Comedy Outlaws no. 6. Bill Hicks.

“Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration—that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we’re the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the weather.” BILL HICKS

I hope by now anyone reading these short biographies of my favourite comedians will now realise the numbers are not in order of merit. If they were the William Melvin “Bill” Hicks would obviously be number one…by quite a jump. By happy accident I’ve assigned him the Devils number. He’d probably appreciate that. Hell, he actually started out his career as a teenage stand up being part of a troupe of American comedians known as the Texas Outlaw Comics at The Comedy Workshop in Houston. About 95% of us that are Bill Hicks fans sadly became aware of him after his death of pancreatic cancer in 1994 at the tragically young age of 32. Had he lived modern stand-up comedy may have ended up vastly different to the toothless and anodyne fare the corporate shills spoon feed us now. However if he didn’t get cancer I’m sure the powers that be would have to have found some other way to silence him…Am I implying he was killed by his own government? Well if I am it’s purely in the spirit and memory of him.

“Isn’t humanity neat?’ bullshit. We’re a virus with shoes, okay? That’s all we are.” BILL HICKS.

If you’re not familiar with his work, and many people aren’t now would be a good time to become familiar. The subject matters of he tackled covered a wide range of social issues including religion, politics, and philosophy all daubed with a jet black comedy style and voice.

He criticized consumerism, superficiality, mediocrity, and banality within the media and popular culture, which he characterized as oppressive tools of the ruling class that keep people “stupid and apathetic.”

I was in Nashville, Tennessee last year. After the show I went to a Waffle House. I’m not proud of it, I was hungry. And I’m alone, I’m eating and I’m reading a book, right? Waitress walks over to me: ‘Hey, whatcha readin’ for?’ Isn’t that the weirdest fuckin’ question you’ve ever heard? Not what am I reading, but what am I reading FOR? Well, goddamnit, ya stumped me! Why do I read? Well . . . hmmm…I dunno…I guess I read for a lot of reasons and the main one is so I don’t end up being a fuckin’ waffle waitress.” BILL HICKS.

I remember exactly where I was the first time I saw him. It was 1994 and late at night. Channel 4 were doing a retrospective special on him a short documentary featuring friends and other comics was shown and then they showed the concert film Revelations which was filmed here in the UK. Prior to viewing I had no idea who he was or that stand up could tackle the world in quite the unique (at the time) way that he did. I remember by the end feeling shocked, at times my sensibilities were offended but with an overall feeling of exhilaration. Plus the downer of a realisation, “Fuck…this guy is dead?”

“Watching television is like taking black spray paint to your third eye.” BILL HICKS

Bill began his comedy career young. As a teenager he would sneak out of his home at night with his friend Dwight Slade and travel to a nearby comedy club to try routines. Immediately the older comics were impressed by his ability. I’ve seen footage of him performing aged 17 it professionally annoying how good he is. Much of his early material would mock his Southern Baptist religious beliefs. “We were Yuppie Baptists,” he joked to the Houston Post in 1987. “We worried about things like, ‘If you scratch your neighbour’s Subaru, should you leave a note?’ “

A typical argument with his father has been documented as going along these lines…

The elder Hicks would say, “I believe that the Bible is the literal word of God.” And Bill would counter, “No it’s not, Dad.” “Well, I believe that it is.” “Well,” Bill replied, “you know, some people believe that they’re Napoleon. That’s fine. Beliefs are neat. Cherish them, but don’t share them like they’re the truth.”

There’s a bit of a lazy myth I used to hear when I first started going around the British stand up circuit that he was never a success in America and only found fame here in the UK. Well, he had his own HBO special in 1990, had a very successful and televised run at Montreal’s Just for Laughs and appeared 12 times on David Letterman’s chat show. sadly the last appearance he made was dropped from the broadcast.

Hicks said, because Letterman’s producers believed the material, which included jokes involving religion and the anti-abortion movement, was unsuitable for broadcast. Producer Robert Morton initially blamed CBS, which denied responsibility; Morton later conceded it was his decision. Although Letterman later expressed regret at the way Hicks had been handled, Hicks did not appear on the show again.

