Shut Up About Bill Hicks
He was a comedian sabotaged by his own smugness.
Big news: Bar-rock singer and fake-Irish accent peddler Russell Crowe is to direct a film about the comedian Bill Hicks, hero to first year sociology students the world over. It’s a perfect match. A boring man who takes himself incredibly seriously interpreting the life of another boring man who took himself incredibly seriously. I'm sure it's gonna be a lulzfest.
It’s bad news for all of us, because it means we have to listen to idiots droning on about how iconoclastic and awesome Hicks was. That claim may not have been totally ridiculous in the 1990s but it is now. I’ll admit that there have been worse comedians – Gina Yashere, Lee Nelson, all the racist ones – but the smug reverence in which Hicks is held somehow makes him worse than them all. (Except the racist ones, except the racist ones!)
BILL HICKS IS AN ENTRY-LEVEL COMIC FOR ASPIRING LEFT-WINGERS
Listening to Bill Hicks is like listening to a guy who’s just found out about Noam Chomsky. It’s the feeling of being trapped in a student house somewhere with a guy who has less of a tolerance to cocaine than you and is intent on telling you he’s read (half of) Manufacturing Consent along with some comment pieces on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Hey, did you know there’s injustice in the world? Did you know corporations are, like, bad? No, I didn’t. I’ve literally never heard this information before. Stop. Blowing. My. Mind. Now pass me the bong and the Michael Moore boxset and let’s get cracking. Have I told you about this thing called prejudice?
BILL HICKS HAD NO SUBTLETY
Here’s Bill’s famous take on marketing and advertising. Now, I’m not an apologist for advertisers or marketeers. I realise that most of them are so used to talking shit that they no longer notice the taste of it on their tongues. I also realise that if they didn’t exist, no one would pay me to write (no big shame, I’m sure) and no one would really read the things I then wrote. The same goes for Bill’s comedy. But the main problem is that there’s no subtlety here; it’s just a mean-spirited sledgehammer. Telling people to kill themselves isn’t effective comedy. It’s not even effective anger. It’s just sloganeering. In the Bob Dylan song “My Back Pages”, Dylan sings about how he was “so much older then” but that he’s “younger than that now”. He was talking about his move from the simple, political chanting of his early days to the more nuanced approach he took once he’d moved away from Pete Seeger and the anti-electric folk police. That’s the problem with Bill, unlike his visionary heroes, Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, he couldn’t recognise a world that wasn’t entirely black and white.
ALL OF BILL HICKS' JOKES WERE SHOUTED
You always know which bit in a Hicks routine is a joke because it’s the bit he shouts. That’s helpful because there’s no other way you’d be able to tell. After all, it’s not like you’re laughing. It’s the equivalent of sitting in a pub listening to 30 Odd Foot of Grunts before having to listen to Russell Crowe carefully and angrily explain the importance and meaning of his lyrics, which he will of course insist on referring to as his “poetry”.
BILL HICKS KNOCKED DOWN STRAW MEN
This is the problem with Richard Dawkins and Ricky Gervais as well. It’s not difficult to pick on creationists, they’re obviously either just naturally incredibly stupid or the unfortunate victims of a moronic culture. Attacking them is like stealing a bone from a confused but truculent dog. I recognise that because I’m not American I don’t have to deal with creationists in the same way, but still, people have been attacking religion for thousands of years and they’ve thought of much better ways of doing it than simply stating the beliefs of the stupidest believers and then pulling a face. That shit may fly in Texas, when you’re an upcoming comic obsessed with your own religious background, but it shouldn’t fly here.
This is essentially what Adam Sandler does. No-one thinks Adam Sandler is a visionary genius. They think he’s a grown man who wears a nappy.
I don’t know, maybe the problem with him is that he could’ve been good or he could’ve been interesting. Which isn’t so bad and it’s not like he was a corporate lackey or a racist or any of the other terrible things comics can be. He was just unbearably smug and that got in the way of anything interesting he had to say.
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