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ISSUE 118 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/15/2005

Reflections on Hedberg

By Brenna Bray
Staff Writer

Friday, April 15, 2005

“I don't want to have my face on the cover of a Wheaties box. I wanna have my face on the cover of a Rice Krispies box ... Snap, Crackle, Mitch and Pop!"

Mitch Hedberg, a comedian originally from St. Paul, Minn., may never have graced the cover of a cereal box, but his face has graced many newspaper pages and television screens since his death on March 30.

“[Mitch] dedicated his life to comedy and bringing joy to his fans,” Hedberg’s family said in response to his death.

Although Hedberg’s humor may have helped many people, it was not strong enough medicine to cure his own health – he died of heart failure at only 37 years of age.

Hedberg began acting for Minneapolis’ Acme Comedy Co. and caught his big break on a Comedy Central Special.

He then appeared ten times on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and also on "The Howard Stern Show." Time Magazine called Hedberg “the next Seinfeld.”

Hedberg also appeared in “Almost Famous” – smoking pot with Pete Frampton – and guest-starred in “That 70s Show.” As indicated by these roles, Hedberg laced his humor with jokes about substance use and abuse.

“I used to do drugs,” Hedberg would say. “I still do drugs. But I used to, too.”

Mary, Hedberg’s mother, said, “It’s not a secret Mitch used drugs. Whether that played a role in his death or not, we don’t know.”

Although Hedberg took a hiatus from performing for several months after a May 2003 arrest in Austin, Texas for felony possession of heroin, he was born with a heart defect and frequently felt anxious about his condition, his mother said.

One would not expect Hedberg, a comedian, to die of heart failure as a result of anxiety, since laughter is generally considered to relieve stress.

However, blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, smoking, drinking, diet and exercise also influence cardiovascular disease. And although Hedberg’s humor may have eased his stress, his jokes indicate that he may not have chosen a heart-healthy lifestyle.

On drinking, Hedberg said, “Alcoholism is a disease, but it’s the only one you can get yelled at for having. [expletive] it Otto, you are an alcoholic. [expletive] it Otto, you have Lupis … one of those two doesn’t sound right.”

Hedberg also joked, “Because of acid [LSD], I now know that butter is way better than margarine.” Beyond his drug use, one may assume that Hedberg’s diet was below par.

Hedberg used to say, “That would be cool if you could eat a good food with a bad food and the good food would cover for the bad food when it got to your stomach. Like you could eat a carrot with an onion ring and they would travel down to your stomach; then they would get there, and the carrot would say, ‘It’s cool, he’s with me.’”

Perhaps Hedberg took his own jokes seriously -– so seriously that he neglected his health.

On exercise, Hedberg remarked, “People teach their dogs to sit, it’s a trick. I’ve been sitting my whole life, and a dog has never looked at me as though he thought I was tricky.” Hedberg gained undeniable comedic success by turning his poor lifestyle habits into punch lines.

This technique is not necessarily unique; countless comedians and everyday people gain success and acceptance by joking about their own faults and flaws.

Such humor can help to relieve stress and maintain a positive, upbeat outlook on life; however, it can also undermine the importance of personal improvement.

“I think it’s the end of progress if you stand still and think of what you’ve done in the past,” actress Leslie Caron said. “I keep on.”

Jokes can help us “keep on,” despite our failures. They can ease internal guilt about personal shortcomings; laughter can help reinforce self-confidence in spite of personal flaws. No one is perfect and no one can be, so it is important to accept personal imperfections.

However, there is a fine line between normality and mediocrity. We must not lose the drive for improvement.

Self-deprecating humor like Hedberg’s should not be taken too lightly. If such humor helps us to settle for less than our best, then we need to consider what benefits – if any – it offers us.

After all, fatal heart failure at 37 is no one’s idea of a funny punch line. Laughter may be strong medicine, but it cannot cure the damage of substance abuse and poor lifestyle choices. No one wants to laugh him or herself to the grave.

That said, this article could only end appropriately with one final line of Mitch Hedberg humor.

“… And then at the end of the letter I like to write, ‘P.S. – this is what part of the alphabet would look like if Q and R were eliminated.’”

Staff writer Brenna Bray is a junior from Stillwater, Minn. She majors in psychology with a media studies concentration.

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