Bill Hicks at the Laff Stop in Austin, 1991
|Birth name||William Melvin Hicks|
December 16, 1961|
Valdosta, Georgia, U.S.
|Died||February 26, 1994
Little Rock, Arkansas, U.S.
|Genres||Dark comedy, political satire|
|Subject(s)||American culture, American politics, current events, pop culture, human sexuality, philosophy, religion, spirituality, recreational drug use, entheogens, conspiracy theories, consumerism|
|Influences||Woody Allen, Richard Pryor, Johnny Carson|
|Influenced||David Cross, Russell Brand, Ron White|
|Website||BillHicks.com. WebCitation archive.|
William Melvin "Bill" Hicks (December 16, 1961 – February 26, 1994) was an American stand-up comedian, social critic, satirist, and musician. His material largely consisted of general discussions about society, religion, politics, philosophy, and personal issues. Hicks's material was often controversial and steeped in dark comedy. In both his stand-up performances and during interviews, he often criticized consumerism, superficiality, mediocrity, and banality within the media and popular culture, describing them as oppressive tools of the ruling class, meant to "keep people stupid and apathetic".
Hicks was 16 years old when he started performing stand-up comedy at the Comedy Workshop in Houston, Texas, in 1978. During the 1980s he toured the United States extensively and performed a number of high-profile television appearances. It was in the UK, however, where Hicks first amassed a significant fan base, packing large venues with his 1991 tour. Hicks died of pancreatic cancer in 1994 at the age of 32. In the years after his death, his work and legacy achieved acclaim in creative circles. In 2007 he was voted the fourth-greatest stand-up comic on the UK's 100 Greatest Stand-Ups on Channel 4, and appeared again in the updated 2010 list as the fourth-greatest comic.
Early life 
Born in Valdosta, Georgia, Bill Hicks was the son of Jim and Mary (Reese) Hicks and had two older siblings: sister Lynn and brother Steve. The family lived in Florida, Alabama, and New Jersey, before settling in Houston, Texas when Hicks was seven. He was raised in the Southern Baptist faith, where he first began performing as a comedian for other children at Sunday School.
Hicks was drawn to comedy at an early age, emulating Woody Allen and Richard Pryor, and writing routines with his friend Dwight Slade. Worried about his behavior, his parents took him to a psychoanalyst at age 17 but, according to Hicks, after one session the psychoanalyst informed him that "...it's them, not you."
His mother described Hicks's early interest in comedy on the Late Show with David Letterman on January 30, 2009:
He always said up until the time he got interested in comedy that he was going to Texas A&M to be a vet. He loved animals and that's what he wanted to do. And then he got interested in watching Johnny Carson and he read books about Woody Allen, so he got interested in that. He said that he saw Johnny Carson on TV and he thought, "You mean you can make a living doing that?" So he decided that's what he would do.
Hicks was associated with the Texas Outlaw Comics group developed at the Comedy Workshop in Houston in the 1980s. Once Hicks gained some underground success in night clubs and universities, he quit drinking. However, Hicks continued to smoke cigarettes. His nicotine addiction, love of smoking, and occasional attempts to quit became a recurring theme in his act throughout his later years.
California and New York 
In January 1986, Hicks found himself broke, having spent all his money on a variety of substances. His career soon received another upturn, though, as he appeared on Rodney Dangerfield's Young Comedians Special, in 1987. The same year, he moved to New York City, and, for the next 5 years, performed about 300 times a year. On the album Relentless, he jokes that he quit using drugs because "once you've been taken aboard a UFO, it's kind of hard to top that", although in his performances, he continued to extol the virtues of LSD, marijuana, and psychedelic mushrooms. He fell back to chain-smoking, a theme that would figure heavily in his performances from then on.
In 1988, Hicks signed on with his first professional business manager, Jack Mondrus. Throughout 1989, Mondrus worked to convince many clubs to book Hicks, promising that the wild drug- and alcohol-induced behavior was behind him. Among the club managers hiring the newly sober Hicks was Colleen McGarr, who would become his girlfriend and fiancée in later years.
