Posted by: CJ | April 18, 2009

Bill Hicks

I checked out the stand-up comedian Bill Hicks. There were a bunch of videos of him on YouTube. He was good, but my feelings on him are mixed. Some of his work is pure genius, as far as forum flame wars are concerned. His piece on Rush “scat-munching” Limbaugh is of this variety. Or other ones where the jokes were a bit subsumed under the pure, unbridled righteous fury. But those pieces aren’t the works of a master comedian–they’re the works of someone with a very well-practiced filthy mind and mouth. In those pieces he doesn’t ridicule the people for their positions.

But he has other routines, like his ones on abortion or marketers, which are very funny, yet still very political. And, of course, there’s the clip of his infamous outburst at a heckler where he screamed, “HITLER HAD THE RIGHT IDEA, HE WAS JUST AN UNDERACHIEVER!” and went on to pray to God to give him 40 days and nights of rain to cleanse this planet of human filth. The man strikes a chord with my angry nihilist streak, and I appreciate his efforts in misanthropy for the greater good of humanity. (And, as you see more of his comedy, you realize he’s as socially liberal as anyone in politics right now, but he was saying it onstage 20 years ago. That certainly strikes me as fighting the good fight.)

I should track down his two albums of stand-up. I’m curious what’s in them that I can’t find on youtube.



  1. It’ll take a little more viewing time, but the thing to watch is “Revelations,” his final standup special filmed a few months before his death. (The complete special is on YouTube.) It has some amazing bits, and concludes with the most philosophical bit of “comedy” you’re ever likely to experience. As you note, he’s quite the angry young man, but it’s an organic response to the outrages of the world — plus, he never had time to grow out of his angry young man phase, as he was dead from cancer at 32.

    As for the incendiary nature of some of his routines, there’s a famous cause celebre involving David Letterman. Hicks had been a regular on Letterman’s 12:30 NBC show, but his final appearance with Letterman (only a couple of months before his death) was completely scrubbed (after it was taped) because Letterman and his producer were nervous about how it would play at an earlier hour (this was just after Letterman’s show had moved to CBS at 11:30). Hicks wrote an angry 30-pg screed about the incident that subsequently became the centerpiece of a prominent magazine piece — and Hicks died before Letterman could make amends. It was quite a sore spot for years… and just a couple of months ago Letterman finally dealt with it on the 15th anniversary of Hicks’ death — he had Hicks’ mother on and played the scrubbed segment in its entirety.

  2. Actually, “Revelations” is on Google video, not YouTube….

  3. It’s a fair point that he didn’t really have time to get out of his angry phase before he died. But most of the comedians I can think of only got angrier as they got older, not less. And if Reagan and Bush I made Hicks go apoplectic you can’t seriously convince me the Clinton years and Bush II would have softened him.

    I’m going to check out the video now. He’s still a good comic, so I’m curious how I’ll like it.

  4. I ended up liking “Revelations” a lot. It was much calmer yet incisive than some of the other things on youtube.

    Thinking it over more, Hicks was a great social critic. His social commentary was wonderful. What his weakness is, in my mind, is political humor. He’s not wonky enough to do really great political humor, like Jon Stewart or Colbert can do. It’s just doesn’t appear to be his thing. He doesn’t want to talk about specific initiatives and policies that are stupid. He just wants to point out the people making them are immoral rat bastards unfit for human respect, let alone higher office. Which is a fair point, just not something I have an easy time laughing at.

    Still, it’s unfortunate he died so young. Another 10 years and he could have been even more impressive. And I would have loved having him around during the Clinton years. There were never enough filthy-mouthed liberals willing to go on stage and say what they thought that decade.

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