(Author’s note: Less than seven months later, comic Mitch Hedberg died of a drug overdose.)
Five years ago, Time magazine declared stand-up comic Mitch Hedberg “the next Seinfeld.”
Five years later, it’s likely you’re wondering, “Mitch who?”
Hedberg, 36, barely climbed the first step toward a Seinfeld-ian empire. In 1999, Hedberg signed a lucrative production deal with Fox to develop a sitcom then landed flat. He later worked on an MTV series pilot but backed out when they wouldn’t let him help edit the show.
Speaking by phone from the Los Angeles area, Hedberg – who co-headlines two shows with musical comic Stephen Lynch at the Barrymore Theatre Thursday – offered a typically skewed perspective of his TV struggles.
“It’s like playing Monopoly over and over again and no one tells you how to really play,” he said, “but they still give you money.”
Regardless, Hedberg’s forte is stand-up comedy. He’s a master at snappy zingers. To call his material jokes seems to diminish the sharpness of Hedberg’s observations. Steven Wright offers similarly crisp writing, but Hedberg adds personality and a brilliant staccato delivery on stage.
There may not be a better stand-up comic who avoids political or social humor performing today.
Question: A press release from the show’s promoter says, “Mitch Hedberg and Stephen Lynch are not household names because most people who like them still live in apartments.” You wrote that, right?
Hedberg: I didn’t, but that’s hilarious. I might have to steal that one.
Question: Is this tour, which opens in Madison then goes to major cities nationwide, a benchmark in your career?
Hedberg: It is. I love to play theaters. I do an act that’s me in my own world. It’s not necessary to have an intimate audience to perform my repertoire. I can kind of just go off in my own space. A theater lets you do this.
Question: There’s almost a slow rap tempo to the way you talk on stage.
Hedberg: It’s an exaggerated version of my actual voice. I can go into a rhythm that feels comfortable. I can tell when a punch line fits because if I talk in a certain way I know exactly how many syllables I need. It’s almost mathematical.”
Question: Madison opens your tour. Have you decided with Stephen who goes on first?
Hedberg: We’re going to rotate that each night. It’s an ego thing between management companies.
Question: You’ve been doing stand-up comedy on the road for years, right?
Hedberg: “I was 20 years old when I started comedy and I’m 36 now. It’s been basically a non-stop tour. But if I’m off too long, I want to go out again. My theory is not to stop and smell the roses. My theory is to find the roses then go find more roses in another city.
Question: Your wife is a stand-up comic?
Hedberg: Yeah. She opens most of my shows. (She’s not on this tour.) It makes the road a lot less lonely. She picks out what I wear on the stage. She has a good eye.
Question: There’s a sitcom plot for you: husband-and-wife comics.
Hedberg: (laughs) A few years ago, networks said because of “Seinfeld” we can’t do another show about a comedian. They said, “How about playing a tennis pro?” Or, “You’re a record store owner.” There are guys who have been acting for years trying to get good at it. I can’t step into these characters like that. I want to play me.
Question: Your stand-up material takes ordinary subjects and twists them into terrific bits. How do you write?
Hedberg: Every moment of the day is a potential joke.