“That’s a retarded joke, I know,” Mitch Hedberg proclaims after he tells a joke wherein his vodka-soaked Hoover is so drunk it can’t vacuum in a straight line.
The self-effacing Hedberg uses the phrase and slight variations thereof throughout the nearly 40 minutes of stand-up contained on the now-iconic comic’s third album Do You Believe in Gosh? He hammers himself down during his set at The Improv in Ontario, Calif., no doubt for a few reasons — not the least of which is that Hedberg remained (despite his enormous popularity before his death in March 2005) a modest man — maybe too modest.
The other reason Hedberg peppers in the occasional “That’s fuckin’ dumb” after a punch line is that some of the jokes on Gosh? are actually just that.
And that’s the beauty of this album. More than another stand-up comedy release, Gosh? is a high-quality record of an artist working out brand-new material two months before he died. So that means there are some half-baked ideas in there. But it also means, what you’re getting on this album is twice as raw and unfiltered as stand-up comedy inherently is.
The folks at Comedy Central didn’t edit out hecklers or Hedberg’s deft interactions with audience members. We hear Mitch tell the waitstaff, “You guys always hand me the vodka in the hottest glass possible” upon, presumably, getting a drink delivered onstage.
We also hear a master comic evolving. A handful of jokes are more personal than we’re used to hearing from Mitch, like when he tells the story of the time he was bumped from Late Show With David Letterman because Madonna’s performance ran too long. Also, compared to his first two albums, Strategic Grill Locations and Mitch All Together, his delivery is simply more energetic, at times adopting a gravelly incarnation of his usual smooth voice and swearing a bit more than in his previously recorded bits.
But Gosh? is far from just an important stand-up comedy benchmark. It’s a great album filled with what you’d expect from Hedberg: hilarious absurdity. That he tells not one – but three – jokes about the Headless Horsemen is testament to that absurdity.
And of course, there are plenty of just plain funny moments, like “I wish they made fajita cologne because that shit smells good” or “The fly was very close to being called a ‘land,’ ‘cause that’s what they do half the time.”
Some other gems include:
“I have a vest. If I had my arms cut off, it would be a jacket.”
“A burrito is a sleeping bag for ground beef.”
“I’m selling T-shirts after the show. They don’t have my name on it; they’re just Hanes three-packs.”
“I got an idea for sweatshops. Air-conditioning. Problem solved.”
“I was at the airport, and I put my bag on the X-ray machine and found out that my bag has cancer. It only has six more months to hold shit.”
“I’m an ice sculptor; last night I made a cube.”
By the end of the album, you have an intimate view of not only Hedberg’s joke-writing process but also where his mind was shortly before he left us. For most of us who didn’t know Hedberg personally – or may have missed out on seeing him live – that’s the best we could hope for.
Mitch Hedberg’s Do You Believe in Gosh? comes out Sept. 9 on Comedy Central Records.