What Went Right With… Bill Hicks?

A caricature of the stand-up comedian Bill Hicks by

Bill Hicks was without a doubt one of the all-time great stand-up comedians, and although this has become a popular opinion to have since his untimely death, I was one of the people who thought the same way during his lifetime. Posthumously, Hicks is now held in high regard, but during his career all these modern-day sycophants were nowhere to be seen, in fact his shows were small and low-key, his performances rarely got broadcast on television, and his comedy was even cut from the David Letterman Show. But like most celebrities, once you die all the doormats come crawling out of the woodwork and now Hicks is lauded by those who once shunned him, hindsight and vacillation it seems are traits of the ignorant.

It’s unfortunate that whilst more mediocre comedians can fill stadiums and have their shows broadcast and streamed in HD, Bill Hicks’ entire life’s work is a grainy, analogue, low-resolution affair. Bill’s entire filmography is now a time-capsule indicative of the time in which he worked and the remaining low-fi footage of Hicks’ gigs (even on an official commercial release) is like watching a snuff film. But compared to all the utter shite being passed for stand-up comedy today, even these poor quality recordings are preferable to the majority of contemporary comedy.

The thing that made Bill Hicks unique was the fact that he was an outsider, he once said “I don’t fit in anywhere” and also “I don’t like anything in the mainstream and they don’t like me” and with this perspective he remained staunchly anti-establishment and he never sold-out. Despite speaking in his routines like the odd-one-out, his manner still exuded confidence; his comedy seamlessly blended an anti-government, anti-religion, anti-advertising, anti-mainstream, and anti-work stance with pro-spiritual, pro-drug, pro-smoking, and pro-freedom sentiments all wrapped-up in an atmosphere of rebellion, not to mention a bit of arrogance and a little condescension.

In the mid eighties Hicks delivered his routines like a mild-mannered stoner but by the late eighties he was snappier and more energetic, by this time you could plainly see the style and delivery that Denis Leary would later plagiarise. By the early nineties Bill Hicks had become a ranting revolutionary but sadly this energy was short lived and Hicks was much more sedate during the latter part of his life (as can be seen by watching the unaired David Letterman routine) but despite his ever evolving style, you could still hear the same points of view and the same themes running throughout his career.

At the 1991 Just For Laughs Comedy Festival, Hicks was one of the first comedians to call attention to the scaremongering tactics the mainstream news corporations use to keep the public in a constant state of fear and depression. His bit about the endless news cycle of “War! Famine! Death! AIDS!” and then looking out of the window and seeing nothing but birds chirping was a perfect example of how Hicks reduced a detestable side of popular culture down to a basic and perspicuous form that everybody could understand. In the same stand-up set (available on DVD as “Relentless”) he also drew attention to the warmongering the then President, George Bush Senior was guilty of, he pointed out that Newsweek originally called him “The Wimp President” but how he later “turned into a demon”. It’s always great to see someone criticise their own government and not allowing a false idea of patriotism to preclude airing their opinions and while watching Hicks’ set, it was great to see an American highlighting the disparity of the Iraq War casualties; 79 American and 150,000 Iraqis. Despite using a caricatured voice to represent the Iraqi Soldier during his joke (shouting “Allah!”) Hicks’ overall anti-war stance was a refreshing thing to hear from someone hailing from the United States, especially the southern States.