Hicks quit drinking in 1988, as stated in his 1990 album Dangerous on the first track, entitled "Modern Bummer".
In 1989 he released his first video, Sane Man. It was reissued in 2006.
Early fame 
In 1990, Hicks released his first album, Dangerous, performed on the HBO special One Night Stand, and performed at Montreal's Just for Laughs festival. He was also part of a group of American stand-up comedians performing in London's West End in November. Hicks was a huge hit in the UK and Ireland and continued touring there throughout 1991. That year, he returned to Just for Laughs and filmed his second video, Relentless.
Hicks made a brief detour into musical recording with the Marble Head Johnson album in 1992. During the same year he toured the UK, where he recorded the Revelations video. for Channel 4. He closed the show with his soon-to become-famous philosophy regarding life, "It's Just a Ride". Also in that tour he recorded the stand-up performance released in its entirety on a double CD titled Salvation. Hicks was voted "Hot Standup Comic" by Rolling Stone magazine in 1993. He moved to Los Angeles in 1992.
Hicks and Tool 
The progressive metal band Tool invited Hicks to open a number of concerts in its 1992 Lollapalooza appearances, where Hicks once asked the audience to look for a contact lens he had lost. Thousands of people complied.
Members of Tool felt that they and Hicks "were resonating similar concepts". Intending to raise awareness about Hicks's material and ideas, Tool dedicated their triple-platinum album Ænima (1996) to Hicks. Both the lenticular casing of the Ænima album packaging as well as the chorus of the title track "Ænema" make reference to a sketch from Hicks's Arizona Bay album, in which he contemplates the idea of Los Angeles falling into the Pacific Ocean. Ænima's final track, "Third Eye" contains samples from Hicks's Sane Man and Relentless albums.
An alternate version of the Ænima artwork shows a painting of Bill Hicks, calling him "Another Dead Hero," and mentions of Hicks are found both in the liner notes and on the record.
Censorship and aftermath 
In 1984, Hicks was invited to appear on Late Night with David Letterman for the first time. He had a joke that he used frequently in comedy clubs about how he caused a serious accident that left a classmate using a wheelchair. NBC had a policy that no handicapped jokes could be aired on the show, making his stand-up routine difficult to perform without mentioning words such as "wheelchair".
On October 1, 1993, Hicks was scheduled to appear on Late Show with David Letterman, his 12th appearance on a Letterman late-night show, but his entire performance was removed from the broadcast—then the only occasion where a comedian's entire routine was cut after taping. Hicks's stand-up routine was removed from the show allegedly because Letterman and his producer were nervous about a religious joke ("If Jesus came back he might not want to see so many crosses"). Hicks said he believed it was due to a pro-life commercial aired during a commercial break. Both the show's producers and CBS denied responsibility. Hicks expressed his feelings of betrayal in a letter to John Lahr of The New Yorker. Although Letterman later expressed regret at the way Hicks had been handled, Hicks did not appear on the show again.
Hicks's mother, Mary, appeared on the January 30, 2009 episode of Late Show. Letterman played the routine in its entirety. Letterman took full responsibility for the original censorship and apologized to Mrs. Hicks. Letterman also declared he did not know what he was thinking when he pulled the routine from the original show in 1993, saying, "It says more about me as a guy than it says about Bill because there was absolutely nothing wrong with that."
Denis Leary 
For many years, Hicks was friends with fellow comedian Denis Leary. But in 1993 Hicks was angered by Leary's album No Cure for Cancer, which featured lines and subject matter similar to Hicks's routine. According to American Scream: The Bill Hicks Story by Cynthia True, upon hearing the album "Bill was furious. All these years, aside from the occasional jibe, he had pretty much shrugged off Leary's lifting. Comedians borrowed, stole stuff, and even bought bits from one another. Milton Berle and Robin Williams were famous for it. This was different. Leary had practically taken line for line huge chunks of Bill's act and recorded it." The friendship ended abruptly as a result.
