of Insanity hourlong special)
* These comedians have multiple half-hour CCPs. Rich Vos has one upcoming this season.
** Stephen Lynch is the only one from this current crop of CCPs to make the list. Which, of course, is unfair to the many comedians this season who also taped with Lynch but haven't gotten on the air yet. Then again, this whole "showdown" is essentially just a test to see which comedian wants to mobilize his or her fans to vote early and often for them to get an extra TV airing. Really, that's it. No big cash prize. No trophy. But it certainly got us paying attention to Comedy Central on a Sunday in January, right? Of course, if I were one of the comedians who made the top 20, I'd probably still feel pretty good about it (while also looking at the other comedians who got listed ahead of me and behind me and wondering where I stood, which is why you have to realize and remind yourself that this isn't a "showdown" at all).
The Seattle Times dropped in on its local comedy scene for a random portrait. So, as with most random portraits of comedy, the piece opens with things not going swimmingly at an open mic!
The focus seems to be on the "hipsters" (not my word, nor ever my word) of The People's Republic of Komedy. The male and female halves of Shecky have more experience with them than I have -- I left Seattle in 2001 -- so perhaps I can try to make more sense of what Shecky calls the headscratcher quote from my friend Ron Reid at the Comedy Underground. Reid gets quoted thusly: "It's a little more indie and artsy than it's been in the past. The shows are either free or 5 bucks, so ... there's not this push to be exclusive or 'make it big.' I think the hipsters like it because no one's 'selling out.' "
So how was it in the past? Well, if we're talking about 10 years ago, when I first began frequenting the open mics to make the transition from improv, in Seattle, you had two nights at the Comedy Underground, a night at Giggles, and then random weekly bar nights that would spring up around the city whenever a fellow comic could convince the bar's management to give comedy a try. The open mics attracted just about everyone in the scene, very inclusive in that respect because we all were in the same boat, whether newbies like me or guys and gals with years in the game, merely looking for stage time wherever and whenever we could get it. Maybe that's what Reid means about it being artsier now, because the scene now has a subset that not only encompasses the certain types of comedians at the open mics but also the audiences. We didn't have a specific comedy-savvy audience at our open mics. We had unsuspecting bar patrons, for the most part. So the Seattle comedians now have a more welcoming atmosphere for them to experiment and grow their voices. And that's great news.
The Seattle Times article mentions Mitch Hedberg and Kyle Cease as guys who've used the Emerald City as a launching pad. I saw Hedberg win the Seattle contest in 1997, and not long after that, saw a teenaged Cease (in a suit, as I recall!) already headlining at Giggles. There are many others who've started in Seattle and gone on to bigger and better things (for one example, Joel McHale was a star at TheatreSports before going to L.A. where he now hosts The Soup on E!). And then there's a guy like Reggie Watts, who somehow found a way to start his comedy life in Seattle without the traditional open mics and venues to become an Andy Kaufman Award winner and fixture in New York's comedy scene. Where does he fit into the equation? Just wondering.
What do you think? Your thoughts and comments are welcome.
I was in New York City, celebrating with comedians and Comedy Central folk after a successful night of tapings for the second season of Live At Gotham, when the audience coordinator delivered the news to us. "Did you hear Richard Jeni died?" My first reply: "You've got to be kidding. That must be one of those Internet rumors going around." Nope. No rumor. Although it took until Sunday morning to find out anything that might confirm the tragic news, and that came via my friends at Shecky Magazine.
The official Richard Jeni site first went black, then emerged first with his dates (1957-2007), and later with a note from the family on Monday, and now a note from one of his good friends. It's good that Jeni's family and friends have come out quickly with an explanation -- well, not a complete one, but how can you for a suicide -- so all of his fans don't spread falsehoods about him.
Couldn't help but immediately think of Mitch Hedberg's sudden death two years ago this March.
These two great comics took different paths to self-destruction. Jeni, a gun; Hedberg, drugs. They both needed much more support and comfort than we gave them. It's just so sad.
I knew Hedberg a lot better than I knew Jeni. I had the good fortune to both perform with and interview Hedberg, so his death hit me harder. Though he had always been jovial and mostly sober when I saw him, the signs were so very clear that Hedberg was falling away from us, from his arrest in Texas to his dismal performance in Tempe, to his no-show in Phoenix. Instead of dwelling on that, today I went to this tribute site and watched a bunch of Mitch clips. Still so very funny. Watching the 1995 Comedy Central clip also gives you a glimpse into Mitch's early stage presence, when he had the material but a more traditional delivery. He hadn't yet become the Mitch we all grew to love.
As for Jeni, I didn't really know him at all. Remembered him from The Mask. Remembered him even more for his cinema comedy clips in the late 1990s. Saw him all over the place when I went to the Aspen fest in 2002. Saw him again onstage in Tempe a year or two later. Always quite solid and quick with the quips. I knew a girl who dated him. Now wondering if she was "the girlfriend" and feeling so sorry for her and what she's going through. Talked to some people who did cross paths with Jeni recently and they reported that all was not quite right, or that they had seen a different personality out of Jeni.
