As is the case for any quality box set these days, it’s not so much about the origin material. After all, box sets don’t exist so that an artist’s biggest fans can have access to a slickly-packaged sentimental bundle of garbage bits. Inherent in the entire concept of such a release is greatness, right? Right!
Well then the reasons Mitch Hedberg: The Complete Vinyl Collection exists are pretty damn obvious. The two albums he released when he was alive — Strategic Grill Locations (self released in 1999 and then re-released by Comedy Central Records years later) and Mitch All Together (2003) — are included in the re-issued vinyl edition– and so is Do You Believe in Gosh?, released in 2008, three years after Hedberg died.
The only previously un-released material on The Complete Vinyl Collection is a self-recorded set, wherein Hedberg opened for the Neville Brothers in 1995; if you’re reading this you likely remember that show is the subject of a joke on Strategic Grill Locations.
The Neville Brothers set and his trio of proper releases are each are a perfect representation of Hedberg’s natural genius and his artistic evolution.
Part of that evolution, by the way, is that Hedberg eventually and purposely sped up his delivery– a factoid I learned from reading the beautiful 32-page booklet that accompanies all the vinyl. “In the few years after Strategic Grill Locations was released, Mitch was noticeably drawing his own crowd,” writes Mitch’s wife, comedian Lynn Shawcroft. “People started yelling out joke requests during the show: “Do ‘Race Care Passenger’! or “Dufrenes! Dufrenes!” And while it was flattering, “It became difficult for Mitch to pause, even for a second or two between jokes,” Shawcroft writes. “If he did, that moment would be seized as an opportunity for someone to fill it.”
Made to look like those iconic Composition note pads — but thinner and much, much wider — the pages are filled not only with Shawcroft’s personal reflections on her life with Mitch and how their marriage co-existed with their constant adventures on the road but also with short essays from some of the Hedberg’s best comedian pals: Doug Stanhope (how about that time Mitch and Doug pranked Daniel Tosh at a comedy fest), Margaret Cho and Mike Birbiglia, who recalls the time he performed Mitch’s jokes on stage when Mitch decided he need to take a break to pee.
Newspaper clippings, personal photos (one of Mitch swinging a golf club at a driving range?), set lists, joke notes and more help tell the story of a comedian who died way too young at the age of 37. And while holding this sturdy, packed out collection in your hands can’t bring Mitch back, I can’t imagine a better tribute to one of comedy’s most celebrated comedians. “He was a brief burst of light that altered your vision forever, Margaret Cho writes about Hedberg in the booklet. “He was sort of a mystic and very much a saint–blessed in a way the rest of the world wasn’t.”