[disinfo ed.’s note: this original essay was first published by disinformation on February 20, 2002. Some links may have expired.]
“Thank you. How you doing folks? Me too. You gotta bear with me, I’m very tired, very tired of traveling, and very tired of doing comedy, and very tired of staring out at your vacant faces looking back at me, wanting me to fill your empty lives with humor you couldn’t possibly think of yourselves. Good evening.”
Bill Hicks: the Nietzsche of comedy, the most legitimate social critic of the 1990s: a renegade messiah who tried to make people laugh, but usually ended up pissing them off, or drawing blank stares.
Born in 1961, Hicks died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 32, just as his career was peaking. He left in his wake a legacy of biting criticisms against American society: no inadequacy or hypocrisy was immune to his scathing satires, but don’t take my word for it. For Christ sakes, if anyone demands our undivided attention, it’s Bill Hicks . . .
The War on Drugs:
“George Bush says ‘we are losing the war on drugs’. Well you know what that implies? There’s a war going on, and people on drugs are winning it! Well what does that tell you about drugs? Some smart, creative motherfuckers on that side.”
“Supreme Court says pornography is anything without artistic merit that causes sexual thoughts. No artistic merit, causes sexual thoughts. Hmmm . . . sounds like every commercial on TV doesn’t it?”
“People come up to me: ‘Bill, quit talking about Kennedy man . . . It was a long time ago . . .’ And I’m like alright, then don’t bring up Jesus to me. As long as we’re talking about shelf life here.”
“The worst kind of non-smokers are the ones that come up to you and cough. That’s pretty fucking cruel isn’t it? Do you go up to cripples and dance too?”
“One of my big fears in life is that I’m going to die and my parents are going to have to clear out my apartment and find the porno wing I’ve been adding to for years. There’ll be two funerals that day.”
“A lot of Christians wear crosses around their necks. Do you think when Jesus comes back he ever wants to look at a fucking cross? It’s kinda like going up to Jackie Onassis with a rifle pendant on.”
The Gulf War:
“They said the Iraqis had the fourth largest army in the world. Well, the Hare Krishnas are the fifth largest and they’ve already got our airports.”
“By the way, if anyone here is in advertising or marketing, kill yourself. No, this is not a joke: kill yourself . . . I know what the marketing people are thinking now too: ‘Oh. He’s going for that anti-marketing dollar. That’s a good market.’ Oh man, I am not doing that, you fucking evil scumbags.”
“If the FBI’s motivating factor for busting down the Koresh compound was child abuse, how come we never see Bradley tanks smashing into Catholic churches?”
“I love the Pope, I love seeing him in his Pope-Mobile, his three feet of bullet proof plexi-glass. That’s faith in action folks! You know he’s got God on his side.”
“Gays in the military . . . here’s how I feel about it, alright? Anyone . . . DUMB enough . . . to want to be in the military, should be allowed in. End of fucking story. That should be the only requirement.”
In addition to his libertarian political philosophy, Bill was a deeply spiritual man. He advocated meditation, floatation tanks, and Terence McKenna’s “heroic dose” of psilocybic mushrooms to “squeegee the third eye”. He stressed that we are all one consciousness, so it doesn’t make sense to hurt or lie to one another.
Bill never became popular, mainly because he didn’t exactly endear himself to corporate sponsors (“advertisers: kill yourselves”). He did appear on the Late Show with David Letterman a dozen times, but his final performance (just months before his death) was cut because of “inappropriate material.” The tiff was over one of Bill’s jokes about pro-lifers:
“If you’re so pro-life, do me a favor: don’t block arms and block medical clinics. If you’re so pro-life, lock arms and block cemeteries.”
It was later revealed that one of the Late Show‘s most generous sponsors was a pro-life group whose commercial aired during the program Hicks was supposed to appear in. Hicks explains:
“See we just had a misunderstanding. I thought we lived in the U.S. of A., the United States of America. But actually we live in the U.S. of A., the United States of Advertising. Freedom of expression is guaranteed if you’ve got the money!”
Hicks released two albums (1990’s Dangerous and 1992’s Relentless) and two videos (Sane Man and Revelations) in his lifetime. After his death, two more albums were released, both in 1997. One of these, Rant in E-Minor, is widely considered to be his defining work, by critics and fans alike. The other, Arizona Bay, was his most conceptual offering. Arizona Bay was described by Hicks as “‘The Dark Side of the Moon‘ of comedy albums,” and features musical interludes with Hicks on guitar. It was Bill’s metaphor for American society, using Los Angeles (Hell-A) as a microcosm of mainstream culture.
Arizona Bay was the inspiration for Tool’s album AEnima, and if you listen to the song “Third Eye” you will hear a clip of Bill (think: “rrrrrreal fuckin’ high on drugs”). Radiohead’s album The Bends was also dedicated to Hicks.
A fifth album, with material recorded around the same time as Rant In E-Minor, is in the works and should be released soon. Cynthia True and Janeane Garofalo’s biography American Scream: The Bill Hicks Story (New York: Harper Entertainment, 2002) is definately worth checking out. Let’s hope Bill Hicks continues to inspire and enlighten us all.
Links [some may have expired]
The Bill Hicks hub on the Internet. News, bios, a message board, and, most importantly, links to the best Bill Hicks sites.
Ninja Bachelor Party
A (very) low budget film made by Hicks with some of his friends. “The first karate opera”. Watch as young Clarence Mumford struggles to kick a vicious Robitussin addiction by flying to Korea and meeting the great ninja master (Bill), who teaches him the art of fighting and smoking mushrooms.
Sacred Cow Productions
The official homepage for Hicks’ independent production company.
Audio, video, articles, transcripts, FAQ and much more. Requires free G2 RealPlayer.
Sacred Cow: Audio/Video Archive
Loads of audio and video clips from all of Bills videos and CDs. The best place to go if you’re interested in seeing or hearing Hicks’ performances on the Internet.
Bill Hicks Foundation for Wildlife Rehabilitation
The Texas-based foundation that Hicks created to care for injured animals and re-release them into the wild.
Clips from Bill’s first video, Sane Man (1989).
Rant in E-Minor
MP3s from Bill’s most recent album, released in 1997. Generally considered his finest work.
It’s Just a Ride
A posthumous tribute to Hicks with commentary from friends, family, and colleagues.
Bill Hicks FAQ
Information about Bill Hick’s life and philosophy.
Newsgroup devoted to discussing Bill’s legacy.