Comedian Mitch Hedberg didn't just march to the beat of his own drum, sometimes his band didn't even have a drummer, if the band even showed up. This is to say that Hedberg's style of comedy was based in observational humor from his point of view, which was often skewed more than just slightly. His comic styling was just as much Mark Twain as it was any other comedian. Take for instance his joke, "I haven't slept for ten days, because that would be too long." It was that ability to play with the English language, just like Twain did, and turn it on its ear that made Hedberg such a breath of fresh air in the comedy circuit.
Tragically, as has happened all too often, substance abuse eventually took Mitch's life in 2005. At just 37 years old, Hedberg's voice was silenced forever as a result of an overdose of cocaine and heroin. Mitch had struggled with substance dependence for a long time, and in his own way even joked about it, "I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too."
Mitch was a voice wholly unique to himself, but he was part of a long line of past and present comics that weren't afraid to be bizarre and absurd to get laughs. Here are a few of the notably off-kilter comedians of the past forty years.
Reggie Watts - No one can really perfectly describe who or what Reggie Watts is. He's equal parts comedian, performance artist, and technological genius. Oh, and don't forget that he can build a capella, improvised songs on the fly a la Bobby McFerrin. There are hundreds of videos on YouTube and otherwise that showcase the mad genius that is Reggie. There's not a single comedian out there today doing what he does, and certainly not at the level at which he succeeds.
Andy Kaufman - Before Mitch, there was Andy. Kaufman's brand of humor made the audience unsure if they were in on the punchline, part of it, or the butt of the joke. He wrestled women and got into fake fights on David Letterman with the professional wrestling star Jerry Lawler. He also appeared on the sitcom "Taxi." Kaufman too passed away at a tragically early age. At 34 years old, he died of complications from his rare form of lung cancer that he developed. In a bizarre twist, Kaufman was not a smoker, only lighting up when he was playing his nefarious alter-ego Tony Clifton.
Steve Martin - The man who put avant-garde, performance art comedy on the map, Martin was a rock star of the comedy circuit. With his banjo, the arrow through his head and his sparkling white suits, Martin's style of stand up was just as much parody of the art form as it was a practice of it. In the 1970s, there was really no bigger name in comedy in terms of playing massive stadiums and public cache. Now he's the reigning king of Twitter one-liners and quips. Kaufman, Watts and Hedberg all probably would have had problems breaking through into the mainstream without Martin blazing the trail ahead of them.
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