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  • Writer's pictureStand-Up Comedy Historian

Bo Burnham's Comedy Influences—Part 5: Bo and Mitch Hedberg (published on 8/18/22)

Updated: May 20, 2023

This will be a short thread for unfortunate (yet obvious) reasons, but let's briefly explore Mitch and how his work influenced Bo as a teen.

First, here's what Bo said about the comic in his list of favorite comedians, the first name under “one liners”

MITCH HEDBERG hopefully most of you know mr. hedberg. a brilliant joke writer.

Bo also included this video clip of Mitch performing at JFL back in the day as an example of his brilliance.

Bo even quoted Mitch's picketing joke in his first AMA...amazing!

Widely acclaimed for his deadpan delivery and clever one-liners, Mitch was growing in popularity in the late ‘90s and he even scored a coveted CC Presents episode in 1999 (which is how I had first heard about him).

If you’ve never had the chance to see Mitch's routine from that show, you're in luck!

Comedy Central just uploaded the ENTIRE special on YouTube.

Check it out!

This special has some classic Mitch bits, like the broken escalator (sorry for the CONVENIENCE) and the donut (we don’t need to bring ink and paper into this!).

His baked potato joke is another one that I still think of EVERY time I cook a potato. haha

Anyway, Mitch was known for his shy and introverted personality on stage. He would always have his hair in his face and would wear large sunglasses indoors.

Might be a partial inspiration for Welcome to the Internet?

Mitch also acted!

For example, you might remember the small role he had on That '70s Show as Frank, a belligerent cafe worker.

Fun fact: Eric Forman was played by Topher Grace (obviously), and Topher presented Bo's WGA award to him!

Sadly, Mitch's comedy career was cut short in March 2005 when he died of a drug overdose.

Many comedians mourned the tragic loss and some, like Demetri Martin, carried on his style of pithy one-liners and non sequiturs.

And there is a TikTok video about Mitch that is blowing up with an amazingly accurate impression of the late comedian (showing trans jokes CAN be funny when not punching down)!

Mitch's one liners continue to reverberate in comedy circles as well.

Here’s a Vulture article about the jokes that comics would steal if they could that brings up Mitch and his comedy style a number of times.

Gary Gulman chose his "What About the Dufresnes" bit, while Ron Funches opted for two classic Mitch jokes:

Mitch Hedberg’s “Search Party of 3.” That’s one of my favorites. Just a silly, funny joke. Or “An escalator can only become stairs.” Most of Mitch Hedberg’s material I would steal and make as my own and people would be like, “Yeah, that still makes sense.”

Mitch's material was pretty clean and often food-focused, so Funches matches well with it! haha

Finally, Laurie Kilmartin says she actually swiped one of Mitch's jokes by accident:

I did accidentally steal a Mitch Hedberg joke and did it on Comedy Central. We had a show out of Gitmo. I’m so grateful because, obviously as we now know but didn’t at the time, it was a place of horrors, so Comedy Central never airs it. But it was a Hedberg joke I guess I had heard and I just absorbed and thought I wrote. So, I guess that would be the joke. I was doing it in San Antonio and this guy named Josh Snead said, “You know that’s a Mitch Hedberg joke. I open for him.” And I was so mortified. It was a joke about when people say, “I don’t care if someone’s black, white, green, or purple.” And then it was something like, “If they’re purple, you should care. They’re choking to death.” Or something like that.

So, Mitch's impact on comedy in general is undeniable. Here’s his Conan set from 2004, a year before his death.

But how did he specifically influence Bo since Mitch passed away when Bo was only 14?

I would argue the deadpan comedian’s ability to craft a perfect joke, one that was precise with no unnecessary elements, is something that affected Bo's view on writing.

Going that extra step to make sure a joke is concise but packs a punch is something Bo also excels at!

Bo's writing and editing skills on Inside in particular have proven how well he can craft economical jokes and cut out items that don't fit the desired themes of the special.

Another similarity is they both mention Pringles in their comedy acts!

Mitch has a brilliant bit about the potato chip company initially wanting to make tennis balls but then pivoting. lol

And we all know about Bo’s obsession with Pringles (and their cans) in Oh Bo and Can’t Handle This!

In conclusion, Bo loves Mitch's comedy style, and you should too.

Make sure to watch Mitch Hedberg's entire Comedy Central Presents on YouTube—it's a wonderful special, and you won't regret it!

For a complete list of Bo's comedic influences, please click here.


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