In my freshman year of college, Mitch Hedberg came to perform at my school. I had seen him on Comedy Central but didn’t realize the extent of his following until I saw how the kids on my floor, who had done more than a little pot in their day, worshipped him. I was too crazed in my ultimately doomed pursuit of a biology major to see the show, but I figured I’d get the chance again. Two weeks later, Hedberg was found dead in his hotel room at age 37.
The death was particularly poor-timed. A regular of the comedy circuit for years, by 2004-05 Hedberg was finally getting mainstream recognition. But despite the normal boost in fame that comes posthumously, Hedberg has still yet to develop the following he truly deserves. Sure, his brand of short, Steven Wright-esque one-off jokes that miss nearly often as they hit is not for everyone, but we have yet to see a comedian in Hedberg’s wake who has done so much with so little.
Do You Believe in Gosh, the last recorded album of original Hedberg material, is arguably his weakest. After the raw, primitive groundwork set by Strategic Grill Locations was followed by Hedberg’s magnum opus, Mitch All Together, it’s unclear whether Do You Believe in Gosh would be one of the middle-of-the-pack albums in a long career or a sign of a comedian who had already peaked.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some genuinely hilarious moments; his crowd interaction with a guy maybe named Phil, his riff on Venetian kids having “canal smarts,” and his meta-theatrical explanation of how he’s smoking for his act just so he could smoke in a bar in California are just a few of dozens of highlights. Hedberg had hundreds of these slice-of-life jokes that he could just pop out at any moment, which made him one of the most quotable comedians of the past decade.
What distinguishes Gosh form other Hedberg releases is that Hedberg is clearly testing out jokes that still have yet to be fully formulated. This results in a lot of jokes that bomb, and Hedberg had to turn to his top-notch recovery ability more often than you’d like in a 40-minute set. But it also offers us an inside look into the creative process of one of the most deceptively creative comedians of the recent memory. In most of the misses, you can see where the seed of the joke lay and knew Hedberg would be able to fine tune the joke for bigger laughs with more work. In future live shows, many of the bombs could have even become Hedberg fan favorites.
In that regard, Do You Believe in Gosh is perhaps a perfect capstone to a career cut tragically short. This is not Hedberg’s best, but it’s his most personal, fulfilling record, which provides a deeper look at a comedian who has already left a gaping hole in the talent pool of smart stupid stand-ups. How this record would appear under different circumstances is debatable, but if that were the case, we could have always just seen Hedberg again.