On this Day in Movie History, March 30, 2005: Comedian Mitch Hedberg Dies

Okay, maybe Mitch Hedberg is better known for his comedy, than his association with movies, he did star in a movie which he wrote, directed, and produced.

Known for his surreal humor and unconventional comedic delivery, his comedy typically featured short, sometimes one-line jokes, mixed with absurd elements and non sequiturs. Hedberg’s comedy and on-stage persona gained him a cult following, with audience members sometimes shouting out the punch lines to his jokes before he could finish them.

Born Mitchell Lee “Mitch” Hedberg, February 24, 1968 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the son of Arnold and Mary Hedberg, he graduated from Harding High School in Saint Paul.

He began his stand-up career in Florida. After a period of honing his skills he moved to Seattle and began to tour. He soon appeared on MTV’s Comikaze. His big break came on a 1996 appearance on Late Show with David Letterman. Winning the 1997 grand prize at the Seattle Comedy Competition, the following year he appeared on Fox’s hit series That 70’s Show.

In 1999 he completed his own independent feature film Los Enchiladas!, in which he wrote, directed, produced and starred.

Los Enchiladas! a 1999 film written is loosely based on his life growing up in Minnesota and his experience working in restaurants. It parodies a chain Mexican restaurant in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, on the day before Cinco de Mayo (the busiest day of the year for Mexican restaurants). The storyline follows an ensemble cast of absurd characters that work in and visit the restaurant throughout the course of one day.

Composed of many of Mitch’s comedian friends The cast is rounded out by local Minnesota actors.

Three different local restaurants were used to portray the film’s restaurant; one for the dining room scenes, a second for the kitchen scenes, and a third for the outside of the restaurant, which was a Chi-Chi’s that Mitch actually worked at many years before and was the main inspiration for the ridiculously inauthentic Los Enchiladas.

“Los Enchiladas!” premiered at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, and has only been shown publicly a handful of times since, at comedy festivals and tributes to the deceased director, such as the one at the Paramount Theatre in Anderson, Indiana on August 12, 2010. It has never been publicly released for purchase or download, although Mitch’s fan base has expressed a continuing desire for the film to become available.

In April 2011, a unofficial workprint copy was released on various torrent & P2P sites. This release appears to have been specifically opposed by Hedberg’s widow, Lynn Shawcroft, who is working towards a wider release of the film.

He recorded three comedy CDs entitled Strategic Grill Locations, Mitch All Together, and Do You Believe in Gosh? which was released posthumously. He also appeared at the Montreal Just For Laughs comedy festival in 1998 and 2001. According to Mitch there had been talk of creating a TV series around him, but plans never came to be.

On March 30, 2005, Hedberg was found dead in a hotel room in Livingston, New Jersey. Born with a heart defect for which he received extensive treatment as a child, it was initially speculated that this condition may have played a part in his death. The New Jersey medical examiner’s office reported “multiple drug toxicity” in the form of cocaine and heroin as the official cause of death.

His death was formally announced on April 1, 2005, leading many to believe it was an April Fool’s joke, only to find out later that it was not.

His funeral was held at St. Ambrose of Woodbury Church in Minnesota, and his remains were cremated. Details of where his remains are scattered are known by his family.

Birthdays
1929 – Richard Dysart (actor: L.A. Law, Wall Street, Back to the Future 3, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, The Day of the Locust, Pale Rider, The Terminal Man, Wall Street)

1930 – John Astin (actor: The Addams Family, The Pruitts of Southampton, Operation Petticoat, Night Court, I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., National Lampoon’s European Vacation)

1937 – Warren Beatty (Henry Warren Beaty) (actor: Splendor in the Grass, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, Bonnie and Clyde, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Parallax View, Shampoo, Heaven Can Wait, Reds, Dick Tracy, Bulworth, Town and Country; Academy Award-winning director: Reds [1981]; Heaven Can Wait, Dick Tracy, Bulworth; Irving G. Thalberg Memorial [Academy] Award [2000])

1957 – Paul Reiser (comedian, actor: Diner, Mad About You, Aliens, Beverly Hills Cop)

1964 – Ian Ziering (actor: Beverly Hills 90210, The Fighter)

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