Two decades ago Bill Hicks died. Actually, 20 years and one day. Yesterday marked two decades since the world lost one of its great comedians well before his time, and still the world mourns his absence. Had he not been tragically shot down by pancreatic cancer at the young age of 31, he could still be imparting wisdom with his sharp criticisms and pointed, politically charged comments.
Along with Sam Kinison, another young, rebellious comic who died before his time, Hicks’ attitude and political commentary helped move comedy forward at a time when it had grown stagnant after the golden years of Crosby, Pryor and Carlin. On his death anniversary, his deathiversary if you will, comedians, media outlets and family members took to the internet to pay tribute to one of the greatest comedians of all time.
Here are five Bill Hicks Tributes that you need to check out. Seeing as this is a post about comedy, and one of the more profane comics to boot, there is some NSFW language below. I think Hicks would tell you to get the fuck over it.
Chas Early isn’t a stand-up comedian, but he did play one on stage. Early did for Hicks was dozens of performers did for Mark Twain after the author’s death. He went around on a world tour, playing as a character based completely on Hicks. It’s is a bit like being a cover band, but “cover comedians” can’t just roll out the same material night after night, they have to write jokes they think the comic would say. Early’s play Bill Hicks: Slight Return was fairly well received, or at least, no Hicks fans lynched him in the street. He writes some jokes for the expired comic.
“Social media’s just a distraction. Outside, storms are lashing the streets … flood waters are rising … but maybe if you stare at your iPhone and tweet about Miley Cyrus’s tongue you might not notice the water lapping around your feet and the planet choking to death. Hashtag endofdays. Hashtag WonderWhatMileyThinksoftheApocalypse.
BBC’s Shaun Keaveny talks to Steve Hicks shortly before the Bill Hicks remembrance event that took place yesterday over in Jolly Ole London. He talks about memories from their childhood and what it is like acting as the curator for Bill’s memories. It is interesting to hear how the incredible Hicks grew up and turned into what he became.
Lee Camp is one of the few comedians out there who continues a brand of politically minded humor not unlike Hick’s. Camp also does a regular podcast and videocast on his Youtube channel. The video contains Camp’s favorite Hicks line and the bit that got Hick’s final Tonight Show performance taken off the air.
This one is a little old, five years old to be exact. It was made for Hick’s 15th death anniversary, but it is still a highly recommended watch. It includes the genesis of Bill’s famous Waffle-House bit, his mom’s shocking revelation that Hicks wasn’t her funniest child, and other great facts Bill Hicks fans love hearing about.
Patton Oswalt is one of the world’s most famous comedians, but like everyone, there was a time when he was getting his start. Oswalt was just starting his career while Hicks was peaking. Oswalt’s commentary on what it was like being a young comedian looking up to a giant like Hicks gives a perspective very few people can provide.
Which is what makes Bill Hicks’ achievement all the more miraculous, when you put his comedy into the context of the time he did it. Lenny Bruce had to punch through an icy wall of Eisenhower-era repression. But Bill Hicks had to make his voice heard through the amorphous, ever-shifting fog of Reagan-era comfort and complacency. Comedy club audiences in the 80’s actually thought they were being revolutionary and dangerous, listening to a sport-coated, sleeves-rolled-up comedian railing against the absurdities of airplane food, the plot holes on Gilligan’s Island and the differences between cats and dogs. Like Kurt Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout, laying down world-saving truths in the pages of disposable stroke magazines, Bill Hicks was trying to light the way into the 21st century – on the stained-carpet stages of strip mall chuckle huts, usually following a juggler.
If you want to watch more Hicks, most of his specials are freely available on YouTube. The legality of those videos are a little fuzzy, but they have been up for years, so I think it’s okay to watch them, Bill might even approve.
[Photo Credit: Angela Davis]