Don't believe the hype. Mitch is immortal...
Apparently, I need to explain. Big Chris is confused. Mitch Hedberg is pretty much my favorite comedian. He's a genius, a god, a gifted soul who, if you've been reading my blog Cullen, I've written about a lot. Apparently, he died yestersday. I ripped this article off from the Minneapolis Star Tribune...
St. Paul-born comedian Mitch Hedberg, a cult favorite on college campuses, died Wednesday in Livingston, N.J., while traveling between shows.
Pending the medical examiner's report, the cause of death appears to be heart failure, his mother, Mary Hedberg, said Thursday.
She said Hedberg was born with a heart defect and spent much of the first year of his life receiving treatment at the University of Minnesota. He frequently felt anxious about his condition and reported heart palpitations, she said, but "it was determined to be something that would be fine as long as he stayed within the reaches of normalcy."
She characterized speculation that his death was drug-related as "gossiping. We don't know that for a fact," but added: "It's not a secret Mitch used drugs. Whether that played a role in his death or not, we don't know."
Jokes about Hedberg's drug use were a staple of his act and he took a several-month hiatus from performing after a May 2003 arrest in Austin, Texas, for felony possession of heroin.
His busy touring schedule had become erratic. In mid-March, his performance at the University of Maryland was described in the school newspaper as "unprepared and rushed," with Hedberg reading his act from notes onstage. A week later he failed to appear for a five-day engagement at Richmond, Va.'s Funny Bones comedy club, calling night after night to cancel each performance, according to the club's spokesperson, Jessi Plucknett***
Mary Hedberg, who spoke with her son on Saturday, said "he was struggling" but appeared to be "OK."
A hit on Letterman
A hit on "The Late Show With David Letterman," on which he appeared 10 times, and "The Howard Stern Show," Hedberg once was dubbed "the next Seinfeld" by Time magazine. But TV-series fame eluded him because his unique style of mumbled one-liners didn't lend itself to the sitcom format. His rambling, mumbling non-sequitur style often drew comparisons to Steven Wright, but Hedberg disagreed.
"If I made potato chips and put them in a can, people would say I was ripping off Pringles," he said. "But what if I put them in a bag?"
Hedberg had two popular comedy CDs, "Strategic Grill Locations" and "Mitch All Together," acted in Cameron Crowe's movie "Almost Famous" -- smoking fake pot with Peter Frampton -- and appeared on Fox's hit series "That '70s Show."
Drawing on kitchen jobs that he held before becoming a performer, he wrote, directed, produced and acted in the slacker comedy "Los Enchiladas," filmed at St. Paul's Boca Chica restaurant and the Maplewood Mall. The film was featured at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival.
He was held in high regard among his peers. "He was the greatest comedian ever," said his close friend, Doug Stanhope of cable TV's "The Man Show," who recently opened for Hedberg.
Heroin in the green room
Hedberg's act often alluded to drinking and drug use.
"I used to do drugs. I still do drugs. But I used to, too," he often said, adding, "Alcoholism is the only disease you can get yelled at for having."
Comedian Scott Hansen, a former club owner who gave Hedberg his first booking at the St. Paul Comedy Gallery, said he caught Hedberg shooting heroin in the green room at his club in 1994.
Louis Lee, owner of Minneapolis's Acme Comedy Co. said he had seen deterioration in Hedberg's work in recent years. At the 2004 Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, "he just destroyed the audience at the 8 p.m. show," Lee said. "Then at the midnight show, he had completely lost his timing. A genius like him can destroy himself so easily."
Painfully shy onstage, Hedberg hid behind a curtain of long hair. He wore dark glasses and kept his eyes closed while performing.
Dave Mordal of Elk River, a finalist on the broadcast-TV reality show "Last Comic Standing," said that Hedberg appeared to be struggling with "his own special brand of demons" on the occasions they worked together.
"He had these horrible demons that were eating at him. He wouldn't communicate," Mordal said. "He pulled into himself, and the more successful he became, the more he pulled in."
His mother said, "Mitch had a high anxiety level." Before going onstage, "he would worry. He worried about the fact that he wasn't 100 percent normal."
Minneapolis music manager Steph Elmer, who performed in "Los Enchiladas" and remained in contact with Hedberg over the years, said that after his career began to accelerate, his shyness increased.
"I don't think he expected the overwhelming stress of touring, and the expectation for a comedian to always be funny," Elmer said.
She recalled his warm greeting for members of the film's crew at a performance several years after the shoot. He walked through the auditorium afterward, remembering faces and giving everyone a hug and thanks for coming.
"Everybody loved him," she said.
Hedberg, 37, attended St. Paul's Johnson High School and graduated from Harding High School -- "the Loser School," he called it, according to Hansen, "but he would always go back there and they would point to him as someone who came out of there and really did something with his life."
Discussing his heroin arrest in an October interview with Las Vegas Weekly, Hedberg said, "As far as what I've learned, I guess it's to stay as far under the radar as possible. I mean, I've definitely learned over the years that you can't do copious amounts of drugs and stay alive. That's not going to happen."
He is survived by his wife, comedian Lynn Shawcroft., his father and mother, Arne and Mary Hedberg of St. Paul, and sisters Wendy Brown of Woodbury and Angie Anderson of South St. Paul.
Visitation will be 4 to 8 p.m. Monday and 10 to 11 a.m. Tuesday at Wulff Woodlane Mortuary, 2195 Woodlane Dr., Woodbury, with a service at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Ambrose Catholic Church, 4125 Woodbury Drive, Woodbury.
***Apparently not. The year is now 2006 and Jessi's taken the time to e-mail me and correct me on that one. I don't know why she told that to some reporter in Minneapolis and then writes me a year later to ammend it, but I don't really care either way. So he didn't call night after night. Okay? Whatever. He's still dead and I'm still sad about it. But I gotta say, I love how seriously people take this blog thing.
Rock on, Jessi! Keep reading!