During his performance at the Dominion Theatre in London (available on DVD as “Revelations”) he further denounced President Bush and his wrongdoings, he hilariously called him the “child of Satan trying to destroy Earth”, he pointed out the rise of the Military Industrial Complex, and he outlined how “America is like the bullies of the world”, arming countries and then attacking them. This whole routine has unfortunately remained true even to the present day, the fact that we’ve all endured two President Bush’s, dodged a third, but are still confronted with an even worse concept, a President Trump, I’d like to think that Hicks would have something to say about the current situation of endless conflict, nepotism, and capitalism ruling the western world. The events of 9/11 and the climate of fear and xenophobia it gave birth to, has changed many public figures and celebrities from normal sane people to crazed, narrow-minded morons with bellicose attitudes, hopefully with Hicks’ appetite for the truth such as mentioning the JFK assassination conspiracy, his criticism of the Waco siege, not to mention his opinion of the Gulf War, I’d like to think he wouldn’t have wussed-out after September 11th. If he was still alive today his criticism of the establishment would hopefully continue, in fact his choice of targets, his condemnation of the establishment, and his hostility to the status quo is still needed in today’s society.

During his career, Bill Hicks also did a great job of mocking mediocre Pop musicians from Vanilla Ice, Marky Mark, MC Hammer, to Rick Astley, and in his unaired appearance on the David Letterman Show he even spoke about his idea for a TV Show “Hunt And Kill Billy Ray Cyrus”. It has to be said that this type of comedy is greatly missing from contemporary pop culture, it seemed that during the late eighties and early nineties acts like Hicks, shows like Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Beavis And Butthead always derided lame entertainment, if only someone made similar jokes about Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, and One Direction today, but alas our society these days doesn’t seem to have an appetite for criticism, not to mention the truth. The masses today seem to enjoy consuming the worst music and the weakest films, they elect the worst leaders and make the least talented people famous, and yet they won’t accept any criticism of their false idols. They refuse to acknowledge that acts like Macklemore, Drake, Iggy Azalea, and Taylor Swift are the modern equivalent of Marky Mark and Rick Astley, if Hicks was still around today they’d probably call him a “hater” or a “troll” such is our fucked-up world today.

The fact that Hicks is no longer with us gives his closing joke about killing people who tell us “life is a ride” more poignancy. Like The Coup once said “every cancer is a homicide” and Bill Hicks’ final months and years may have simply been a cosmic joke or retaliation against his political viewpoint. Either way, it was unfortunate for such a unique talent like Hicks to die so young. Despite passing in 1994 thanks to his political opinions and his choice of topics, Hicks work has stood the test of time. Who’d have thought that his routines from the late eighties and early nineties would still be relevant almost three decades later? As long as there’s warmongering, horrid leaders, mediocre music, suppression of conspiracies, I guess Bill Hicks’ routines will continue to resonate well into the future.

With the exception of Eddie Pepitone, nobody has filled the gap that Hicks left when he died. It seems that the majority of stand-up comedy these days is merely hollow, derivative garbage, heaving with prejudice and mediocrity, today’s comedians seem to become famous for simply telling cheap jokes, stereotyping, or stating the bleeding obvious. What’s missing from contemporary stand-up is an opinion and some balls, comedians with some fucking chutzpah to say something they truly believe rather that what they think will get them the biggest laughs or the greatest profit. The one thing that Hicks proved is that if you have a backbone, if you speak your mind, if you state your beliefs with some conviction, there’ll be laughs and pauses for thought. If you put forward your arguments and embellish them with comedy, you can have the audience in hysterics and also send them away contemplating the situation in which we live. Meaningless comedy is easily forgotten but the most truthful, the most brave, and the most critical comedy will stand the test of time. In our contemporary society where most of the general public have become blithering idiots who are unashamedly patriotic, jingoistic, xenophobic, pro-government, pro-war, pro-militarism, pro-police, pro-anything that oppresses them, never has there been a time when Bill Hicks’ comedy has been more relevant.

Top Of The Bill.

8 replies »

  1. Brilliant tribute!!!! RIP 26-02-1994 Bill Hicks…to commemorate I shall watch all his DVD’s back-to-back this evening.

    • So what???? Theres always people who come before other people. Why play down Bills contributions?!?

