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Bill Hicks - Profile

  by Dominic B. Simpson

published: 25 / 11 / 2015

Bill Hicks - Profile


Dominic Simpson reflects upon 'Ultimate Bill Hicks', a new three DVD box set from the late comedian Bill Hicks

Bill Hicks lived fast, died young, smoked a lot, and in the meantime produced some of the most incredible, uncompromising stand-up of any comedian. Already a stand-up at the age of sixteen, Hicks was at the height of his powers during the late 80s and early 90s (captured in this DVD box set, which span the years 1989 to 1994). His performances were peerless, laying into the bullshitters, sycophants, and hypocrisy of modern America. Religion, advertising, America's warped 'war on drugs', corporate America, gun ownership, the first Iraq war, sex, music, pornography, patriotism: very few targets escaped his vitriol. On a roll, his life was tragically cut short at just 32 years of age when he died of pancreatic cancer in 1994, leaving behind a legacy that few stand-up acts will match. By that point, he had a reasonably large following in the US, and an even bigger one in the UK and Ireland, where his shows sold out. Over twenty years on, the performances converted from VHS to DVD, this box set could well address and correct the fact that Hicks still remains a relatively obscure name for many. Made of up four DVDs, the material includes 'One Night Stand', a performance for HBO in 1989 that shows many of his trademark gags already to the fore, and 'Sane Man', performed the same year. Meanwhile, 'Relentless', recorded at Montreal's Juste Pour Rire (Just For Laughs) festival in 1992, is one of his all-time classics, with Hicks prowling the stage like a man possessed, daring the audience to burn their record collection in case they were anti-drugs because all those artists were high as a kite. “The Beatles were so high they even let Ringo sing on a couple of tracks”, he points out, before adopting a British accent: “Ringo, you can come down from the ceiling now...Yoko has gone!” Hicks attacked the hypocrisy of the American 'war on drugs' with relish, pointing out that taxed legal drugs such as alcohol killed (and continue to kill) more people than crack, cocaine and heroin combined, yet marijuana remained illegal. He freely admitted that he had enjoyed his time on illegal drugs. Imagining a world where marijuana was legal, he envisaged the roads as being full of nothing but Domino's Pizza trucks, with no wars or strife. Despite being Southern bred, Hicks never shied away from facing the American religious right, either. He imagined Jesus coming back from the dead as a 'Rambo'-style action movie (“Jesus is back – and this time he's pissed off!' 'I didn't tell you what mood I'd be in, did I, fuckers?!”), pointing out that if he did return “do you think he'd ever want to see another cross? It's kind of like going up to Jackie O with a rifle pendant on.” His satirising of Christian fundamentalism and Creationism did not endear himself to the American religious establishment, but Hicks saw them as only one of a number of targets. An equal target of his scorn was those artists who took part in corporate advertising, such as New Kids On The Block, who had just took part in a Pepsi advert, along with Christian anti-drug rock bands: “When did mediocrity and banality become a good image for your children? I want my children to listen to people who fucking ROCKED! I don't care if they died in puddles of their own vomit! I want my rockstars DEAD. I want 'em to fucking play with one hand and put a gun in their other fucking hand and go, 'I hope you enjoyed the show. BANG!' I want someone who plays from his fucking HEART!...By the way, I am available for children's parties.” Hicks' uniqueness was in successfully noting how the American Government continually infringed on the rights of the people, dressing up the infringements in platitudes of patriotism: “Go back to bed, America. Your government has figured out how it all transpired. Go back to bed, America. Your government is in control again. Here. Here's 'American Gladiators'. Watch this, shut up. Go back to bed, America. Here is 'American Gladiators'. Here is 56 channels of it! Watch these pituitary retards bang their fucking skulls together and congratulate you on living in the land of freedom. Here you go, America! You are free to do what we tell you! You are free to do what we tell you!” Also in the box set is 'Revelations', one of Hicks' last ever performances, in 1993, at the Dominion Theatre in London, where he commanded a huge following. Watching it now, it's difficult not to think about the fact that one year on, Hicks would be dead, his smoking – which had been such a source of many of his jokes (“non-smokers die every day”) - finally becoming the death of him. There's also 'It's Just A Ride', a fine documentary from 1994, in which Hicks' family, and a number of American and British comedians – the latter group including Eddie Izzard and Sean Hughes – discuss his legacy, replete with authentically bad mullet-style haircuts (this writer doesn't remember 1994 looking like that, but then it was a long time ago). In this PC age, the world could do with someone with Hicks' immense talents. Buy this DVD set just to see what the new millennium is missing. His brilliance in exposing modern-day hypocrisy, and his downright hilarious take on the perversities and ludicrousness of the modern world, ensured that Hicks attracted people to stand-up who would otherwise have never bothered with the genre, this writer included. It's a shame that this colossus of comedy isn't alive today to return to the stage, and tackle the world 20 years on, fully basking in the posthumous praise that he rightfully deserves.

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