Letterman finally aired the censored routine in its entirety on January 30, 2009. Hicks’s mother, Mary, was present in the studio and appeared on-camera as a guest. Letterman took responsibility for the original decision to remove Hicks’s set from the 1993 show. “It says more about me as a guy than it says about Bill,” he said, after the set aired, “because there was absolutely nothing wrong with that.” Amen to that.

“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?” BILL HICKS.

I work in the comedy industry full time as a comic. When I started in 1999 and worked alongside a certain Frankie Boyle at the Stand Comedy club. A club with a reputation for promoting edgier or more alternative comedy. I remember thinking that stand up was going to all become like Bill Hicks. That his legacy would be enormous. A thousand comedic voices of righteous indignation. Now I look back and sadly realise he was an anomaly. It was a miracle any of his stuff got through at all.

I’ve immersed myself in more socio political comedy in recent years. When people ask why I say, “Nothing original. I’m just trying to be like Bill Hicks.”

I’m sure there must be some young upstart comic out there who’s brilliant and wont play their corporate game. I hope they break through. We really are well over due another anomaly. The last words here are a final short piece Bill wrote a week before he passed. His is the only biography I’ve ever read where I broke down in tears at the end. The hero dies you see… Christ I’m welling up now. Some funny guy you Mr Hicks.

“I was born William Melvin Hicks on December 16, 1961 in Valdosta, Georgia. Ugh. Melvin Hicks from Georgia. Yee Har! I already had gotten off to life on the wrong foot. I was always “awake,” I guess you’d say. Some part of me clamoring for new insights and new ways to make the world a better place. All of this came out years down the line, in my multitude of creative interests that are the tools I now bring to the Party. Writing, acting, music, comedy. A deep love of literature and books. Thank God for all the artists who’ve helped me. I’d read these words and off I went – dreaming my own imaginative dreams. Exercising them at will, eventually to form bands, comedy, more bands, movies, anything creative. This is the coin of the realm I use in my words – Vision. On June 16, 1993 I was diagnosed with having “liver cancer that had spread from the pancreas.” One of life’s weirdest and worst jokes imaginable. I’d been making such progress recently in my attitude, my career and realizing my dreams that it just stood me on my head for a while. “Why me!?” I would cry out, and “Why now!?” Well, I know now there may never be any answers to those particular questions, but maybe in telling a little about myself, we can find some other answers to other questions. That might help our way down our own particular paths, towards realizing my dream of New Hope and New Happiness. Amen. I left in love, in laughter, and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit.”

Author: johnscottcomedy

John has been involved in comedy for 17 years. Here's some nice things people have said..... GLASGOW HERALD. Given that we’ve had indyref, a general election and Jeremy Corbyn since the last Edinburgh Fringe, you might expect there to be more self-confessed “political” comedians around this year. Oh, a lot of acts will dip a toe in “UKIP are nasty” shallows, but it takes someone like John Scott to dive in head-first and punch every hideous sea creature he meets right between the eyes. Before you know it, he’s chewed up and spat out austerity, Margaret Thatcher, the paedophile scandal, benefit fraud, racism, class, homophobia, Mhairi Black and a sneezing attack on a bus (ok, the last one isn’t strictly political, but it is a great anecdote, so worth a mention). He reserves a special venom for Tony Blair and the invasion of Iraq but somehow, filtered through his comedy-club delivery, it doesn’t feel like a soapbox diatribe or a trendy-leftie ticking off: this is political comedy built from the grassroots up, an informed opinion column with a spiky sense of humour. Alan Morrison THE LIST. “Confidently told hilarious tales of class-based woe, nothing missed the mark in a superb set where every story was expertly crafted before being subverted with a killer punch line. After practicing comedy for five arduous years, expect to see his name somewhere big very soon.” THE SUN. “John Scott is an excellent comic and this is without doubt the first step on the road to a long and successful career in comedy." EDINBURGH EVENING NEWS. “ Always plays a blinder. Never hits a dry patch. People were literally in tears of laughter.” THE OBSERVER. “Among the top 5 comics emerging from Scotland.” THE SKINNY “A genuinely gifted comedian.” ADELAIDE ROCKS. “Superb! The stand out stand up of the evening.” 100% BIKER “Possibly the funniest Scotsman alive.”

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