Taking a Second Look at Comedian Mitch Hedberg

Our cultural concierge, Jesse Kornbluth, recommends checking out the late standup comedian Mitch Hedberg if you need some laughs to brighten the dark winter days. Hedberg died at age 37 in 2005.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

In need of a laugh? Jesse Kornbluth, our cultural adviser, is here to tell us about a standup comedian whose work is worth a second look.

Mr. MITCH HEDBERG: I got an athletic fan in my house. The fan goes back and forth. It looks like the fan is saying no.

So I'd like to ask it questions that a fan would say no to. Do you keep my hair in place? Do you keep my documents in order? Do you have three settings? Liar.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ELLIOTT: So, Jesse, tells us more.

JESSE KORNBLUTH: That was the great, sadly the late, Mitch Hedberg. I think of him as a kind of Zen comic because there's only the one sentence. There's no joke. Everything comes down to a one-liner surrounded by space, without much context. If there's a story, it's just like three or four lines. If things don't track and these one-liners are just - I can't do them justice because his accent is a bit Southern and it's a bit random. He emphasizes occasional words that are not the key words in a sentence.

ELLIOTT: It's a little off kilter.

KORNBLUTH: He will point out to you that an escalator can never break. It can only become stairs, and then he looks often he says excuse the convenience. You know, pause, break. When someone hands you a flyer, it's like he's saying, here, you throw this away.

ELLIOTT: So it's like it takes a minute for your brain to exactly process the joke.

KORNBLUTH: Right, because he's very fast and very clever. I mean - and it's also, it's also about words. I have no problem not listening to the Temptations. And he takes like these little moments, like he'll look at a Kit Kat bar and decide that it's really not fair that the letters are imprinted so you get less chocolate.

Mr. HEDBERG: You know there's a fishing show on TV. They catch the fish but they let it go. They don't want to eat the fish but they do want to make it late for something. Where were you? I got caught.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KORNBLUTH: These small things are actually, you know, large things in his world and they become large things in yours. Politics disappears, sex disappears. There is nothing dirty or - he swears a little bit, but there's nothing dirty or raunchy about him. He's just one of those guys who was like too smart for the room. And this is a really bittersweet story because all that exists of him is really this one anthology CD. There are some others that are small, but this is called "Mitch All Together" and it's a 40-minute DVD of his performances and about a 40-minute CD of his club dates. And those 80 minutes are really about all there are.

I mean, what's even sadder about Mitch not being around is he was just one of those, you know, original guys who was nice to his fans, thrilled to be doing comedy, in love with his wife and, you know, had a drug habit that killed him.

ELLIOTT: And he died early. He was 37 years old. This was, what - 2005?

KORNBLUTH: Yes. But you know, in a way, if there's ever immortality, Mitch Hedberg is the sort of guy who could pull it off because he is so addictively funny. He is so smart. And if you're not careful, you will start talking like Mitch. I mean, this is a very powerful cult that this guy have.

ELLIOTT: Jesse Kornbluth is our Head Butler. Whenever you need a suggestion for what to listen to, read or watch, just go to his Web site, headbutler.com.

Thank you, Jesse.

KORNBLUTH: Thank you, Deb.

(Soundbite of stand-up comedy)

Mr. HEDBERG: I got a king-sized bed. I don't know any kings, but if one came over, I guess he'll be comfortable. Oh, you're king, you say. You won't believe what I have in store for you. It is to your exact specifications. I did not know you guys were all the same size. I think I can set your lady on too. When I was a boy, I laid on my twin-sized bed. Wondered where my brother was.

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Mitch All Together

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