I walked into a bar which retained its smokiness from years gone by. I was here to perform at an open mic. It has been awhile since I last took the stage, but like every performer, I missed it. I signed my name on the list and noticed the last name "special guest". I was intrigued but I figured it was a local big name comic there to work on stuff. I carried on to the bar, there was only one shadow sitting there. Before the show it is custom for the comics to hang out and try to match wits or complain about the worst show they ever did. I am not much of drinker so I ordered my special diet coke and a water.
I began to perform my pre-show ritual of obsessing over and hating the set I came up with. Mean while heard the shadowy figure speak. His voice and his cadence was unmistakable and not easy to imitate. I looked over and I saw Mitch Hedberg, the man who I modeled my own comedy after, I failed at that but I found my own voice instead. In my brain I was calm, cool, and collected but in real life I could hear myself say "It's fucking Mitch Hedberg!!! Dude, I love you!I love everything you have done." There is no way that can be true, Mitch was in a movie called Lords of Dogtown, I have never seen that.
I heard him order a whiskey I immediately pushed my diet coke and water to the side and ordered the same and told the bartender to top Mitch off. You always expect the people who inspire you to be stand offish and rude, but Mitch was different he was kind and gracious. I do not ask for autographs and thought one day we could be friends. No story of friendship begins with "so I asked for his autograph." I noticed it was getting close to start time but no one else showed up. The bartender mentioned the mic was losing interest, so it might just be us.
Mitch was fine with that. He began to regale me of stories of the worst mic he ever did and the worst shows. I did the same, I was trading war stories with him. I fought the urge to ask him for advice and when I finally did he told me he did not like giving advice to other comedians.
He said in his Mitch-like cadence
Fuck other comedians. I had a lot of older comedians give me advice that I never used. That's ridiculous."
I appreciated that advice, I rarely listen to advice myself. I am exactly who I want to be on stage.
I noticed the urge to make Mitch laugh, not a cordial smirk, but a bonafide laugh. I tried to joke about the fact that the hand dryers in the bathroom were touchless but the soap was not. I did not look to see his response. I knew it was a dumb joke and I closed my eyes and pretended he at least smirked. I told him about seeing him in Indianapolis after my second bout of cancer and in Chicago at Zanies, with my buddy Rick who I began texting that I was hanging out with Mitch. He saw those texts much too later. I told him that maybe I am too old to be a success in comedy, he disagreed and told me to just get out and do it, but I also told him I am okay with it being a sometimes profitable hobby.
The mic was about to start and I asked Mitch how much time I would be allowed. He told me there was no limit and he looked forward to watching my set.
I shook the hand of the man who inspired me. I took the stage and I all I could see beyond the lights were darkness. It was as if he disappeared.
But shit man, that's ridiculous.
Special thanks to Lynn Shawcroft, Mitch's wife, for all of her help and putting up with a nerdy comedian and answered his questions. It was her responses that helped craft this post. She is a very funny comedian you can follow her on Twitter here
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