Here's the Thing

Let’s Talk About Mitch Hedberg

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #117. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Here’s the Thing is where Rob dumps his random thoughts and strong opinions on all manner of nerdy subjects – from videogames and movies to board games and toys.

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Everyone’s got a favorite comedian – or at least they should. I feel like that’s a pretty common thing. Sometimes we just find someone whose humor lines up with our own so much, or their delivery hits us in just the right way, that they can always get us cracking up. Well, for me that comedian is the late Mitch Hedberg. But here’s the thing: while I’ve been extremely fond of his jokes for years (in college I listened to his CD more often than I listened to the Neverhood soundtrack, which was a lot), it wasn’t until recently that I came to the realization that his jokes are actually super wholesome. And that he, as a comedian, is a shining example of how comedy can be extremely funny without being mean.

“If you were walking down the street with a friend who was a tightrope walker, and he fell, that would be completely unacceptable.”

I don’t say this because I think comedy has to the wholesome – though I am squarely in the Let’s Not be Sexist or Racist, Mmmkay? camp – but because it actually surprised me when I realized that Mitch’s humor never punched down. Or up. Or at all, really. His jokes were always made using weirdly innocent, observational humor. And he was still extremely damn funny.

He had this way of breaking down the absurdity of the world around us that was just . . . clever and inherently silly. He’d poke fun of common phrases we never stop to think about “‘Here’s a picture of me when I was younger.’ Every picture is of you when you were younger.” He’d bust out random statements that made no sense but also made complete sense “I can’t eat spaghetti, there’s too many of ‘em.” But it was never aggressive. Never mean.

“The other day I saw a kid flying a kite, and he was so excited that the kite was in the sky. I don’t know why, that’s what they’re supposed to do. Now, if he had a chair on the other end of that string, I woulda known. Imagine trying to fly a chair. You’d have to run like a motherfucker.”

Even his jokes dealing with the kind of life and relationship topics other comedians tend to turn into gender things, he managed to make hilarious without dipping into any of that stuff. His joke about getting into an argument with his girlfriend while camping was about the absurdity of not being able to slam a door, but rather a tent flap “What do you do, zipper it up really quick?” Sure he would swear and often joke about smoking pot or drinking, but I’ve yet to hear one of his quips that made me do that sharp inhale followed by an “Ooooooooooo…” And I can’t help but love and respect him even more now that I’ve realized this.

Again, I’m not trying to say that all comedy needs to be victimless, or that comedians who make fun of specific people or types of people are bad by default (see “punching up”), but I am saying that it can be. And Mitch Hedberg’s legacy is proof of that.

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Rob Rich is a guy who’s loved video games since the ’80s, and has had the good fortune of being able to write about them. The same goes for other nerdy stuff from Anime to Godzilla, and from Power Rangers toys to Transformers. He gave up on Twitter, because Twitter is garbage, but you can still find him on Instagram and Mastodon.

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