Celebrity Theater’s “in the round” setting provided an unusual setting for a pairing of comedy performances last night, and the slowly spinning stage providing material for everyone involved. After an amusing, if a tad long set by music-comedian Stephen Lynch, whose song-based humor often resembled that of Jack Black’s Tenacious D (if less metal-based,) and hilarious emcee duties handled by previously unknown to me comedian Al Madrigal, expectations were high for the big draw, Mitch Hedberg. Expectations, it turns out, were about to be let down.
Hedberg, for those who don’t know him, has made a name for himself based more on his addled delivery of odd observations. The observations, in and of themselves, are not so laugh-out-loud funny, the humor is almost entirely in the stunted, slow-paced delivery and his constant over-explanation. A classic bit goes “My apartment is infested with koala bears. It was the cutest infestation ever. When I turn on the light, they scatter, but I do not want them to. Don’t run away. I want to hold you . . . and feed you a leaf.” It’s not so funny to read it – but to hear it, it’s hilarious, and his own half-laughter following his jokes may technically be bad “comedy form” but he seems so amused at what comes out of his mouth you can’t help but laugh along with him.
Hedberg toook to the stage clutching two red cups, the kind of red cups everyone knows are usually filled with the hard stuff, setting them down on a stool in the center of the stage. Starting into his routine, it was clear something was wrong. I figured he must have had a little too much of something backstage, and his continued and frequent sampling from the two cups only added to the problem. As time wore on, things got worse. Much worse.
After a short while, he began stumbling about the stage, stupefied, mumbling, delivering punchlines before the body of the joke, laughing for no reason, and at several points throughout the show, simply laid down in the center of the stage. Dangling the microphone over his mouth, he would giggle and sigh, commenting regularly that he couldn’t remember his jokes. The audience egged him on, cheering, clapping, and laughing, tossing suggested bits into the air that he would half-heartedly attempt, then give up in more giggles. At several points I was certain he was on the verge of passing out as the microphone slipped out of his hand to clonk on the stage or on his face, but giggles would emerge again. When he did manage to stand, he approached an older woman at the side of the stage who encourage him to have a seat with her. The security guards approached to ward her off, but Hedberg stumbled off the stage to take a seat, and the woman proceeded to fetishize him, rubbing his hair, touching his clothes, and eventually the two engaged in a sickening makeout session that had the audience groaning and yelling.
Back on stage, Hedberg collapsed to the floor again in a completely incoherent mess. For an achingly long time he simply laughed, attempting to talk and slipping right back into laughter. Commenting that he liked drugs, especiallyXanax, but he was happy with anything, several small pills found their way to the stage, at least one of which he swallowed after mumbling “What is this?” He sat back down on the stage and became the picture of a drunken, washed up loser. Seats quickly began emptying, entire rows vacant, and at one point a man approached the stage with a card. Stumbling to him to retrieve the card, Hedberg read the contents aloud. “‘Jesus loves you.’ Not tonight, man, not after tonight.”
Mumbling that the Celebrity Theater owner was going to be mad in light of a previous incoherent Tempe Improv show, he questioned his performance, lamenting it, repeatedly mumbling that he wanted to “end strong” – Stephen Lynch had started strong, he stated, and Lynch ended strong, and he wanted to not disappoint the fans. He was wrong on all counts, unfortunately. At best he could only end as weakly as he began, but even with shouted lines of bits from audience members he was unable to complete most of his jokes. Upon tossing off a well-worn bit, he simply threw his hands in the air in mock victory, and Al Madrigal jumped in to save the show’s end.
This is Hedberg’s peak. He will never again be as popular as he is right now, and he’s simply throwing it away on drug abuse that he puts on display for his fans. There was next to nothing humorous about his performance – if anything, most people stayed to see if he would make it through his entire act, or, like gawking at a gory accident, stayed to see the slowly unfolding disaster. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what we unwittingly paid for.