Susie had never seen Mitch perform before. I'd seen him a couple of times at the Tempe Improv and he was one of those comics that would make me laugh so hard that I'd cry. You know when you're laughing so damn hard that your body just locks up? You laugh as hard as you think you could possibly laugh, but then you laugh even harder because you realize that you've never laughed that hard. It self-perpetuates. You think it'll never end. You start to worry about your health. Then, as soon as you start to slow down a little, the motherfucker says something even more off the wall and you're incapacitated again. That's what my first couple of Mitch shows were like.
Susie had seen Mitch's Comedy Central show and she was excited to see him perform. We get hardly any good stand-up in Seattle, so for someone of Mitch's caliber to be coming to town, it was pretty exciting. We stood out in the rain in front of the club telling ourselves that they'd start letting people in any minute. About 20 minutes before the show was to start, we learned that Mitch was still on stage doing the early show. We continued to wait for people to come out. Every once in a while, we'd hear sounds from inside - the muffled end of a joke, laughing, chaos... We waited and waited. Almost an hour after the show was to start, people started coming out, but not in huge groups. Mitch was still on stage. People started warning us that he was really drunk. People filed out slowly. Mitch was still on stage. We started hearing reports of how he was almost passed out and how he was talking shit to the audience and the club owner. We waited. Mitch was still on stage. More people came out. They warned us that there was no way he'd be doing the second show. We waited. Mitch was still on stage.
Finally, the show ended and a little while after that we were informed that the second show was canceled. We'd waited outside for over two hours. We were bummed. We learned that the reason the show went on so long is that Mitch found out that the club had charged the front section $10 more than they'd told him they were charging, so he felt he should give them their money's worth. He got blitzed in the meantime and barely finished the set.
A few months ago, Mitch came back to Seattle with a couple of other comedians. He was the headliner. This show was way different than the times I'd seen him in Tempe. He was obviously wasted. He'd forget the jokes. He'd repeat jokes. He was still funny as hell, but there was an element to the performance that made you feel kind of weird for laughing at it, because he was obviously so wasted. It was like a "very special" 80's sitcom where someone's got a problem with alcohol and at first, everyone thinks they're really fun and a good time to be with, but then they realize the person's an alcoholic and it gets all serious, but there's that sad moment where the drunk still thinks that everyone thinks they're funny and is still having a good time. You know what I mean? Towards the end of the set, his friends were trying to coax him off stage, but he didn't want to go. He just floundered around on stage for a while. At one point, he tried to explain to the audience how hard it is to tell the jokes every night and how he has to drink to get himself on stage. It was sort of depressing. I still laughed my ass off, because really you can't help it, but I also kept wondering if anyone was trying to help him when he was off stage... if anyone had realized that Mitch may have a problem or tried to confront him with it... if he even had anyone in his life to do that for him... or if everyone just thought he was that wacky drunk guy who made for some crazy stories.
I guess regardless of his alleged (by me) alcoholism, from what I know Mitch was a guy who really, REALLY loved what he did and had a great time at it. When he died, he was still one of the greatest and I'll bet he knew it up to and including that last show. In some ways, I guess he's luckier than most.
Cheers to you, Mitch Hedberg. Thanks for the laughs, and for the three out of four shows.