William Melvin Hicks, better known as Bill Hicks (December 16, 1961 – February 26, 1994), was a controversial United States Stand up comedian, satire, and Cultural critic.
Hicks is often compared to Lenny Bruce (although he frequently denied knowing much about Bruce's life or work) and Sam Kinison (a contemporary and friend). Comedian Richard Pryor figured largely as an inspiration and stand-up idol for Hicks, as did Woody Allen who also served strongly as a very early influence for a pre-teen Hicks. Like Lenny Bruce, Hicks challenged formal and informal forces of censorship, and suggested a disconnect between the values and operations of modern life, particularly in the United States, a country toward which his humor frequently adopted a tone ranging from cynicism to scathing critique. Hicks characterized his own performances as "Noam Chomsky with dick jokes".
Born in Valdosta, Georgia, Georgia (U.S. state), Bill was the son of Jim and Mary (Reese) Hicks, and had two elder siblings, Steve and Lynn. The family lived in Florida, Alabama, and New Jersey before settling in Houston, Texas when Bill was seven. Hicks has two school-age stories on the Flying Saucer Tour Vol. 1 album. He said he was raised in the Southern Baptist Convention faith. He was drawn to comedy at an early age, emulating Woody Allen, and writing routines with his friend Dwight Slade. Worried about Bill's behavior, his parents took him to a psychoanalyst at age 17, but the psychoanalyst could find little wrong with him. The therapist apparently joked that Bill's parents would probably benefit more from a few sessions than Bill himself.
In 1978, the Comedy Workshop opened in Houston, and friends Hicks, Slade, and Kevin Booth started performing there. At first, Hicks was unable to drive and so young he needed a special work permit. He worked his way up to once every Tuesday night in the autumn of 1978, while still in high school. He was well received and started developing his improvisational skills, although his act at the time was limited. Bill Hicks, Kevin Booth, and Jay Leno reminisce about the Comedy Workshop years in the It's Just A Ride documentary.
In his senior year of high school, the Hicks family moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, Arkansas, but after his graduation, in the spring of 1980, Bill moved to Los Angeles, California, and started performing at the Comedy Store in Hollywood, where Andrew Dice Clay, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, and Garry Shandling were also performing at the time. He briefly attended Los Angeles Community College District, mentioning the unhappy experience on Flying Saucer Tour Vol. 1. He appeared in a pilot for the Situation comedy, Bulba, before moving back to Houston in 1982. There, he formed the ACE Production Company (Absolute Creative Entertainment), which would later become Sacred Cow Productions, with Kevin Booth, and worked at local Houston comedy clubs like The Comedy Workshop (as did Brett Butler). At some point he attended the University of Houston briefly.
In 1983, Hicks started drinking heavily while using other types of drugs, which may have influenced his increasingly disjointed and angry, at times even Misanthropy, ranting style on stage. As had become his trademark, he continued attacking the American dream, hypocritical beliefs, and traditional attitudes. At one show, two Vietnam war veterans took exception to his statements and sought him out after the show, breaking one of his legs and cracking one of his ribs.
Hicks' success steadily increased (along with his drug use), and in 1984 he got an appearance on the talkshow Late Night with David Letterman, which was engineered by his friend Jay Leno. He made an impression on David Letterman, and ended up doing eleven more broadcast show appearances, all hugely popular, despite being bowdlerized versions of his stage shows.
In 1986, Hicks found himself broke after spending all his money on various drugs, but his career got another upturn as he appeared on Rodney Dangerfield's Young Comedians Special in 1987. The same year, he moved to New York, New York, and for the next five years he did about 300 performances a year. His reputation suffered from his drug use, however, and in 1988, he quit drugs — including alcohol (Hicks recounts his quitting of alcohol in the One Night Stand special and on Flying Saucer Tour Vol. 1.) He fell back to cigarette smoking as his only vice, a theme that would figure heavily in his performances from then on. (On the album Relentless, he jokes that he quit using psychedelic drug because "once you've been taken aboard a UFO, it's kind of hard to top that.")
An infamous gig in Chicago during 1989, later released as the bootleg I'm Sorry, Folks, resulted in Hicks screaming possibly his most infamous quote, "Adolf Hitler had the right idea, he was just an underachiever" to a heckler shouting "Free Bird" over and over. Hicks followed this remark by a misanthropic tirade calling for unbiased genocide against the whole of humanity, suggesting that it was not an anti-Semitism comment but rather an expression of his disgust with people in general. Hicks often veered between hope and love for the human race and utter hopelessness. In the same gig, he yelled at a female heckler, calling her a, "drunk cunt" and forced her to leave, telling her to "go see something GOOD!"
In 1989 he released his first video, Sane Man, to critical acclaim. The same performance was re-issued seventeen years later in 2006 and again received, generally, reviews of recommendation.Review at PopMattersReview at EntertainmentWise
In 1990, he released his first album, Dangerous, did an HBO special, One Night Stand, and performed at Montreal Just for Laughs festival. He was also part of a group of American stand-up comedians performing in London West End theatre in November. He was a huge hit in the UK and Ireland and continued touring there in 1991. That year, he also returned to the Just for Laughs festival and recorded his second album, Relentless.
