Friday, 14 September 2007

Bill Hicks: gentleman, scholar, goat boy

There was something about Bill Hicks. From the first time I heard him, something marked him out from his fellow performers at a comedy festival in Canada, one of those times when you scramble for a pen to note down a name.

It isn't always easy to remember the initial impact of something that influenced you, once time has flown on, and the novelty has passed. Our minds cluttered with the knowledge and experience we have acquired since, we forget that there was a time when we didn't know the punchlines.

Mr Hicks could be harsh. He didn't always want you to laugh, but he always wanted a response, even one of anger or hate. If he was heckled he'd hand back a verbal pistol-whipping. If audiences failed to get the joke, he'd berate them: “y'all look like a dog whose just been shown a card trick” he would say. Had he lived longer, his trajectory would have taken him further away from the definition of comedian. "There are dick jokes later" he would promise, pausing in the middle of a long screed on the first Iraq war or the Waco massacre. Those dick jokes would have become fewer and further between. The series in England that was planned but never realised was no sitcom.

One of the last interviews he gave was to a public access show in Austin, Texas, called CapZeyeZ. This followed the occasion when his segment had been excised from the "David Letterman Show" - for him a final confirmation of the rotten heart of the mainstream media. He never was never going to compromise, it was on his terms or not at all, and this incident made him realise that the kind of fame offered via "Letterman" was not worth having.

When asked (by someone in a terrible fake English accent) where he got his humour from he said:

"I don't look outside myself for answers. I kind of feel that everyone has a voice of reason inside, and I believe that's been quelled to a large degree by our multi-media society that we live in, but anything that defies my voice of reason comes out and you hold it up to the light of reason – that's the premise – and then you start nailing it, and those are the jokes, until what's left is a laughter, I think, of recognition of a truth."

Later, he continues:

"I think there's a change coming out, man. You can't put out purile crap 24 hours cos eventually there's gonna be chaos in the streets, which there already is, because people are frustrated not having their voice of reason confirmed, and everyone has that voice of reason that goes “this is bull, man, what I'm watching is bull” and yet the media does not confirm it, so after a while people begin to think they're insane, and that's the bummer about it. But that's why I love non-mainstream stuff, because you actually hear honest emotions, and that's what you won't hear on mainstream TV ever is honest emotions."

Therein is the explanation of what it was that marked him out from his peers. He spoke to that inner voice of reason and expressed things we secretly feel but would often rather not admit, and if sometimes he could be brutal, at least it was brutal honesty. And he was damn funny. Bill, I salute you.


Anonymous said...

Great post. I only ever saw limited stuff of his in comedy terms. I never got round to reading these sort of interviews so it becomes even more salient. (I really like that Charlotte G track too).

Trooper Thompson said...

If you've got an hour to kill, check out the interview. I put a link in the post, and it's worth seeing.

Anonymous said...

He was a legend. One thing I remember about him is the shock I got when I first heard 'Relentless' (I think it was) in 2004, when he's going on about the war and Bush, I thought it was this time round. He was spot on with both times I reckon.

Trooper Thompson said...

We could sure use him around these days, although at least he was spared seeing G W Bush 'elected'.

I wonder about the cancer that killed him and whether there was more to it than meets the eye.