They both needed much more support and comfort and a positive kick in the arse than we gave them. It's just so sad. We need to keep an eye on our friends and loved ones, and make sure they know how much we love and care about them. I'm not saying anything new here. But it's still the kind of thing that we need to keep saying if we want to prevent another comic tragedy like this.
No, really. Sorry for being gone from blogland for so long, but I've been dealing with more death than necessary. And that's not even counting the turmoil in my personal and professional lives that don't involve deaths in the family. Yes, it has been a string of those kind of days.
My Nana died on March 25. Being a newspaperman, I pulled the requisite strings (included calling on a friend for a favor) to ensure Nana had a proper obituary in my newspaper. After my dad, my uncles and my aunt read that, they tapped me to prepare Nana's eulogy. She had so many people who loved her. So many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who felt her devotion first-hand. How could I capture all of that? Well, I tried my best.
A few days after that, Mitch Hedberg died. I performed with Mitch and his wife several times between 1999 and 2003. I also interviewed Mitch a couple of times in my day-job capacity over the years. A good guy. A sweet guy. A vulnerable guy. A brilliantly funny yet tortured guy. I heard the news first from my dear friend in Arizona who runs the Tempe Improv, and at that point, he was hoping I could verify the crazy story he had heard. It took me several hours to find out what he already knew. Mitch had died. An apparent heart attack. Last time I saw that phrase with a performer -- Rick James. I never saw Mitch's self-destructive offstage side firsthand, so let me just say that upfront. But people who knew Mitch better than I had told me repeatedly that he was in trouble. He missed his big gig opening for Lewis Black and Dave Attell in Phoenix two years ago. He got arrested for heroin. He had a disastrous performance in Arizona last year. I saw both versions of Mitch onstage, from the comic who torched the field in the Seattle Comedy Competition (many other stand-ups felt he was a ringer because he already had done Letterman) to the comic who could go down in flames suddenly after 20 solid minutes. Sometimes you weren't sure which Mitch would show up. But his impact is undeniable. My comedy club friends would call me out when they saw me slip into Hedbergspeak. I wouldn't try to parrot his punchlines, but his cadence. Wow, that cadence. His delivery was as important, if not more so, than the long hair and shades. Just listen to his CDs. Or read his hometown obit. It's a damn shame. A damn, damn shame.
OK. I've gotten that out of my system. Now where was I?
Life is funnier when you hear about it from Mitch Hedberg.
A lot of comedians say performing stand-up is the closest they can get to being a rock star. Hedberg comes closer to that ideal than most. When I caught up with him at his Southern California home, Hedberg was trying to enjoy his first couple of days off in more than four months. And he was beside himself.
"When I finally get off the road, if I'm not doing comedy or onstage, I don't know what to do with myself," he said. "I need to get a hobby."
Most audiences probably think otherwise, that Hedberg's life is too full of fun, that perhaps he lives the comic's version of the rock star mantra: sex, drugs and stand-up comedy. That, however, is a simplistic reading of his performance style. "A new (comic) thought that," Hedberg said. "But then he saw me. ... I think people are just misconceived." He recalled: "It was more I had to get over some stage fright, and the material I was doing wasn't getting a lot of laughs." So he improvised. And in doing so, he found his voice. "I remember one week in particular in Denver, I had been doing (stand-up) for 7 1/2 years and it all sort of came together for me."
Even now, after multiple appearances on The Late Show With David Letterman and ranking near the top on a Comedy Central stand-up contest, Hedberg said his performances are not as effortless as they may seem. When he tries out new material, it's still hit-or-miss.
Hedberg said one city might love the new jokes, and the second won't go along for the ride. "What's going on? Those people in that other town must have been messing with me." More often, though, it's Hedberg who messes with your perception of reality.
Take these two bits from his Comedy Central special:
"I went to see a band in New York. The lead singer got on the microphone, and he said: 'How many of you people feel like human beings tonight?' Then he said: 'How many of you feel like animals?' And everyone cheered after the animals part. But the thing is, I cheered after the human being part because I did not know that there was a second part to the question."
"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.' "
Hedberg has a new CD in the works on Comedy Central's record label. And he wants to film another concert special or a full-length comedy concert that he could submit to the Sundance Film Festival. Hedberg wrote, directed and starred in a 1999 comedy, Los Enchiladas!, that appeared at Sundance. The film also features Dave Attell and Marc Maron. It's tough to find a copy of the movie, though, so Hedberg said he'll put it on DVD and sell it on his Web site (www.mitchhedberg.net) along with his CDs and cinnamon roll incense.
"The more you write your own ticket, the better," he said. "Because people aren't going to run to you."