At least three stand-up comedians have gone on the record stating they believe Leary stole Hicks's material as well as his persona and attitude. In an interview, when Hicks was asked why he had quit smoking, he answered, "I just wanted to see if Denis would, too." In another interview, Hicks said, "I have a scoop for you. I stole his [Leary's] act. I camouflaged it with punchlines, and, to really throw people off, I did it before he did." During a 2003 Comedy Central roast of Denis Leary, comedian Lenny Clarke, a friend of Leary's, said there was a carton of cigarettes backstage from Bill Hicks with the message, "Wish I had gotten these to you sooner." This joke was cut from the final broadcast.
The controversy surrounding plagiarism is also mentioned in American Scream:
Leary was in Montreal hosting the "Nasty Show" at Club Soda, and Colleen [McGarr?] was coordinating the talent so she stood backstage and overheard Leary doing material incredibly similar to old Hicks riffs, including his perennial Jim Fixx joke: "Keith Richards outlived Jim Fixx, the runner and health nut. The plot thickens." When Leary came offstage, Colleen, more stunned than angry, said, "Hey, you know that's Bill Hicks's material! Do you know that's his material?" Leary stood there, stared at her without saying a word, and briskly left the dressing room.
Comic style 
Hicks's style was a play on his audience's emotions. He expressed anger, disgust, and apathy while addressing the audience in a casual and personal manner, which he likened to merely conversing with his friends. He would invite his audiences to challenge authority and the existential nature of "accepted truth." One such message, which he often used in his shows, was delivered in the style of a news report (in order to draw attention to the negative slant news organizations give to any story about drugs):
Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration—that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we're the imagination of ourselves. And now, here's Tom with the weather.
Another of Hicks's most famous quotes was delivered during a gig in Chicago in 1989 (later released as the bootleg I'm Sorry, Folks). After a heckler repeatedly shouted "Free Bird", Hicks screamed that "Hitler had the right idea; he was just an underachiever!" Hicks followed this remark with a misanthropic tirade calling for unbiased genocide against the whole of humanity.
Much of Hicks's routine involved direct attacks on mainstream society, religion, politics, and consumerism. Asked in a BBC interview why he cannot do a routine that appeals "to everyone", he said that such an act was impossible. He responded by repeating a comment that an audience member once made to him, "We don't come to comedy to think!", to which he replied, "Gee! Where do you go to think? I'll meet you there!" In the same interview, he also said: "My way is half-way between: this is a night-club, and these are adults."
Hicks often discussed conspiracy theories in his performances, most notably the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He mocked the Warren Report and the official version of Lee Harvey Oswald as a "lone nut assassin." He also questioned the guilt of David Koresh and the Branch Davidian compound during the Waco Siege. Hicks would end some of his shows, especially those being recorded in front of larger audiences as albums, with a mock "assassination" of himself on stage, making gunshot sound effects into the microphone while falling to the ground.
Cancer diagnosis and death 
On June 16, 1993, Hicks was diagnosed with pancreatic adenocarcinoma that had spread to his liver. 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 pilot episode of a new talk show, titled Counts of the Netherworld for Channel 4 at the time of his death. The budget and concept 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.
After being diagnosed with cancer, Hicks would often joke that any given performance would be his last. The public, however, was unaware of Hicks's condition. Only a few close friends and family members knew of his disease. Hicks performed the final show of his career at Caroline's in New York on January 6, 1994. He moved back to his parents' house in Little Rock, Arkansas, shortly thereafter. He called his friends to say goodbye, before he stopped speaking on February 14. He died of pancreatic cancer on February 26, 1994, at age 32. Hicks was buried in the family plot in Leakesville, Mississippi.
On February 7, 1994, a verse Hicks had authored, on his perspective, wishes, and thanks of his life, to be released after his death as his "last word", ended with the words: "I left in love, in laughter, and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit."
In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, fellow comedians and comedy insiders voted Hicks #13 on their list of "The Top 20 Greatest Comedy Acts Ever". Likewise, in "Comedy Central Presents: 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time" (2004), Hicks was ranked at #19. In March 2007, Channel 4 ran a poll, "The Top 100 Stand-Up Comedians of All Time", in which Hicks was voted #6. Channel 4 renewed this list in April 2010, which saw Hicks move up 2 places to #4.
