With his unfortunate passing in 2005, Mitch Hedberg has gained almost a legendary status in the comedy world. His jokes are quoted constantly and the influence of his writing and delivery are undeniably stamped on the current landscape of stand up comics today. His widow, who is also a comic, Lynn Shawcroft wants to keeps Mitch’s legend alive and spread it to even more comedy lovers through re-launching MitchHedberg.net with unseen footage, notes, and more.
Preparing for a live re-launch show in LA, Shawcroft took some time to give some more details on the site as well a few other Mitch Hedberg developments including the fate of the cult movie that Hedberg wrote and directed Los Enchiladas.
In doing research for this interview, one small detail that was very interesting to me: On Wikipedia, when you type in ‘Lynn Shawcroft,’ it goes right to Mitch’s page.
I think I had a minimal Wikipedia page, but I haven’t done a lot. So, this is funny, on Twitter last year, I got a tweet from wiki-something like, “Are you Lynn Shawcroft, Mitch Hedberg’s widow?” and I said, “Yeah, why?” “Well we’re getting rid of a lot of Wikipedia pages and yours isn’t relevant, so we’re going to hook yours up to Mitch’s.”
There weren’t being nasty. I’m sure that’s just what they do, but, yeah, I know it’s a weird thing; it just goes right to his [Mitch's page]. ‘Would Mitch be mad at me?’ is the question. I think they were just trying to link to a better comedian, I guess.
You don’t really think Mitch would be mad at you, would he?
Not at all. No, no. I was only joking. I’m going to tell Wikipedia that, “If he knew, it would be serious.” He wouldn’t care at all.
What’s your fondest memory of Mitch?
I think, from a person who loves comedy, first, seeing him do a headlining set and going, “Oh my God, he’s amazing!” You know, there’s different levels of that.
Falling in love is always great. We met and sort of fell in love; He was in Toronto. We met, then he went back to New York and I thought, “I like him.” Then, he came back and visited me and he said, “Why don’t you meet me in LA at this date in the terminal in LAX and you can come on the road for me for a bit?”
I did and we just stayed together right after that. That was a fond memory. We did a lot of things. We bought a home together, traveled together. One thing I think is amazing about stand-up, one of the gifts it gives, is you get to travel the country. I’m from Canada, but I’ve seen the [United] States so comprehensively and it’s because I was married and I worked a lot and we got to work together.
You can talk to so many other comedians that are like “road dogs” and they hate it.
I think the road can be brutal. It really can be really hard. Like a lot of times we were on the road, Post-9/11, and flying at that time. He would be booked in Seattle at a college and then in Florida the next day. He was so overworked. We worked so much.
When we used to bitch, he used to honestly really say, “Look at what we get to do. We get to fly around. We don’t have a lot of alarm clocks.” You know what also helps? Being in a relationship. I think if you have someone at home in your life, it can be brutal. When you’re on your own, it can get lonely, but, I think, in a marriage, for good or bad, that’s how it works. You know what I mean? We got to spend a lot of time together, then have days off and hang out. So, I really miss him for sure.
That’s amazing; having your partner on the road.
Yeah, you hang out with your best friend in hotels and then go do fun stuff like see haunted houses. Not to take away all of the stress involved in running around and keeping on top of it all, but it was amazing. Like, I got to Nashville eight times. I love it.
Do you think that there’s a silver lining in Mitch’s passing after all these years?
To tell you the truth, the things that you have to trick your head into to even deal with a person’s death, like the weird “we all die,” like all the things that you have to do to try to survive and be a human being again are just tricks. You just miss someone. I wish Mitch was alive. I wouldn’t care if he wouldn’t even talk to me again. I wish he was just here to reap the benefits of what he did because I think so many people love him.
I think what’s cool is that there was no machine behind him. He isn’t touring, he isn’t on any TV shows, and his comedy is just being spread around. So it’s kind of magical to see something like that. It’s sort of organic and that’s why I’m excited about the site. I want to share stuff with the fans and then, also, just on a personal level, I felt like Mitch taught me a lot and even in his death, he taught me a lot. I know that might sound corny.
