Fifteen years into his standup comedy career, Mitch Hedberg is experiencing a span of pseudo-fame that rock bands who make it big must pine for: enjoying full venues and critical acclaim, but without the burden of MTV stardom; being adored by hipsters at the record store, but going unrecognized on the street.
"I'm definitely jealous that those comics get to do long sets on prime-time network television," Hedberg admits. "But did you see that one episode where they had to put clown costumes on and perform for those kids? I don't know if I could do that." He pauses. "I guess it's not real jealousy, though. I'm doing pretty well myself."
Indeed. Currently on a 28-city tour across the country with comedic songwriter Stephen Lynch, Hedberg has a professional arc that most comics would kill for. In addition to a wealth of big-time gigs under his belt -- two CDs, a DVD, film and television appearances, opening slots for some of the biggest standup stars -- Hedberg has such a cult following that even on college campuses, his discs are swapped faster than STDs on a weekend. He's the rarest of the rare: enjoyed and appreciated by all, yet somehow a comic's comic.
He's doing so well, in fact, that he's saved enough money for a pretty kick-ass RV.
"I'm driving it to Louisiana Tech right now for my next show," Hedberg says proudly from the road. "I've always wanted to tour on a bus-type thing, and this is the closest I've gotten. It's like 10 percent away from being a bus. Thirty-five-footer, man, real sweet."
With a touring schedule of nearly 300 days a year, it seems inevitable that Hedberg will be conducting interviews from an even larger vehicle next time around.
"Initially that shit was thrust at me in the form of development deals," Hedberg says, referring to past opportunities for Hollywood glory. "But for whatever reason, it didn't work out, so I was forced to stay on the road because there was nothing else to do and I loved it so much. I'd still like to be on television, but I've always gone about things in an outsider kind of way. I like guys like [Dave] Chappelle, people who have written their own ticket."
Though often compared to Steven Wright, Hedberg is a true individual, crafting his style into a unique mix of bizarre yet dead-on observations. With long hair hanging over his sunglasses, Hedberg stares straight at the ground with a drink in hand, offering stream-of-consciousness commentary in such rapid-fire style that audiences can't help but be swept up in the absurdity.
"I order the club sandwich all the time, and I'm not even a member, man, I don't know how I get away with it," begins one typical bit. "I was going to have my teeth whitened, but then I said fuck that, I'll just get a tan instead." Another joke goes, "I had a job interview at an insurance company once, and the lady said, 'Where do you see yourself in five years?' And I said, 'Celebrating the fifth-year anniversary of you asking me this question!'"
Almost exactly a year ago, Hedberg stood on the stage at the Fillmore opening for Lewis Black and Dave Attell. "That was a rowdy show," Hedberg remembers. "It wasn't my particular best on that tour." He's confident things will be different this time. "I love playing in Denver; hopefully this will be the best experience yet. And if people get rowdy, I'll just say, 'Shut the fuck up!' And if that doesn't work, maybe I'll go to Red Rocks and do a show there instead."
As long as there's gas in the RV, he can go wherever he wants.