Devotees of Hicks have incorporated his words, image, and attitude into their own creations. By means of audio sampling, fragments of Hicks's rants, diatribes, social criticisms, and philosophies have found their way into many musical works, such as the live version of Super Furry Animals' "Man Don't Give A Fuck". His influence on the band Tool is well-documented; he "appears" on the Fila Brazillia album Maim That Tune (1996) and on SPA's self-titled album SPA (1997), which are both dedicated to Hicks; the British band Radiohead's second album The Bends (1995) is also dedicated to his memory. Singer/songwriter Tom Waits listed Rant in E-Minor as one of his 20 most cherished albums of all time.
The British actor Chas Early portrayed Hicks in the one-man stage show Bill Hicks: Slight Return, which premiered in 2004. The show was co-written by Chas Early and Richard Hurst, and imagined Hicks's view of the world 10 years after his death.
That this House notes with sadness the 10th anniversary of the death of Bill Hicks, on 26th February 1994, at the age of 33 [sic]; 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 [sic] of inclusion with Lenny Bruce in any list of unflinching and painfully honest political philosophers.
Film and documentary 
Russell Crowe announced in 2012 that he will direct a Bill Hicks biopic. Crowe was originally thought to be playing the comedian, but Mark Staufer, the actor's schoolmate and writer on the film, has suggested the part is now open for casting. Production is expected to start next year.
- See "Bill Hicks on Austin Public Access", October 24, 1993, via Vide.Google.com
- "Bill Hicks Personal Life and Career". Bestcomedyonline.net. Retrieved 2011-08-28.
- "100 Greatest Comedy Stand-ups vote from channel4.com". Channel 4. Retrieved 2007-03-19.
- Bill Hicks: Love All the People (Robinson Publishing, 2005), ISBN 978-1-84529-111-2, page #s?
- Late Show With David Letterman. 2009-01-30.
- Staff report (April 18, 1991). 'Texas outlaw' fires from the lip. Washington Times
- Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas, Directors (2009). American: The Bill Hicks Story
- Biography, BillHicks.com
- See Sane Man and Rant in E Minor.
- Bill Hicks: Sane Man (1989) at the Internet Movie Database
- Outhwaite, Paul. Bill Hicks biography. WebCitation archive.
- Interview with Kevin Booth. "It's Only a Ride: Bill Hicks Question & Answer with Kevin Booth". FadeToBlack.com. Archived from the original on August 29, 2005. Retrieved 2006-03-03.
- Langer, Andy (May 1997). "Another Dead Hero". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved May 29, 2007.
- Theiner, Manny (2006-09-28). "Concert Review: Tool's prog pleases populace". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "...from its triple-platinum 1996 release, "Ænima.""
- Zwick, John (February 25, 2004). "Dead 10 years, Hicks still makes us laugh". University of Colorado Denver Advocate. Archived from the original on October 7, 2007. Retrieved April 9, 2007.
- Bill Hicks Outlaw Comic Documentary on YouTube
- Lahr, John (November 1, 1993). "The Goat Boy Rises". The New Yorker.
- "CapZeyeZ". 1993-10-24. Austin Public Access. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8409129199157823217#5m15s.
- stevehpc (February 3, 2009), David Letterman Airs the 'Lost' Bill Hicks Routine, Entertainment Weekly, retrieved January 15, 2009
- Crosbie, Lynn (February 3, 2009). "The Globe Review Column; Pop Rocks; A Pop-Culture Epiphany; David Letterman's Apology to Mary Hicks". The Globe and Mail. p. R1.
- Outhwaite, Paul (November 2003). One Consciousness: An Analysis of Bill Hicks's Comedy, 3rd edition, D.M. Productions. ISBN 0-9537461-3-5.
- True, Cynthia (2002). American Scream: The Bill Hicks Story. Harper Paperbacks. ISBN 0-380-80377-1.
- Booth, Kevin; Bertin, Michael (2005). Bill Hicks: Agent of Evolution. Harper Collins. ISBN 0-00-719829-9.