You can be as corny as you want.
You go through all the different fucking horrible levels. But, I think his comedy will live on. If you look at Mitch’s comedy, he never was political and he never really talked about pop culture. He purposely wrote his jokes to last a long time. He talked about products and everyday things, but I think he consciously wanted his jokes to not be “super-dated.” You can listen to them still. I think he did a good job with that.
That’s certainly one of the big aspects of Mitch’s comedy, it’s timelessness.
Yes. Like, he never talked about Britney Spears and there’s nothing wrong with that, but you can still listen to his CDs. I think even younger people can listen to it.
That one joke, even a thousand years from now, that he had about “following your dreams” that will never die. That will always be hilarious.
Yeah, don’t you think it’s weird? I mean, he had all these jokes, but every once in awhile he almost had a philosophy. That’s a joke and it makes sense, but it’s a philosophy. You’re right. I love that line.
Mitch Hedberg on Letterman (with following dreams bit)
How else do you think Mitch will live on in comedy as so many people refer to him as a legend?
I know. I think when people die or they die tragically or something like that, I think that helps create “legend” and “mystery.” Still, I think he was kind of mysterious. He died in 2005, which was right at the cusp of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. So he isn’t out there every single day with a million things, but I have a ton of footage and so many notebooks that I’m going to start sharing; but still, there’s a finite amount of it. I think he was definitely mysterious, but also interesting and original.
What do you think would have happened with Mitch had he had access to Facebook and Twitter and all these other social networking things that other comedians take advantage of today?
Well, he was a really private person. He kind of understood that holding back was a good thing too, but I think it would have helped and changed the way he did his job. He wouldn’t have to had worked so much or as hard. I don’t know if you’re a fan of Doug Stanhope’s or not…
He [Doug Stanhope] has been able to do such amazing things [with social networking]. He’s been able to pinpoint his audience, go out, even take a month off whereas Mitch was continuously on the grind. I think it would have definitely have helped him in that aspect, but I think he still would have maintained a level of privacy.
I saw a quote on Twitter the other day that was like, “Mitch Hedberg died in 2005, but was recreated in Twitter.” I think his work would have been great for things like that, but I think he would still have maintained a level of mystery.
I think all of that just speaks to him being timeless. I don’t think any of that would have changed Mitch much. He might have reached a broader audience, but I still go to random parties where I talk to people about comedy and they ask, “Do you like Mitch Hedberg?”
That’s one interesting thing too. He worked really hard, but, at the end of the day, he had three CDs, a special, and some Lettermans, which is a lot, but a lot of comedians have a lot of things. I think it’s more with someone at a party telling one of his jokes or passing a CD on. The Internet did help him. When he was alive, he knew that people were burning and downloading for free and he loved it and that really helped him. It is still amazing that there’s no big horse of marketing behind him other than his own material right now.
As the rise of his “cult” status has been so organic, do you think that he will be remembered as a pioneer for comedy? Certain people like to have that label “alternative comedy” that kind of came about in the mid-90s during Mitch’s time and do you think he’ll be credited with kind of starting that?
Yeah, I think Mitch could be labeled as that, but he was actually a “road dog” and a true stand-up. I think, and this is where I have to stand up to the plate and work with it.
I get so conflicted speaking for someone that’s not here and I think if I do a good job and put up a good website and maybe make a good movie and write some great things, people will actually understand where he stood in the comedy business as well as people that were just fans of the jokes. I can show what he kind of meant to comedy. For some reason, his name is starting to come up with a lot of other super talented joke writers, but what was it that made him special?
I’m glad that you’re doing that and making that clear. I remember I was in college and I took an exhaustive Hitchcock course, like there’s only four more Hitchcock movies I haven’t seen and it was the most hilarious moment and we spent all this time talking about his theory and the intent of his movies and all this digression about film theory in general and then, in the last class, we met Hitchock’s daughter and she just said that her dad wanted to make an entertaining movie and that’s it.
That’s really interesting that intellectuals and other people in the arts want to know the theory and the process behind it. Maybe, the daughter didn’t know. Who knows?
