As we approach the twentieth anniversary of his death, medicine Catriona O’Malley looks at the career and legacy of the iconic comedian…
Bill Hicks, tadalafil the late comedian, sick has a great gag about playing a gig in a redneck American town. After making a joke about Jesus, he was confronted by an angry audience-member when trying to leave. “We’re Christians, and we don’t like what you said,” the man snarled.
“Well forgive me,” was Hicks’ witty and simple reply. It sums the man up perfectly. Rather than becoming embroiled in conflict, he attempted to diffuse the tension of the situation with a joke. It was what he did best. Hicks could be a deeply cynical and biting comedian, but he ultimately had an unwavering respect for his fellow man. Well, most of them. The title of his book, Love All the People, which combines biography with stand-up material, might seem like an unusual title for something about a man who made jokes on topics such as suicide and paedophilia. However, it may sound saccharine, but he did love his audience, and wanted to educate them and enlighten them to his world view. When he died in 1994, he left a huge chasm and stunned fans worldwide who were unaware of his illness. Such was Hicks’ passion for his vocation that he toured until the bitter end.
William Melvin Hicks was born in 1961. He sometimes joked that, being a Southerner with a name like Hicks, he was doomed from the beginning. He started performing stand-up in comedy clubs in Texas at the age of sixteen, when he was still in high school and in awe of the older comedians. It wasn’t until the late ‘80s that Hicks started becoming successful. In 1990, he released an album, Dangerous. Some say that his comedy was more popular in Ireland and the UK than in his native America, as many of his countrymen found him to be vulgar and offensive. He toured throughout 1991, attracting the attention of many and acquiring fans through the old-fashioned methods of a well-honed set and hard graft. I first became familiar with Hicks a few years ago when I saw one of his early ‘90s sets on Comedy Central. I loved his dry humour and deadpan expression. He could deliver the most searing, withering one-liner with a blank face. Later, I read the aforementioned Love All the People. It bears a glowing review from English comedy legend John Cleese on the cover, which is testament to Hicks’ legion of famous fans. The extracts from his stand-up peppered throughout the book are priceless. Hicks made other jokes about the weakness of his government and the pointlessness of conflict which seem eerily prescient today. Some of his political jokes about George Bush Senior can easily be applied to his inept son. Bill despaired at the hysteria seeping through American culture which illogically demonised pot smokers but celebrated boorish alcoholism. He was a proud smoker, mocking those who judged him for the habit. One of my favourite Hicks jokes is about Christians wearing crucifixes. He wondered if Jesus ever wanted to see a crucifix again on his return and compared it to flashing a rifle pendant in Jackie O’s face and saying “just thinking of John, Jackie. Just keepin’ that love alive.” It is a perfect example of how Hicks could see through hypocrisy and wasn’t afraid to question it, even at the risk of being accused of blasphemy in the deeply religious pockets of America.
One of the most controversial moments in Hicks’ life was in 1993, when his pre-recorded routine on David Letterman’s show was removed. It was the first time a comedian’s set had been cut after recording. It was to be his last appearance on the show, and he was left feeling deeply betrayed and hurt. In 2009, fifteen years after Hicks’ death, Letterman had the good grace to air the set and to invite the comedian’s mother onto the show. Still, the snub cut Hicks deep. He might have been biting, but he was human all the same, and vulnerable.
Tragically, midway through 1993, Hicks was diagnosed with cancer, which spread. He performed his final show in January, 1994, with his fans oblivious to how sick he was. He died in February, 1994, aged only thirty-two. He has a wonderful and poignant monologue called ‘It’s just a ride,’ about how life shouldn’t be taken seriously, but rather should be enjoyed together. Hicks’ legacy looms large to this day. Comedians such as Russell Brand and David Cross have cited him as an influence. The large number of YouTube videos dedicated to him are proof of the adoration he receives in death. Would he take this reverence seriously? Probably not. In his own words, “It’s just a ride.”