“I’ve never had a piggy bank, but one time I had some bacon that tasted an awful lot like change…”

Mitch Hedberg’s “last” album, Do You Believe in Gosh?, was released back in September. Even with the hint of its release, his still-loyal fans (including this dude) were filled with the sort of glee reserved for Christmas or graduations, itchy to hear the last bits of new material left in his canon. Any complaints from his fans about the album are purely rooted in either too-high-to-fulfill expectations or douchebag hipster snobbery; Do You Believe in Gosh?‘s saddest point is that it shows that Mitch on top of his game at the time of his passing, with his new material eschewing risky new ground and staying with what made him so likable to begin with. Though it arguably pigeonholed him as the stoner’s Stephen Wright, it also made Mitch a reliable source of humor: no amount of parking tickets, shitty coworkers, messy breakups, deadbeat landlords, or Sarah Palins could dull the blow of a Mitch Hedberg act, at once charming and funny in an endearing way. Despite the lack of “himself” in his material (and thus dodging the psycho-traumatic bellyaching of his late 90’s/new millennium contemporaries), he still came across as very much approachable. The moment Mitch’s untimely death sinks in is after the last joke of the CD, when it’s apparent that there is no more new Mitch Hedberg. But the energy and razor-sharp cleverness of his puckish-yet-affecting jokes briefly suspend reality, leaving you in the audience on the evening the CD was recorded, drink in hand, watching him avoid eye contact with the audience even though all he’d encounter would be a sea of approving gazes.

Those familiar with Mitch’s work– and it’s somewhat easy to be, considering his relative ubiquity on Comedy Central and the like even before his death– will find both familiarity and a subtly different approach on Gosh?. His lifelong battle with stage fright, whereas his specials and previous two CDs showed a man who still managed to pull off his carefree brand of one-liners despite his crippling awareness of the judgments of his audience, seems only an afterthought on this album. The CD is nothing but new material, though the jokes on the CD all follow the same path as his other jokes did– charming observational humor with an absurdist slant, only about half to three quarters of the jokes being effective while the others were brushed off in an almost post-modern awareness of how bad they were. Some of the bits on Do You Believe in Gosh? fall awkwardly flat, and would render another comedian’s CD as a mixed bag. But Mitch– even though it’s very clear that he’s the joke’s creator– seems to be refreshingly more in on the joke than you. His act can seem dumb. In fact, it is dumb. But the first person that would call him on it is Mitch himself. It was a brilliant way to strip away pretense, thus enabling the simple charm of his work to burrow into his fans. Some may not have warmed up to him, but those who did hung onto each goofy word that left his mouth.

Do You Believe in Gosh? is not a documenting of his last show. In fact, it wasn’t even intended to be released as a CD. Mitch was rehearsing to record a new CD before he died, and spent time on the road polishing up his act. So there’s a sense of ease and spontaneity on the album that was missing on his prior two albums. And though this could come off, in theory, as hearing a bootleg of a show Miles Davis played around the time Kind of Blue was released as opposed to listening to Kind of Blue itself, it actually strengthens the argument of Mitch Hedberg being a great and versatile comedian. Missing from his first two albums are almost any interaction with the audience aside from the occasional jab at himself after a joke bombed. Gosh? includes conversations with the crowd that kill as much as his best material, a refreshing discovery considering Mitch’s act was so meticulously rehearsed. And that quality of meticulous preparation is all but gone here, perhaps due to the fact that he didn’t think the show would ever be heard by anyone not in the audience or because he’d grown as a performer, playing as much off the room as well as his tried and true material. Mitch had been around for a while, and of course to add to the Universe’s unending sense of irony, and was probably about to ascend to a elevated status in the entertainment world. Do You Believe in Gosh? is a great case for his theoretical ascension.

The saddest parts of the CD– aside from the aforementioned ending– is how Mitch died. On his first two CDs, Mitch was clearly on something: Strategic Grill Locations features the man either stoned out of his mind or on a near-drooling dose of painkillers while Mitch All Together (named a joke only on the previous CD) features an occasionally abrasive energy that nods to an excess of coke. But Do You Believe in Gosh? hints at an at least metaphorical sobriety, having Mitch sound completely in control and confident. He never came off as a basket case or a mess during his life, and though he freely admitted to drug use in his act (ranging from the classic “I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too.” to some of his banter with “Phil” on his latest), it’s not apparent anywhere on the album that he was out of control or the sense that we’re catching him in the midst of a downward spiral. It’s not that his first 2 CDs are sloppy; in fact, I personally find them funnier overall. But they’re missing the coherent, focused, loose approach that Gosh? has in spades, and it leaves the listener feeling good about the place Mitch was in when he died.

His last show– circulated online via a very rudimentary bootleg– utilizes the same material as Do You Believe in Gosh? along with more audience banter. He sounds carefree in his delivery of new material, and the audience responds favorably. Then he closes out his show with a smattering of his old, beloved material, with the audience delivering the punchlines as he does. Though I don’t know much about his personal life, I’ve always viewed his overdose and subsequent death as accidental; though hiding behind a pleasant facade is nothing new in entertainment, Mitch didn’t seem to be tortured enough to take his own life. The end of his last show, though, adds a sad coda to Do You Believe in Gosh?: he seems perfectly in tune with his audience, and like a band, he gives them the material they came to hear at the end, everyone laughing just as hard as they did the first time they heard it. It’s a melancholy end to a set of jokes that relied as much on the charm of the man telling them as the material itself. And as on his other CDs, neither charm nor good material is lacking on Do You Believe in Gosh?.

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