Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bill Hicks: 20 Years Gone - Patton Oswalt

The strange legacy of a great comedian. By Patton Oswalt

The great comedian Bill Hicks, who died Feb. 26, 1994.
Film still of American: The Bill Hicks Story courtesy Variance Films

The following piece was written as the introduction to a new edition of Cynthia True’sAmerican Scream: The Bill Hicks Story. The new edition didn’t happen, but Oswalt published the essay on his website today, 20 years after Hicks’ death. It is reprinted here with his permission.

I never thought Lenny Bruce was funny.

I am very aware of how important he was. But his stuff never made me laugh.

He was just … before my time. Too, too soon for me, and me born too, too late. Growing up on Bill Cosby and George Carlin and Richard Pryor and then Steve Martin and Monty Python—all of them, and so many more—I couldn’t go back and listen to Lenny Bruce with new ears. I knew enough about history, about the sterile, cultural neck brace that America wore in the late ’50s and early ’60s, to realize just how revolutionary and foolhardy and essential Lenny Bruce was, but …

… he never made me laugh.

There are a startling number of comedians my age (and younger!) who say how funny they thought Lenny Bruce was, how much he cracked them up. And I suspect—fuck it, I know—they’re lying. They’re not lying out of self-aggrandizement or even fear. It’s just—they know how important Lenny was, especially in terms of what they do now, onstage, that they assume he’s also, to them, hilarious. Maybe they even convince themselves, when they listen to an old concert, that he’s genuinely making them laugh.

None of what I’m saying is meant to lessen Lenny Bruce, as a performer or barrier-breaker. If anything, it’s a tribute to how iconic his material is—like Ornette Coleman’s music, or Ozu’s films, or Wallace Stevens’ poetry—there’s an ever-renewing army of connoisseurs within his field who will always assert that he’s hilarious, that he’s a primal influence, that he’s a source.

Which brings me to Bill Hicks, and the equally strange legacy he leaves behind after his death. We’ll get to that later. And no, I’m not going to make the silly claim that there’s a direct line between Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks. The path of influence in any art form is never a straight line, nor is it ever a “passing on” of a real or symbolic baton. Influence and homage are a tangled radio-burst of infectious particles, and there are as many side-steps, diagonal shuffles, and pivots as there are clean strides forward. So let’s take a few steps backward here, to the people who followed Bruce, and laid the path for Hicks. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Jim Hicks Bill Tribute

Bill's father, Jim Hicks, pays tribute, remembrance and love in this homemade video shortly after Bill passed away. He made it to possibly use in the documentary, It's Just a Ride, that they were getting ready to make back then in 1994. The footage was never used so here is some of it for the first time. Apologies for the poor editing.

Bill Hicks: His Ride Ended 20 Years Ago

Tomorrow, February 26, comedian Bill Hicks will have been dead 20 years. Houston's favorite son (don't try to deny it) was 32.

Whether he went on to meet his version of Jesus (the guy who doesn't like crosses), descended into the infernal regions (where the Satan-worshipping family down the blockwith all the good albums ended up), transmuted into pure energy, or is simply moldering in the ground in the Hicks family plot in Mississippi, we'll probably never know. Still, two decades removed from his untimely death from pancreatic cancer, Hicks remains one of the most revered and influential comedians ever.

Just ask Denis Leary.

Bill Hicks - Kevin Booth - Arizona Bay recording sessions

Bill Hicks: 20 Years Since His Death & Still Speaking Truth

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bill Hicks on the 'miracle' of childbirth – exclusive video

In this previously unseen footage from the Hicks family archive, filmed at the Laff Stop in Austin in 1991, Bill Hicks explains why children are smarter than adults. Twenty years on from the standup's death, let us know what you think about his legacy. Plus, watch more exclusive footage: Bill Hicks on religious cults. Warning: strong language

Monday, February 24, 2014

WATCH: The five greatest Bill Hicks moments

As the 20th anniversary of the death of Bill Hicks approaches we look back on his five greatest moments.

By Ian Dunt

Wednesday sees the 20th anniversary of the death of Bill Hicks, a fascinating, complex political figure who became one of Britain's all-time favourite comedians.

Hicks was always most famous here in Britain, where his brand of furious indignation and outrageous sexually-imbued asides was more readily accepted than in his native America. In the two decades since his death, he has been elevated to an almost messianic figure among his fans, who often resort to the stock phrase that he was "right about everything".