- Rogan, Joe (2005). "Carlos Mencia is a weak minded joke thief". JoeRogan.net. Archived from the original on 2007-06-07. Retrieved 2006-10-28.
- Rogan, Joe (October 2003). (Interview). Playboy Magazine.
- McIntire, Tim (1998). "Dark Times: Bill Hicks: Frequently Asked Questions". BillHicks.com. Archived from the original on 2006-10-11. Retrieved 2006-10-28.
- Jalees, Sabrina (2006-10-17). "Nothing funny about joke thieves". Toronto: The Star. Retrieved 2009-12-23.
- Stern, Doug (April 1993). "Profile: Bill Hicks". Austin Comedy News. via Gavin's Blog. Archived from the original on 19 October 2006. Retrieved 2006-10-22.. WebCitation archive.
- "Roasting a Comic They Turn Up the Flames Gently". Boston Globe. 2003-08-10. Archived from the original on 2003-08-11.[dead link] (Dead link as of at least March 26, 2009.)
- Extract from Revelations, London, 1993. The extract is part of the concluding track to the album, called "It's Just a Ride", in which he essentially outlines his world view.
- Freebird! on YouTube. He repeatedly prays for "nuclear holocaust" in his Flying Saucer Tour, Volume 1 recording, in conjunction with the tastes of his audience (specifically professional wrestling).Retrieved on 2009-12-23. Quote: "Hitler had the right idea, he was just an underachiever."
- Bill Hicks Interview BBC2 1992 on YouTube from the episode A Question of Taste, part the BBC's "Funny Business" series. Retrieved on 2009-12-23.
- Hicks, Bill. "Last Word". BillHicks.com. Bill Hicks. Archived from the original on May 21, 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-05.
- Bill Hicks Bio
- O'Neill, Brendan (2004-02-23). "Bill Hicks: Why the fuss, exactly?". BBC News (UK accessdate = 2006-03-03: BBC). Archived from the original on 2004-02-25.
- Edwards, Rupert (March 05, 1994). "Obituary: Bill Hicks". The Independent (UK). Retrieved December 7, 2012.
- "America's outlaw comic". Socialist Worker. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
- Mueller, Andrew (24 July 2008). "Radiohead Part II: On The Road With The Mercury Prize Nominees". The Quietus. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
- Waits, Tom (2005-03-20). "What the stars are listening to: 'It's perfect madness'". The Observer (London: The Guardian). Archived from the original on 14 January 2010. Retrieved 2009-12-23. "Bill Hicks, blowtorch, excavator, truthsayer and brain specialist, like a reverend waving a gun around."
- "Anniversary of the death of Bill Hicks". Parliamentary Information Management Services. Retrieved 2006-03-03.
- Ashurst, Sam (January 9, 2009). "5 Best Political Cameos In Comic Books". TotalFilm.com. p. 2. Archived from the original on December 31, 2011.
- Preacher #31 at the Grand Comics Database
- American: The Bill Hicks Story
- "Russell Crowe to direct Bill Hicks biopic – guardian.co.uk July 24 2012"
Further reading 
- Booth, Kevin; Michael Bertin (March 2005). Bill Hicks: Agent of Evolution. New York, New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-719829-9.
- Hicks, Bill (2004). Love All the People: Letters, Lyrics, Routines. ISBN 1-932360-65-4.
- Kaufman, Will (1997). Comedian As Confidence Man: Studies in Irony Fatigue. Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-2657-9.
- Mack, Ben; Kristin Pulkkinen (October 2005). What Would Bill Hicks Say?. ISBN 1-933368-01-2.
- Newfield, Jack (2003). American Rebels. New York, NY: Nation books. ISBN 1-56025-543-9.
- Outhwaite, Paul (November 2003). One Consciousness: An Analysis of Bill Hicks's Comedy (3rd edition ed.). D.M. Productions. ISBN 0-9537461-3-5.
- True, Cynthia (2002). American Scream: The Bill Hicks Story. New York, NY: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-380-80377-1.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Bill Hicks|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Bill Hicks|
- Official website
- Sacred Cow Productions
- Bill Hicks at the Internet Movie Database
- Bill Hicks' Last Interview 1993