Right. Who knows? It’s interesting; the intent of the artist and then how he’s received later. Do you think that Mitch’s comedy will be seen as groundbreaking or was just he really good at writing and telling jokes?
Well, see, that’s the thing. I think there are schools of people. I think people are like, “Yeah, man. He just smoked a joint and fucking showed up and was the stoner,” whereas there’s an element of truth to that, Mitch was a proponent, obviously, of drugs on some level, but also daydreaming, he was a very “follow your dreams” type of guy.
Still, he worked his ass off. He was focused, you know what I mean? He also wasn’t an educated type of guy. His high school wasn’t intellectual, but he channeled it, like he was a brilliant guy, into the exact right thing. He, in his life, was basically a cook, like, you know, a dude with long hair. Stoner, a young cook, and then he was a comedian. He worked, worked, and worked really hard and ended up being considered brilliant and known as this great guy.
I’m still trying to figure how he ended up being able to use whatever he had, whatever his intelligence or daydreaming was, and was able to focus it into that. He didn’t read a lot, but he worked really hard. I think he fell in love with comedy and words.
Do you hear, as you go to comedy shows, perform yourself, echoes of Mitch in this generation of comedy?
Yeah, I think he influenced a lot of people and a lot of people don’t want to say it, not because they don’t want to appreciate Mitch, but because of people that say he copied him. Sometimes, if you listen to his jokes, he would refer to himself as a joke writer. I also think he had kind of a rock n roll vibe, sexiness. I mean, I think so.
You see it a lot now when you see a lot of comics hanging out with rock stars. Mitch tried to create his own thing and he did it one fan at a time. The good thing is that I have my opinions and I knew him so well when I was married to him, but he wrote a lot about this himself. We can get a million opinions of what people think, but he wrote down a lot of things, which is why I’m so glad. He wrote what he was feeling when he did certain shows or what he thought of comedy– and I’ve got the notebooks and I’m going to share them on the website, so they’re in his own words, which I like.
So, you’re relaunching MitchHedberg.net with all of this never before seen footage, material. Why now?
When he passed away, the site was just kind of a regular old site with pictures and sometimes we would put a new post up and; and we sold a t-shirt and a CD. I didn’t really want too much. I didn’t really think about it. So his parents kind of took it over and they sold t-shirts and CDs and stuff like that and I don’t have anything to do with that.
All this while, I’ve been, “How shall I…?” It seems like just such a big daunting thing and about eight months ago, his parents said, “our friend wants to take over the website,” and I wanted to step up to the plate because I don’t want it to be just about merchandise. I wanted to start the curation of it and show and share his notebooks. I have a lot of clips that haven’t ended up on YouTube. It’s taken about six or seven months. I have hours of footage, so I have some stuff edited up and his notebooks.
He used to write to gel pen companies, “My name’s Mitch and would you sponsor me?” and I have these really cool notes that he wrote and I thought this is a good place to start. And, it’s not trying to sell the fans anything. It’s just “here’s some cool stuff and I wanted to share it.” It’s also a healing process. It’s fun and I’m excited.
That sounds a little like Seinfeld’s new website. Have you seen it?
Someone just telling me about that. It’s super slick and great.
Seinfeld has three bits up a day that there’s video of and that’s it. There’s no blog, news, or anything else. There are tour dates and those three bits and they’re from all different periods. I feel that you’re kind of heading that way with the site, letting Mitch’s material speak for itself.
Yeah, exactly. I found a few clips on YouTube and I’m going to put up some stuff I’m editing cause right now, it’s all just clips of Mitch doing stand-up. There’s nothing like “Do you know how to drive a car?” and, well, I don’t have that, but just clips of him as a human being. Then, I’ve asked anyone who wants to write stories to write stories, the fans to put up stuff because you never know, there might be pictures up there or anything.
What else specifically should we expect on the site?
It’s not going to be super slick. It’s very clean. You guys posted the landing page, but there’s going to be a lot of his notes.
I’m excited about the live relaunch show at the Steve Allen Theater in LA. What should we expect?
