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."