Not long after Will Carroll had asked me to join him in writing for this blog, he suggested I do a piece ranking stand-up comedians. I told him I was uncomfortable doing that as I know most of the people who make a living in the biz and didn't want to create a sh#tstorm. Sadly, today I found out the most unique voice in comedy I had ever heard, died.
I met comedian Mitch Hedberg in the mid-90's, as we were both just a couple of years into our standup careers. I was the opening act, Mitch was the middle act and the headliner was a guy who had very little original to offer, but was a draw to the lowest common denominator audience he catered to. The whole week, Mitch ate it in front of this headliner's audience. I sat in the back of the club every night watching and laughing my ass off at Mitch. He was a very cool dude off-stage, but he had some of that Andy Kauffman-thing working, where you weren't sure what was an act and what was just his "normal" personality.
Mitch was compared to Steven Wright from the beginning, but that was too limiting a description, as he had a different rhythm to life and his view of it. I told him at the time, he reminded me of a mix of Wright and the musician Beck. He said to me he thought that was the best description he had ever heard and appreciated it, as he really liked both of them.
The comedy circuit is a pretty exclusive circuit, as there's only 250 or so people who regularly play the clubs, but unfortunately I never ran into him again. I was not surprised to find out that within a couple of years, he had signed a big money development deal with one of the major networks. Rumors started to circulate not long after this deal that he had developed a heroin habit and it got to be a sick joke about how erratic his performances became and what adventures that followed him, caused by the needle. ""
I'm not here to moralize and considering that my first good friend in comedy died from a heroin overdose in 2002, I can only say I have some understanding of the destructiveness of the drug. It should be mentioned that a lot of Mitch's hilarious insights on life were written when he was on drugs. It reminds me of the line the great Bill Hicks said about how "some of the greatest music in history was written by performers who were really f____ing high." Add another to the list of artists which drugs helped make and then helped break.
During my time in stand-up, Hicks and Hedberg have been the two most influential performers to other comics. This demonstrates one of the great things about comedy; it's wide-range of styles that can elicit the same reaction. Hicks and Hedberg were completely different in style and substance, but they shared a special ability to challenge audiences and make them laugh at the same time.