  2. You are correct . If a name comedian dissed the mainstream pop musicians nowadays – and actually did it with harshness , realism , critical thought and severity – their career would go nowhere . Selling out and sacrificing artistic integrity is essential to the mainstream entertainment complex in the 21st century . You see an idiot like Amy Schumer diss Justin Bieber mildly at one performance and a month later go out for drinks and take a selfie with him .

    • One reason is that there is bigger money and lesser chances to make it in showbiz than there was even 20 years ago . An actor who is not a household name and who is a character actor in Hollywood can live like a king with the right connections . Use Irish-born actor Cillian Murphy as an example . He’s a decent supporting role actor or character actor . I’m not knocking his talent . But the guy is worth $15 million American dollars . That is using the example of a person who is not a household name and does many indie or arthouse films . I read today that Kevin James has a home in Florida that he is selling . His home worth $25 million American dollars . Kevin James isn’t even a hip or mainstream comedian or actor anymore .

      It’s harder than ever to make a living as any type of artist or creative professional . Four underground rappers who have brought this up in recent music are R.A. The Rugged Man , K-Rino , Hopsin and Apathy .

      Apathy has a song called “Rap Is Not Pop” , R.A. has a song called “Make You Famous” , K-Rino has a song called “Where’s The Love (At)” & Hopsin has a song called “Fly” . You should check all those out . They take aim at sell-outs in a major way in those songs .

      In the U.S.A. it is hip to be a sell-out . Being like Dr. Dre , Eminem , J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar is seen as admirable . I am only 29 years old . But , when I was very young in the 90’s I can remember the backlash against The Backstreet Boys , N’Sync , Destiny’s Child & Britney Spears . There was still leftover anti-mainstream sentiments from the mid 70’s to early 90’s . Kind of The Dead Kennedys , Kurt Cobain , Henry Rollins , Chuck D or Johnny Rotten sentiment . That all changed when “The Slim Shady L.P.” came out in February 1999 . Even though they were mainstream a (at the time anyway) authentic group like The Wu-Tang Clan had a #1 video hit on the Much Music countdown . I remember exactly 19 years ago in September of 1997 “Triumph” went #1 on Much Music beating out Will Smith’s “Getting Jiggy With It” .

      What a change it has been .

      After Eminem you had D12 and then 50 Cent and then Kanye West , Lil’ Wayne & The Game . Mainstream Hip Hop was ruined by 2003 .
      Selling out became the norm I feel in 2003 . Materialism and the concept of being “self-consciously hip and stylish” began to rule all facets of mainstream entertainment .

      Even if you listen to a 1997 Mase track it has as much or more lyricism than J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar . On Necro’s newest single “Fuck Commercial Rap” he says , ” …. new mainstream rappers are shittier versions of spitters from the past …” . He nailed it .

      Here are some comparisons .

      Daniel Tosh is a shittier version of Adam Carolla .

      Eminem is a shittier version of Chino XL .

      Amy Schumer is a shittier version of Rita Rudner .

      Kristen Wiig is a shittier version of Gilda Radner .

      Tyler The Creator is a shittier version of Esham .

      Dr. Dre is a shittier version of Quincy Jones .

      Bobby Moynihan is a shittier version of Chris Farley or John Belushi .

      Jason Segel is a shittier version of Gene Wilder .

      Jerrod Carmichael is a shittier version of Eddie Murphy .

      Fans of mainstream entertainment are ready and willing to let themselves be dumbed down . There is such a huge gulf now between the rich and the middle class in the U.S. , Canada , Great Britain , Western Europe , Australia , New Zealand & Ireland . If someone gets the rare chance to succeed – even if it means sacrificing their artistic integrity – they will always choose the money nowadays .

  3. Bill Hicks belongs to the circle of greatest stand up comedians/philosophers ever to nlighten humanity and he, with a number of others, are who I am looking forward to reunite after leaving earth as much as those whom I have deeply loved.
    Compare the quality of his and his contemporary artists’ integrity with those populating the stages today and it will be immediately obvious why Bill is a legend.

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