It’s going to be kind of intimate and I made some cool stickers and I printed off one of Mitch’s original handwritten set lists, so everyone gets one of those. I’m just going to go through the website and I’m going to show some clips that aren’t even going to be on the website. I have this 10 minute thing and then there will be performers.
You have Nick Thune, Garfunkel and Oates, Karen Kilgariff, who are all great? Any specific reason?
I’ve known Karen for years and I e-mailed her and asked, “Do you have a story or something about Mitch?” She said yes because she hung out with Mitch a little bit. And then I’m going to have a couple people help read some stuff that are on the site. And then I got Garfunkel and Oates because the guy who built the site is their friend and I was thinking if I’m talking about Mitch a lot and showing videos, like, I don’t want to ask a comedian to go up and tell their jokes and feel uncomfortable, like, “here’s my jokes about Obama.” I figured that they might be a different act and they’re together and it’ll be fun.
When I put out his CD a couple of years ago, we did five shows in five cities simultaneously that night for the CD release. Everybody was, in some way, connected to Mitch whether they worked with him, like Al Madrigal was there, Todd Glass, and Doug Benson, and then other shows where they put him [Mitch] on. I hate asking people and putting them in a position, but if it’s connected and they knew him, it’s great.
Hearing that you did five shows for that CD release, are you going to have other dates and other cites for showing the website?
I don’t think so. Mitch made a movie called, Los Enchiladas and I’ve been to several places and theaters, showing that and sharing clips. This year, I’m working on releasing that. So, this’ll be the one live show for the launch. Unless anyone else was interested, I would definitely do it, but I think it was just this one to get it a little bit of excitement for the site.
So, Los Enchiladas is finally going to come out this year?
It’s been taking a long time. There was a kid who found a copy and put it on a torrent site and I didn’t work on it, so it’s a bit more complicated. I was talking to his manager and we’re working on getting the music license for it right now and then release it.
What is the Innocence Project and why is this the charity for the live show?
The Innocence Project is a set of lawyers that help people in prison get released through DNA. It’s kind of amazing. The reason that I picked it is I don’t really want to attach Mitch’s name necessarily to a charity without his consent, something like, “The Mitch Hedberg Something.”
But, I remember him and me talked about this, so it’s a low-key thing cause I’d rather just give the money to charity and then maybe in the future, if I do attach Mitch’s name something, I’d love it to be kind of like a scholarship or something like that. Something that will give back to the arts; maybe sponsoring a comedian. He thought that if you got to live your life and be in the arts, it was amazing. So, something like that would interest me.
Are there any other Mitch-related projects in the works besides the site, Los Enchiladas?
Yes. I’ve been meeting and am sort of in negotiations about working on a documentary. I’ve had lots of meetings over it and definitely, I will start working on a documentary in the next year. I think the website will be a good preface to it and there’s lots of footage and cool stuff.
I think it’s a good time for a Mitch Hedberg documentary. The recently released Bill Hicks documentary has gotten a lot of press.
I agree. I think a comedy documentary can be made as there’s a lot of footage and I think there’s interest. It’s not too hard of a sell. You don’t have to get into a million theaters. It can open in small theaters and then there’s Netflix. Also, I’ve been approached to do a book many times and, as you’ll notice, every comedian is writing a book right now. So, I’ve kind of waited and I’ve been thinking about working with a writer. So, maybe a book, but definitely a documentary this year.
He will not be forgotten. One last question: Do you have any more plans on doing stand-up for yourself in the near future?
Yes. I would love to. Here’s what my problem is: I worked with Mitch a lot and opened up for him and sort of look back sometimes and regret, and sort of felt guilty about like everyone thinks, “ohh, it’s his wife,” even though I was a comedian when I met him and I didn’t grow as much as an artist as I should.
Then, since he passed away, I’ve gained a lot of confidence and I want to do it again and now, I realize, you have to ask people all the time to get on stage, so I’m in the process of that, but I would love to do more touring and stand-up and stuff like that.
For more info, check out mitchhedberg.net.