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Mitch Hedberg


“I fuckin’ hate arrows, man. They try to tell you which
direction to go. It’s like, ‘fuck you man, I ain’t going
that way, line with two-thirds of a triangle on the end!’
Imagine being killed by a bow and arrow; that
would suck. An arrow killed you; they would never
solve the crime. ‘Look at that dead guy…let’s go
that way.’”
It’s not hard to remember my reaction the first time I saw Mitch Hedberg on TV. It must’ve been four or five years
ago, and I was sitting on my couch on a summer afternoon. I turned on comedy central, and this strange stoner-
looking guy was mumbling, big sunglasses and messy hair covering his face. He was standing still, a machine
delivering bizarre one-liners. Comedians never look like this, or act like this. They don’t seem this nervous. They
don’t start laughing at themselves two words into a joke. I had no idea what this guy was.

But I was laughing. Gut laughing. Holding-my-stomach-oh-my-god-I’m-laughing-so-hard-every-part-of-me-hurts
laughing. His material was ridiculous – tomatoes, frogs, walls with no doorknobs, jellybeans, it was genius. And
he was so self-conscious on stage you couldn’t help but think of him as a friend. Anyone who saw Mitch perform
felt as though you could hang out with him afterwards, maybe grab a beer and watch TV.

But he gave observational humor the most outlandish twist ever. Comedians should just retire that device now,
because no one will ever come within a mile of Mitch. He didn’t take the Seinfeld route and comment on the
ordinary. He went deeper and explored the unordinary.

“The thing that’s depressing about tennis is that no matter how good I get, I’ll never be as good as a wall. I played
a wall once, they’re fuckin’ relentless.”

He gave the absurd and mundane a voice. He brought humor to insecurity and laughter to the awkward.

Not everyone understood him, though, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look down at those people. To laugh at
Mitch Hedberg was to admit that life should never be taken too seriously. There was no event too serious that it
didn’t have an ounce of hilarity hidden, and Mitch made sure to find it.

“Alcoholism is a disease, but it’s the only disease you can be yelled at for having. ‘God damn it Otto, you’re an
alcoholic!’ ‘God damn it Otto, you have lupus!’ One of those two doesn’t sound right.”

His delivery was classic, full of false-starts, unfinished jokes, jokes that bombed, jokes about himself, jokes that
left audiences in pain with laughter. He took stand-up comedy and turned into a life-long audition, never fully
comfortable with his chosen line of work.

And I had the good fortune to see him in action, too, in Providence, R.I. a few months ago. He paced around the
stage, tried talking into two mics at once in an attempt to be “twice as funny,” spent five minutes with his head
stuck behind the curtain, tried to outrun the spotlight… he was brilliant, and it looked like he wasn’t even trying.
Maybe he wasn’t. He told the same joke twice without realizing, which in itself was side-splitting.

But, it’s over now. He left us on March 30, 2005, and he left the world a little less funny. Every joke has to come to
an end eventually, but it this one was stopped short way too soon. He shouldn’t have joined the ranks of Jimi
Hendrix, Lenny Bruce, Keith Moon, Bill Hicks and Kurt Cobain; he should’ve been with Neil Young, B.B. King and
Mel Brooks. The demons of his personal life may never be fully known to the public, nor should they – it was his
life. His jokes were a gift to the public. He could’ve been funny for at least 40 more years, and he should’ve been.

As it is, he’ll always have a sad cloud hanging over him. But he’ll be funny forever.