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Leave Bill Hicks Alone!

Defending a dead comedic hero from cynical detractors.

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A few weeks ago, Russell Crowe announced that he will be directing a biopic about the late comedian Bill Hicks. As a result, a few days ago Hicks was attacked on VICE, you can read it here. Here is a rebuttal, from one of his "overzealous and hopelessly earnest fans".

So it goes: the mere suggestion of an on-screen dramatisation of William Melvin Hicks' life dares show its face and out come the detractors. "Bill Hicks, mate, seriously?" they jeer. "You call that comedy? What, have you never seen a vagina or something? Loser."


You might think that Bill Hicks fans consist of sweaty crotched, pizza munching, undiagnosed ADHD sufferers who have never seen or done anything interesting outside of their parents' study. But what does that make you? Someone who thinks that wholesale rejection of an 18-year landfill of sometimes justified, sometimes hyperbolic praise makes them insightful, dangerous, cutting-edge – an early adopter of a new wisdom within the arena of dramatic criticism? Give it a rest.

Anyone under the age of 36 is unlikely to have any experience of Bill Hicks outside of VHS, DVD, late-night BBC4 documentaries or the true Hicks fan's goldmine, YouTube. Working on that assumption, we shall enter into a discussion about why Bill Hicks was actually fucking great and not just for people looking for a little comic relief to fill their wank session downtime.


Are critics of Hicks' "tired, old" material aware of the irony in their assumption that they're professing a new, ahead-of-the-curve opinion? Because they're not, and anyway, 2012 Bill Hicks probably wouldn't have been a fan of 1993 Bill Hicks, either.

From the record we now have of Hicks, we can see that his routine, his on-stage mannerisms and the themes in his material changed significantly over a relatively short amount of time. His performances were also tailored, despite the common attribution of "uncompromise", to their audience.


In the late 80s, he was strutting the boards across the New York circuit like a cool and collected alley cat in comparison to the bellowing rants of contemporaries such as Sam Kinison. His observations about "Ronald: six letters… Wilson: six letters… Reagan: six letters…" were delivered to a savvy cosmopolitan audience who knew that associating the then president with Satan in such a tenuous and childish way could only be self-parody. That is the joke: that he was so exasperated with his government he felt his only resort was to make absurd comparisons with the ultimate symbol of evil.


Especially if it meant getting a wider point across.

On what he called his "UFO tour", Hicks played night in, night out to smaller, less cynical audiences who probably would have been easier to milk for lulz with shouting and physical comedy. But even though he knew these audiences might find it impossible to relate to his personal politics, he just pushed harder to get his message through to them.

In front of these audiences, far from America's coastal intelligentsia, he went on the offensive. He shoved the rudimentaries of liberal politics of the time down their throats until the joke was lost on them, alienating himself on stage in the process. You can almost see him on the verge of tears on occasions, probably because, to him, as a Texan, these were his people.



Hicks meant what he said. Really, really meant it, sometimes to the point of distraction. The above video is proof. Bill's jokes and rants often stumbled into the almost unintelligible screeching of a man who simply could not put his point across well enough.

I'm not sure that I really have to explain why passionate delivery is a good thing, but here goes: if you agree with the basic premise of what someone says and they deliver that message with sufficient intent or emotion, it can be quite rousing and even make you feel more strongly about it. A by-product is a sense of bonding, a feeling of comradeship.


Right here is where the "straw man" argument section in a well-constructed dissection of Hicks' work would appear. Well, I've got news for you guys: Bill Hicks went after easy arguments for good reason. These are the same sort of causes that fill the front page of Reddit when crashes: civil liberties, government versus the little man, pro-life nut jobs, unjust wars, Republicans, censorship, banning pornography, homogenous, big brand dominance, religion…

Of course they are all easy to get riled up about and are completely soft, uncomplicated targets. That's exactly


everyone gets so pissed off when they are challenged in any significant way. Seriously, it's OK to be angry about bad stuff. We all agreed a long time ago that things like police brutality suck and corporations control too much of the world. Well that's all still going on, so what can we do about it? We could, I don't know, get irked and complain about it in the streets or something. Or we could just let it slide, because it's being going on so long now that oh, I wouldn't want to bore you with the ceaseless injustice of it all.


Just don't mention socialism, Bill

didn't like socialism



What did you do when you snuck out as a teenager? Drink in the park and fall off your skateboard? By the time he was 20, Hicks could hold a crowd better than you've ever held your own gaze in the mirror.


A lot of the time when people say "Bill Hicks was sooooo smug, I just can't bear him," I think they might be misinterpreting something else, namely charisma.

Admittedly, Bill was aware of his own swagger and flaunted and even boasted about it. But he was performing stand up comedy. For him to not exaggerate his own sure-footed nature and make it one of the key ingredients in his on-stage persona would have been, if anything, a little pompous and self-regarding, don't you think? (I know that's the kind of circular argument that will really infuriate all you pro-logic anti-Hicksians out there. Don't worry, I can feel you hating me. But I don't care, 'cause over here at Team Hicks we're having a great time.)


OK, goatboy was kinda dumb.


In some respects, given the crystallising nature of his death and a heightened awareness of the particular era of Western culture that Hicks was reacting to (one which we are aware has fathered the one we live through now), Bill-Hicks-the-comedian can almost seem like one extended piece of performance art.


Rationally, to owe a man reverence for being outspoken, even if what he was saying


blunt and crude, is not absurd. The levels to which many worship Hicks are probably more a testament to the fact that his voice speaks to them in a way that no one else's has since, and idolisation of those who never had a chance to ruin their careers is hardly unusual.

At some point, the emotive nature of Bill's delivery (and the fact that he was dead) made people remember him with feeling and emotion, rather than with surgical post-mortem rationale. This in mind, the adulation heaped upon Hicks is at best justified and at worst understandable. In other words, you can't diminish the value of sentiment in people's memories, so chill the fuck out, haters. Russell Crowe will probably fuck it up anyway, so we may as well just close our sixth-form sociology textbooks, grab the lube from the sock drawer, close the curtains and enjoy uncensored Bill

at his finest

– together.

Follow Josh on Twitter: @joshuahaddow

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