On Mitch Hedberg vs. Anthony Jeselnik

My fake plants died because I didn't pretend to water them

I got a phone call late last night telling my Grandmother's only got a day left to live. I don't want this to sound cold, but I'm not going to pay the ransom.

Recently, according to the internet, there’s been quite the hoopla about hot *it* comedian Anthony Jeselnik and his new album Shakespeare. Personally, I find this fanfare well deserved as the man is quite funny. He’s crafted a unique one-of-a-kind style, fine-tuned his performance and really makes me laugh. However, when discussing/sharing Jeselnik I’ve found a growing number of people have started to bring up the late great Mitch Hedberg. These mentions have ranged from comparative compliments to accusations of biting. As a longtime admirer of both, I can see why one might remind people of the other. They’re both one-liner comics with their own specific brand of logic that pulls the audience into their specially-designed world. However, I believe there are three major difference between the two that show Jeselnik is more than his own man.

1 ) The Darkness
– If there’s one obvious trait about Jeselnik, it’s that he’s a comedian with subject matter so dark it’s pitch black. In any other venue than stand-up comedy, his tales would convince you that he’s quite possibly the worst human being who has ever lived. We all told dead baby jokes in junior-high, but to relegate Jeselnik to this status would be doing his craftsmanship and utter depravity a tremendous disservice. For him, it’s not enough that the baby’s dead, rather there’s an even grimmer circumstance as to why it’s dead and a sinister anti-comment on society to be made, said with the most gleeful stoicism possible. Hedberg, on the other hand, wants to cuddle with koalas and buy ducks Subway. He’s sweeter than Sweettarts. I’m pointing this out because it isn’t enough to merely state one is a bit more morbid than the other. They’re on completely opposite ends of the spectrum.

2 ) The Confidence
– Mitch’s delivery was as quiet and hidden from the audience as possible. His persona was rooted in being shy. There’s a telling moment in his first Comedy Central stand-up special where, after an applause from the audience goes longer than expected, Hedberg half-looks up and says “I smile when I’m happy.” It’s that natural uncontrived vulnerability that allowed the sillyness of his humor to thrive. Anthony Jeselnik is dry, no banter, “these are my jokes” and making direct eye contact with you the entire time. His persona is the man on a mission to let you know through his heartlessness that he’s the coolest guy in the room. Hedberg is the stoner buddy, AJ is the door-to-door salesman of doom.

3) The Fluidity
– Hedberg had an almost stream-of-conscious structure to his jokes where his one-liners would seem to just pop in and out of his head. The order of how he delivered them could change, but he knew how to use the bricks he had to build a special padded wall of comedy. His performances had the warmth of late night campfire stories. Comparatively, Jeselnik is as detached and cold as the HAL-9000. AJ punches his jokes in-and-out like he’s reading a grocery list, using a smirk and the occational “yeah, I’m good” head-shake as his only transition. His agenda is to tell you these jokes and that’s it. Hedberg is there to hang out and whatever happens happens.

Bring the darkness home for the holidays!

That’s not to say there aren’t similarities. They’re both in-and-out setup-punchline comedians at a time when that’s fairly rare. There’s more-than-likely a Hedberg influence on Jeselnik, but watching a performance of the two back-to-back shows that they’re pretty different beasts. As someone else pointed out, to call Jeselnik a copy of Hedberg is like calling Hedberg a copy of Steven Wright. I don’t believe the stark differences between the two makes one better than the other, rather I believe they should each be celebrated for the tremendous hilarity that both bring to the table.

So until next time…let’s agree to agree!

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7 Comments on “On Mitch Hedberg vs. Anthony Jeselnik”


  1. I am glad you mentioned Steven Wright. Shit even Zack Galifinakis does those set-up punchlines.

    Great read.

  2. alkali Says:

    A lot of these kinds of arguments could be avoided if people just recognized that Stephen Wright’s “I Have A Pony” album (and HBO special) is indisputably the most influential comedy album of all time, and lots of comics are going to sound a bit like that.

    This is not to say that “IHAP” is the best comedy album of all time, though it is very good and could be a contender for that title. Nor is it to say that anyone who heard “IHAP” is ripping Stephen Wright off: it would be equally unfair to say Wright was ripping off Newhart, Carlin, Steve Martin, Albert Brooks, and others. But there’s something very powerful about that album.

  3. Jerry Gibson Says:

    Would one get a ticket if he were to block the fire door as depicted in the above pic? Could some legal authority press charges if he saw funny funny pics such as shown above?

  4. Marcus Says:

    One liner jokes can be written by anybody. No one comic has that type of joke cornered. Unless you steal a comic’s joke, you’re not ripping anyone off.

    It’s so fucking cliche to compare Hedberg and Wright. Now Jeselnik is getting some attention so I guess its his turn to be lumped in this tired-ass comedy nerd discussion(not talking bout this site)

    I wish there was MORE one liner comics. I think there’s too much smug, hipster observational comics.

  5. Johnnyfuckingedwards Says:

    John Tole is another, great, modern, setup-punch comic. This article sets it straight!

  6. nasserreda Says:

    Good read.
    However, how could you not put the fire door joke in the caption of him “blocking” a fire door? haha
    But for real, yeah obviously Jeselnik’s humor is definitely not the same as Hedberg’s I’ve heard comedians use basically carbon-copies of Hedberg’s jokes, but Anthony Jeselnik has that insane darkness that nobody can touch.


  7. as if Rodney Dangerfield hasn’t even been mentioned when it comes to one-line comedy


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