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October 18, 2010

Six Degrees of Cheese: Six Comedians Gone Too Soon

by Kevin Moyers

I've loved stand-up comedy since I was a kid. Seeing George Carlin at age twelve truly changed my life and way of thinking. All I wanted to do was what he did. While I'm a long way from being Carlin, I do enjoy performing now and again. I'm not very interested in all of the travel it takes to do this for a living, but I understand the draw of that difficult lifestyle.

Recently, we lost two comedians that I would hold up among the greats. I don't think anyone was ready to see either go. They had so much more to say, and that's why they're on my list below.

#6 - Mitch Hedberg (1968-2005)

Hedberg was an interesting character. He was often compared to Steven Wright because of his dry style, but his mannerism was a little more nervous and awkward. Toward the end, there were stories of odd behavior from Mitch, and I was witness to one of the more publicized events. Hedberg toured with Stephen Lynch and Al Madrigal for Comedy Central. At the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix, Hedberg closed the show. He was obviously drunk and couldn't even finish his own jokes. He asked if someone had Xanax, and when a pill came flying from the audience, Mitch swallowed it without looking at it while he just lay on the stage. Like the rest of the audience, all I could do was watch and wonder when someone would end the show. Months later, Hedberg was gone. He left behind a short legacy and a modest acting career that had loads of potential.

#5 - Robert Schimmel (1950-2010)

Schimmel built a good solid following over the past decade through his truthful appearances on The Howard Stern Show and other radio programs. His comedy was an everyman's bitch list. He often discussed his struggles with his health and his love life, which included everything from surviving cancer to marrying his daughter's best friend. His recent struggles with divorce and a need for a liver transplant made him a compelling interviewee and would surely have provided him with plenty of new material. Though he may have been lost to liver failure eventually, a car accident took him before he had a chance to conquer his latest battle.

#4 - Bernie Mac (1957-2008)

Bernie was a fun comedian, plain and simple. He was honest about his complicated life and turned those real situations into a successful television show. Though the show had run its course, Mac was working in movies, where he was turning into a good character actor. His role in Life makes him a solid part of a great ensemble. A return to stand-up was sure to happen eventually, and I would have been happy to see it. Unfortunately, Bernie didn't return to the stage before he died.

#3 - George Carlin (1937-2008)

I know you're wondering how I can say that a man in his seventies died too soon. The fact is that Carlin was far from done. When he died, he was working on his fifteenth HBO special. It took me two years after Carlin died to finally watch his last special, It's Bad for Ya, and I wish I hadn't waited so long. It was one of his best. If Carlin could stay relevant and quick that far into his life, I know that he would have given us hours more material if his health allowed it.

#2 - Bill Hicks (1961-1994)

Hicks wasn't appreciated in the U.S. until long after his death. He was a little ahead of his time with his brutal honesty and seething rage. One thing I always notice when I listen to Hicks is that he seems to take many jokes too far, and by that I mean that he often adds a line or two more than he needs, which can hurt the joke. Hicks was still relatively young when he died, and with time he would have gotten so much better. Though he's not truly polished, his honesty makes him fun to listen to. I can only imagine the mountains of material he would have amassed by this point.

#1 - Greg Giraldo (1965-2010)

I know this seems like I put Giraldo here because his death is so recent, but the truth is that he was really coming into his own. More than anyone else on this list, Greg Giraldo still had tons to say about life and the absurdity of all that we do. He was continuously growing as a comedian. Though he makes subtle mention of his alcoholism and other addictions, you really never take it seriously when it's presented. Unfortunately, his addictions got the best of him. I hope that people see Giraldo as more than just a roaster. Good Day to Cross a River and Midlife Vices are two of the funniest albums you'll ever hear. Even though I know he's gone, I don't want to believe it. In the back of my mind, I'll always be waiting for a third album to arrive.

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