He most certainly was not. There is a nasty line of machismo in his work – often veering on homophobia – which modern audiences might find unappetising. He resorts quite often to conspiracy theory and his oft-quoted thoughts on how 'life is just a ride' come close to the vague metaphors of new age spiritualists.

Hick's appeal is less about the specific content of what he had to say than his refusal to be co-opted into a corporate world where brands and advertising play a greater role than integrity. His anger has been shared in the decades since his death by millions of young people, who yearn for more meaning than their career opportunities seem to offer.

Below are five of his greatest moments available online, in no particularly order. Most film available of the comedian is from a couple of gigs late in his career. There is better stuff available on audio, but here I've stuck to video. I've left out some of the more grotesque moments, like his evisceration of Rush Limbaugh or the long, strange journeys with goatboy, because even with a warning at the top you can't put it anywhere near a mainstream website. Even then, proceed with caution: these clips contain swearing, graphic sexual descriptions and views on drugs and politics which some people might find objectionable.

Bill Hicks: The most outspoken and necessary stand-up of modern times

As the 20th anniversary of the death of Bill Hicks is marked, Dominic Cavendish pays tribute to a comedian who made rare sense of the world we live in

Twenty years after his death, isn’t it time we saluted Bill Hicks as the best of the goddam bunch? Shouldn’t we brace up and face facts? He came. He saw. He poured hilarious, bilious scorn. Pancreatic cancer claimed him at the age of 32. And we shan’t see his like again – not in the USA, not anywhere – in our lifetimes.

They’re holding a commemorative tribute for him on the anniversary itself – February 26: an official tribute show in Camden, with a visitation from his folks (mother, sister, brother) and contributions from comedians such as Robin Ince and Brendon Burns. There will be chat. There will be clips, courtesy of the guys who made the superb bio-documentary “American”. Great, so far as it goes, but it will only be a small token of esteem scaled against his immense talent. The most provocative, outspoken, necessary stand-up of modern times? I’d say so.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Brendon Burns on Bill Hicks: 'I felt like he was speaking directly to me'

When Bill Hicks died 20 years ago this month, Brendon Burns mourned his comic hero – but taking standups too seriously does them a massive disservice
Funny, but not an activist … Bill Hicks. Photograph: Arizona Bay Productions
In 1991, after doing my first year of open mic spots, I saw Bill Hicks on stage at the Edinburgh fringe, and for the first time in a long while, I didn't feel alone. I'd finally found a performer who was voicing what I'd always felt but had never managed to pinpoint as eloquently or hilariously.

He opened with a brilliant 10-minute diatribe on the mere fact that he was in a circus tent, riffing on the semi-pornographic poles that were propping up the venue. He walked on stage storming, as we say in the industry. A moth flew by and landed on his head. He batted it away as the room erupted. When the laughter died down he asked, "What did moths bump into before the light bulb was invented?" I don't know if this was the first night he'd ever said it, or if it had happened before, inspiring his "moths flying to the sun" routine, but it came out of him so naturally and spontaneously it was impossible to tell. There was no sense that he saw the moth and thought, "Great, I can do my moth bit." He just waited and pondered aloud with a consideration and patience that I tried to emulate, and failed miserably at, for many years.

Mr Hyde: The Bill Hicks debrief Bill Hicks on religious cults - exclusive video

In this previously unseen footage from the Hicks family archive, filmed at the Comedy Corner in Florida in October 1993, Bill Hicks riffs on 'people who snap and think they are Jesus'. Twenty years on from the standup's death, let us know what you think about his legacy. Plus, Brendon Burns pays tribute to Hicks: 'He was not the messiah, he was a very naughty boy'

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bill Hicks: what is his legacy?

The has posted the following request...

To mark the 20th anniversary of the comedian's death, we'd like to hear your thoughts on his life, his work and his influence

Bill Hicks died of pancreatic cancer 20 years ago this month. In the years since his death his reputation has steadily grown, with many comedians citing him as a key influence and introducing his work to younger audiences.

To mark the anniversary of his death, we'd like to hear your thoughts about Bill Hicks and his legacy: is his comedy still relevant to audiences today? Do you see his influence in any modern standup? Or perhaps you think his work has aged badly?

Tell us via the form below what you think Bill Hicks's legacy is. We'll publish a selection of the best responses on next week.

Go the to leave a response.