Comedy Central Presents: Mitch Hedberg

Mitch Hedberg - Mitch All TogetherSynopsis: Mitch Hedberg was one of the smartest, strangest, and by far most creative standup comedians of his day. Likened to a younger, hipper Steven Wright, Mitch garnered a large rabid following with observations like “Mr. Pibb is a poor imitation of Dr. Pepper. Dude didn’t even get his degree.” Mitch All Together is a double-digipak that contains a full-length CD of Mitch’s newest observations, as well as a DVD of his best on-air performances and more.

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Comedy Central Presents: Mitch Hedberg 7.5

eyelights: Hedberg’s penchant for non sequiturs.
eyesores: Hedberg’s uneven stage presence.

“Welcome to my half-hour special.”

Although he performed for close to twenty years, Mitch Hedberg was a stand-up comedian I knew nothing about until a friend of mine showed me a few short clips of him. I thought he was funny, but the brevity of those video bytes left me unconvinced – what I took away from it was just how visibly drunk and/or high he was during his performances.

Recently, the same friend showed my gf and I a collage of a series of his one-liners, all bundled together with no apparent rhyme or reason by someone on Youtube. We all laughed at the absurdity of his reflections and proposals; clearly, Hedberg had a unique take on life and enjoyed highlighting the ridiculousness of some everyday notions:

  • “An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs. You should never see an Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order sign, just Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience.”
  • “I bought a doughnut, and they gave me a receipt. There is no need for that, man. I’ll just give you the money, you give me the doughnut. End of transaction. We do not need to bring ink and paper into this. I cannot imagine a situation in which I would have to prove that I bought a doughnut. Hey man! Don’t even act like I didn’t buy that doughnut! I got the documentation right here…damn…I forgot it at home… it’s in the file cabinet…under D…for doughnut.”

When my local library was donated a second-hand copy of his CD/DVD ‘Mitch All Together’ and were selling it in the bookstore for 2$, I decided that I would pick it up – even though the CD was missing. At the very least, I would find one very eager watcher. And, truth be told, I was not a little curious to see a full routine of his; I wondered if his set would be composed of one-liners and what his stage presence would be.

The DVD features a special that Hedberg did on Comedy Central in 1999 in both the broadcast version as well as the uncut one. It also includes a short bit he did on a 1998 episode of “Premium Blend”. Since the DVD package didn’t explicitly indicate what was what (at the time we had no idea what “Premium Blend” was, how long any of the bits were, …etc.), we simply decided to watch the main show in its uncut format.

“I used to do drugs. I still do drugs. But I used to, too.”

Hedberg is obviously stoned or drunk out of his mind during this show. It’s not just his stand-up style: he’s hardly present, and spends much of his time scouring his ravaged mind for his one-liners. He also just stands there, almost frozen, only once wandering to the back of the stage, and then coming back to the front and standing there some more, frequently stating that this is his special.

Let’s just say that it’s not exactly an exhilarating live show.

But that depends on the version that you watch. I decided to watch the broadcast edit after reading that they had judiciously excised material and added a laughing track. And it’s true: they recut the show in a more flowy manner, added a laugh track, and even inserted shots of pretty young women laughing along. The show was much better “sexed up” this way, which says something about both Hedberg and stand-up comedy concerts.

“I was at this 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.”

The DVD’s opening segment, “Premium Blend”, which is only about 5 minutes long, was also much better. Part of the reason is that his stage presence isn’t nearly as impaired as it is for the “special”, but it’s also because we are treated to a moderate amount of Hedberg’s material. Of course, it could all be in the editing, as with the full-length special, but it could also be that I tend to prefer routines with transitional material (ex: George Carlin’s later stuff).

I even watched the uncut version a second time, to see what another buddy thought of it, and I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I did the first time. We initially did, and my buddy shook his head in disbelief at how absurd Hedberg’s material was. But the room went silent as we watched him struggle to keep himself afloat; it was kind of pathetic. Sadly, the more I watch this cut of the show, the less funny I think it is.

Mitch Hedberg is definitely better in short bursts, such as the highlights reel that I was first exposed to – or totally edited out, like on Comedy Central’s broadcast version. I still think he can be extremely funny – there’s no doubt about it. But it’s no laughing matter that he became incapable of performing properly due to his substance abuse – of which he eventually died in 2005, at the age of 37.

Date of viewing: September 20, 2013

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