Hicks made a brief detour into musical recording with the Marblehead Johnson album in 1992, the same year he met Colleen McGarr, who was to become his girlfriend and fiancee. In November of that year, he toured the UK. On that tour, he recorded the Revelations (Bill Hicks) video for Channel 4 in England and the standup performance that would become Live at Oxford Playhouse and Salvation. He was voted "Hot Standup Comic" by Rolling Stone Magazine, and moved to Los Angeles again in early 1993.
The progressive metal band Tool (band) invited Hicks to open a number of concerts for them on their 1992 Lollapalooza appearances, where Hicks once famously asked the audience to look for a contact lens he'd lost. Thousands of people complied. Tool singer Maynard James Keenan so enjoyed this joke that he repeated it on a number of occasions.
In April of 1993, while touring in Australia, he started complaining of pains in his side, and in the middle of June of that year, he learned he had pancreatic cancer. He started receiving weekly chemotherapy, while still touring and also recording his album, Arizona Bay, with Kevin Booth.
He was also working with comedian Fallon Woodland on a Television pilot episode of a new Situation comedy, titled Counts of the Netherworld for Channel 4 at the time of his death. The budget and storyboard had been approved, and a pilot was filmed. The Counts of the Netherworld pilot was shown at the various Tenth Anniversary Tribute Night events around the world on February 26, 2004.
On October 1, 1993, he was to appear on the David Letterman show for the twelfth time, but his appearance was cancelled somewhat controversially. At the time, Hicks was doing a routine about pro-life organizations, where he encouraged them to "lock arms and block cemeteries" instead of medical clinics, but his routine was cut from the show. Both the show's producers and CBS denied responsibility for the cut, but the reason appeared obvious to many during the following week's Letterman show when a commercial for a pro-life organization was aired. Hicks himself felt betrayed, and hand-wrote a 32-page letter of complaint. Later, Letterman expressed regret at the way Hicks had been handled. Unfortunately Hicks had died by that time, and never heard Letterman's sentiments.
One political event that became an object of interest and fodder for comedy was the storming of the Waco compound of the Branch Davidians under David Koresh. Hicks became convinced that the government initiated the destruction of the compound by setting it on fire (he pointed to footage of a tank allegedly shooting fire into the compound as evidence) and then covered up its actions. He also expressed disappointment with the various overseas bombing campaigns ordered by President Clinton and the Warren Commission explanation of the Kennedy assassination.
He played the final show of his career at Caroline's in New York on January 6, 1994. Bill moved back to his parents' house in Little Rock shortly thereafter. He called his friends to say goodbye before he stopped speaking on February 14, and died at 11:20 p.m. on February 26 of pancreatic cancer. Bill was buried on the family plot in Leakesville, Mississippi.
The Arizona Bay album, as well as the album considered his best, Rant in E-Minor, were released posthumously in 1997 by his friend Kevin Booth.
In 2003 the United Kingdom newspaper The Guardian ran a story on Hicks, reporting that "Indeed far from fading away, as most comics tend to do, he was "becoming a bigger star with each passing year."http://arts.guardian.co.uk/columns/laughingmatters/story/0,12231,870175,00.html
Hicks's catalog of released materials continues to grow, as Sane Man was re-issued on DVD in 2006 and received many positive reviews. Sane Man at Rotten Tomatoes.
Guitarist Justin Shekoski of the California Post-Hardcore band Saosin has the phrase "Listen to Bill Hicks" on his guitars
In 2004, Comedy Central listed him as 19th in their show 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time.
"A lot of Christians wear crosses around their necks. Do you think when Jesus comes back, he's really going to want to see a fucking cross? Ow! Maybe that's why he hasn't shown up yet...it's like going up to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wearing a sniper rifle pendant... Just thinking of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jackie. We love him. Trying to keep that memory alive, baby. mimes shooting a rifle I did that routine in Fyffe, Alabama, and after the show these three rednecks came up to me. 'Hey, buddy! C'mere! Hey Mr. Comedian! C'mere! Hey buddy, we're Christians and we don't like what you said!' I said 'Well, then forgive me.' Later, as I was hanging from the tree..." ( Relentless video)
"The world is like a ride at an amusement park. And when you choose to go on it, you think it's real because that's how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round. It has thrills and chills and it's very brightly coloured and it's very loud and it's fun, for a while. Some people have been on the ride for a long time, and they begin to question: Is this real, or is this just a ride? And other people have remembered, and they come back to us, they say, 'Hey – don't worry, don't be afraid ever, because this is just a ride ...' And we ... kill those people. Ha ha, 'Shut him up. We have a lot invested in this ride. Shut him up. Look at my furrows of worry. Look at my big bank account and my family. This just has to be real.' It's just a ride. But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok. But it doesn't matter, because – it's just a ride. And we can change it anytime we want. It's only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings and money. A choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one. Here's what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead, spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace. Thank you very much, you've been great." several gunshots ring out, Bill mimes being hit and falls to floor, motionless. (Onstage closing comments of Hicks's Revelations special from 1993)
Bill Hicks has had a far-reaching influence. Tom Waits, the prolific United States singer-songwriter, composer and actor, said of Hicks and his work:
In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, fellow comedians and comedy insiders voted Hicks amongst the top 20 "Greatest Comedy Acts Ever" at number thirteen. Likewise, in "Comedy Central Presents: 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time" (2004), Hicks was ranked at number nineteen. Devotees of Hicks have incorporated his words, image and attitude into their own creations. Thanks to the technologies which enable sampling (music), fragments of Bill Hicks rants, diatribes, social criticisms and philosophies have found their way into many musical works. His influence on Tool (band) is well documented, and the British band Radiohead's seminal 1995 album The Bends was dedicated to his memory (and to "Indigo").
