Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Comedy Review - Mitch Hedberg - Do You Believe In Gosh?

Recorded about two months prior to his death in March of 2005, Do You Believe In Gosh? is comedian Mitch Hedberg’s first posthumous release. Only 37 years old at the time of his death in a New Jersey hotel room, it’s still likely a bitter and depressing pill for his fans to swallow.

Hedberg’s on-stage persona was unique: wearing sunglasses and often times performing with his eyes closed or with his hair in front of his face (a way to manage stage fright was the usual explanation), he delivered his jokes in an odd slacker cadence that could make the most banal aspects of life seem hilarious. Topics ranging from how Do Not Disturb signs are misleading (“Do…I get to disturb this guy…Not…Shit!”) to what’s enjoyable about golf (“I didn’t get a hole in one, but I did hit a guy. And that’s way more satisfying”) to sheer laziness (“I sit at my hotel at night. I think of something that’s funny, then I go get a pen and I write it down. Or if the pen’s too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of ain’t funny”) were fair game. And to think that the current crop of redneck/hoosier comedians will probably be inflicting their particular brand of torture on audiences for another 30 years before they’re called to that great trailer park in the sky.

In some ways, Gosh is markedly different from the comedian’s previously released shows. Most notably, it contains a large batch of jokes Hedberg was working on at the time of his death; these jokes will most likely not be familiar to listeners (some jokes were performed in various shows prior to this 2005 show). The performance is also far less polished – if a Hedberg performance could ever really be called that – than the shows captured on Mitch All Together. Occasionally it’s clear that some of the jokes are works in progress; at one point the comedian even comments that some still need work. There’s also more audience interaction on Gosh than on Hedberg’s previously released shows. In one exchange, Hedberg mishears a heckler’s name as “Phil” and asks if he works at a gas station (think about it for a minute).

Yet this release still has all the hallmarks of Hedberg at his finest: comments about his own abilities as a performer, random observations about everyday life and its absurdities, wry asides and non-sequiturs, and a very subtle bastardization of words and their connotations. He jokes at the start of the performance that after a bad show he gave at the Improv the previous night, the letter “E” had been added to the end of the venue’s name; later he says that comedy is part of his “get rich slow scheme…and it’s working.”

The names people attach to objects are skewed in a manner that’s either completely idiotic or brilliant, depending on one’s point of view, with Hedberg commenting that a “fly is very close to being called a land.” Hedberg takes common phrases and their well-known meanings and intentionally misunderstands them, asking whether a hippopotamus is just a really cool “opotamus,” joking that he had a piece of Carefree gum but was still worried, stating that he’s tired of soup of the day and that it’s time for “soup from now on, and joking that people in Venice have “canal smarts,” not street smarts.

Some of the jokes seem ridiculously obvious or silly, yet they remain damn funny even after hearing them several times. Hedberg’s drink of choice in this performance is Nyquil on the rocks, since he’s “feeling sick but sociable.” He comments that “where are they now?” shows should be about people who are easy to find (“Where’s Jay Leno? Still in Burbank”), describes a burrito as a “sleeping bag for ground beef,” explains that “when you wear glasses and talk to someone you always think they’re outside of a window,” and says that a sheet lying on the floor of his hotel was simply a ghost that had passed out.

Despite the many laughs, this release still carries a definite sense of loss with it. Though no one will likely ever really know what prompted the drug use that eventually led to Hedberg’s death – speculating is pure BS armchair psychology – what’s clear is that his death cut short the career of one of the most creative, inventive, and original comedians in many years.

For both long-time Hedberg fans as well as those unfamiliar with his routine, Gosh is essential listening and an excellent document of the comedian at his best.

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