In 1998, on the week of the fourth anniversary of his death, FOX aired The Simpsons episode "The Last Temptation of Krust" with Krusty performing an uncredited homage to him with two Hicks evangelists, Janeane Garofalo and Jay Leno. The movie Human Traffic referred to him as the "late, great Bill Hicks," and showed that the main character, Jip, liked to watch a bit of Hicks' stand-up before going out for a night to "remind me not to take life too seriously". Hicks even appears in the comic book Preacher (comics), in which he is an important influence on the protagonist, Rev. Jesse Custer. His opening voice-over to the 1991 Revelations live show is also quoted in Preacher's last issue.
On 25 February 2004, British Member of Parliament Stephen Pound tabled an early day motion titled "Anniversary of the Death of Bill Hicks" (EDM 678 of the 2003-04 session), the text of which was as follows:
:That this British House of Commons notes with sadness the 10th anniversary of the death of Bill Hicks, on 26th February 1994, at the age of 33; recalls his assertion that his words would be a bullet in the heart of consumerism, capitalism and the American Dream; and mourns the passing of one of the few people who may be mentioned as being worth of inclusion with Lenny Bruce in any list of unflinching and painfully honest political philosophers.
In August 2004, a play called Bill Hicks: Slight Return premiered at the Pleasance Theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland. Written by Chas Early and Richard Hurst, the play features Bill Hicks (Chas Early) who returns from the dead to play one more show. The play has achieved moderate success and has since been performed in Geel, Belgium and at the Leicester Comedy Festival. http://www.hurst.dsl.pipex.com/bill/index.htm
Dangerous (Bill Hicks album) (1990) Relentless (album) (1992) Arizona Bay (1997) Rant in E-Minor (1997) Philosophy: The Best of Bill Hicks (2001) Love, Laughter and Truth (2002) Flying Saucer Tour Vol. 1 (2002) Live at Oxford Playhouse, or Shock and Awe (2003) Salvation : Oxford November 11, 1992 (2005)
Sane Man (VHS, 1989 / DVD, 2005) - (Sample clips viewable here http://www.sacredcow.com/allnew/index_content.php?n=store_vhs_saneman_samples at Sacred Cow Productions.) One Night Stand (VHS, 1991 / DVD, 2002) Ninja Bachelor Party (VHS, 1991) Relentless (VHS, 1992 / DVD, 2006) Revelations (1993) Totally Bill Hicks (VHS, 1994 / DVD, 2002)
:Comprises the documentary It's Just A Ride and a live performance, Revelations Bill Hicks Live: Satirist, Social Critic, Stand Up Comedian (DVD, 2004)
:Comprises One Night Stand, Relentless, It's Just A Ride and Revelations
This is an incomplete list of bootlegs, which can or may never satisfy any subjective standard for completeness. Revisions and additions are welcome.
The Beginning (1973) (Hicks at 12 years old. One or two other youths can be heard. One is probably Kevin Booth) Chicago, USA (1989) Chicago, USA (1990) Chicago, USA (1991) Chicago Funny Firm Dark Poet Filling Up The Hump I'm Sorry Folks - Part 1 I'm Sorry Folks - Part 2 Queens Theatre Early Show Queens Theatre Late Show Relentless In Montreal Brighton, England (1992) Toronto, Canada (1992) Egham, England (1992) London, England - Early Show (1992) London, England - Late Show (1992) The Lost Hour - October 5, 1993http://frequency23.org/component/option,com_zoom/Itemid,104/catid,4/PageNo,2/ Bill Hicks' Last Show - Jan 5th, 1994
Bill Hicks - Chicago 1989 (the infamous 'Bill loses it' show - later released as I'm Sorry, Folks) Bill Hicks' Last Show - Jan 5th, 1994
Comedy Hour (1988) Comedy Hour (1990) College Radio (1990) Comedy Hour (1992) Comedy Hour (1992) Comedy Hour (1993) Howard Stern Show (1993)
Courtesy of: http://www.wikipedia.org/