(see added footnote)
The go-to rebel comic, a man who died at a very young age. While not one of the infamous 27 club, he did espouse the sort of free-minded liberal rhetoric usually likened to the members of that most lamented, but fortunately exclusive club.
I first discovered Hicks on Channel 4 when I was a teen. I heard the routine about tripping on acid with a talking car "The door is ajar". I then heard his funny routine about Christians wearing crosses and how it would be the last thing Jesus would ever want to see if he returned. I started to really like him. I heard it again in his next show, then again in every single other one, and in almost all of the interviews I could find of him. Soon after this I came too the conclusion that he was not the stand up comic I hoped
That is not to say he was not funny. The Houston youngster, who was heavily influenced by Woody Allen, rose to fame as part of the "Outlaws." He found himself among such comic heavyweights as Rodney Dangerfield and Sam Kinison. crafting his art through performance, finding himself adapting his own on-stage style and eventually shaking off the accusation of being a copycat Woody Allen.
After all, Bill is not without his own supposed mirror-image followers. Famously Dennis Leary is known to have copied parts of Bill's act verbatim. When asked why he finally quit smoking, after years of promising never to do so, Bill just responded:
"To see if Dennis would do it.". Such swift acerbic wit showed that Bill was a funny guy, just more of a stand-up commentator rather than a comedian. His expert delivery, ease of language, natural flow and massive knowledge meant I would sooner listen to him talk as a commentator than a joke-teller
He was well known in the UK where he garnered a much more popular following than back in the more conservative USA. Probably why a 14-year old English kid like me was able to catch so much of his work
What Bill was seeming to do, to his detriment, was milk his ability to do sound effects and voices. Example being a routine about his mother admonishing him for the oral sex segment in his act. This went on in a loop for what felt like forever. He would mimic satanic noises, explosions, and various other sounds, that showed an ability, however this was comedy and not a circus. It grated after a while. The crucifix joke was stale considering how many times he used it. For a professional comic, he regurgitated old material non-stop and the more of his shows I would watch, the more I saw it. I felt unhappy about this as a man who could be intelligent and funny just seemed to want to just do the highlights. I hated to admit it but mine was in danger of becoming a fading fondness.
I would say is what I started to find a bit off-putting was his self-congratulatory swagger. The incredulity at his own intelligence and altruism. He was a clever guy, he read books, and he could see the world for what it was. However, he really did like to pat himself on the back and in a really smug way too. Aping an admittedly funny, but also demonstrative routine where he is vilified in a diner for reading a book. He seemed to think his being a literate and forward thinking person made him a little better than anyone who was not and I started to feel it shone through ahead of his message and talent. Almost making him come across as that guy that reads something, quotes it, and then ridicules those who were unaware of what he learned five minutes ago. A hipster who looks down on anything mainstream. Intellectual snobbery. Yes, the musicians he mentioned are awesome but light pop culture is a necessity and our economy would fall and we certainly would never have that great music without the soft, widely absorbed mass-consumption pop to subsidise it. After all, indie music is not self-financing as many labels have learned.
Also; drugs. Now I totally agree with Bill that drugs are fine. If taken in moderation, it is proven that, especially with the more recreational substances it can add to your quality of life with little or no unpleasant side-effects or repercussions. Whilst addiction is a serious subject not to be ignored, I believe the LSD addiction ward is pretty empty. There are scores of thousands of professionals who partake, many have stopped and just look back as a fun, risque time. Yet Bill seems to think he is some sort of deity-like sage for seeing this.
Now Bill did put a lot of effort in, so he was no phony. Yet he was starting to behave like one. I thought Bill better, which he is. He traveled to Waco, he read and learned, he knew a ton about UFO and science fiction theory but boy, did he expect plaudits for it.
There is of course the famous video of Bill in Chicago, when a heckler calls out "You suck!" He seems to calmly shrug it off and then totally loses his mind. Screaming torrents of foul-mouthed abuse; and telling her to get out. She does not. Now I am a fan of Bill Hicks. what I see on those YouTube clips are people saying "Woo well done Bill yeah" and I have to say, that is not right. To those reading saying that I am wrong, ask yourself truly and honestly, should the professional, the man hired and paid (regardless of how much, he knew the ropes) to go onto an insane tirade like that? Imagine if we saw Michael McIntyre or Dane Cook do it. I imagine they would be torn to pieces as they are mainstream (and terrible) but because "He's Bill and he was irreverent" it was okay? No. Stand up comedians have to deal with hecklers. shine them on or ignore them, do not do that, I found it embarrassing, unprofessional and to me, she won completely.
He did a live show in Texas where he was attacked for doing a frankly hilarious segment on Jimi Hendrix doing a duet with Debbie Gibson. Yet he dragged and dragged the effects until I was tired from it. Guess what other joke he included? I was really saddened as it was a great show. One of his best but tainted again by formula, and the video was so overproduced and cheap-effect happy it felt like a cross between a Calvin Klein commercial and an MTV promo. Cutaways to outside scenes, shaky-cam and driving with a sepia filter. For a man eschewing pop-culture his post-production team sure liked to borrow from it..
Then the final show I saw. He was clearly being ravaged by the cancer that finally took him from us. He took the Freddie Mercury route of having a beard to look fatter in the face, and just like with Freddie, it had the opposite effect. He looked even more emaciated with it. It was tragic to see. He was always a man of a healthy, if even slightly chubby build, which made it even more noticeable. When he came off that night he was said to be near to total body exhaustion. This was a truly sad sight. However it was a great show. He no longer had the ludicrous energy for leaping around and sound-effects that had become hackneyed and ineffective. He just spoke. He was funny, articulate, his segues were funny even! He built up and delivered a perfect routine. Yes he did the crucifix joke, but even I will forgive that as a great performer pulling his best rabbit out to say a regretful goodbye.
So while I did very much enjoy Bill. What I call "Bob Marley Worship" has tainted his legacy for me. This is where a popular figure is admired for his stance on drugs, or something equally arbitrary and immature, rather than his actual work. a perfect example is his clumsy and gratuitous inclusion in the film 'Human Traffic.' Many people spout his views because he said them and not because they truly believe it, and that is not what Bill would want. You can love a performer without agreeing with them and without blindly insisting everything about them was wonderful and perfect.
I see acts like Bill Burr, George Carlin (although he was plagued by some very weak patches), and the sublime Doug Stanhope as more for me than Mr Hicks. Bill was great. He was funny, his philosophical speaking had a poetic exquisiteness to it. He was a clever and knowledgeable man with a love for literature. Indeed when he was dying, he finally stopped talking and reread The Fellowship of the Ring. I recall always wondering if I would meet death with such dignity and what my book would be. I still have no answer. I know phoney fans will attack me for this but I am reviewing my long history of following Bill Hicks. So I am a fan, he was a great man. It was just things like; calling himself "Chomsky with dick jokes." That shows his applause for his own cleverness was just a little bit too loud.
Since writing this we have had incredibly vicious feedback from Hicks "fans"
They have abused the writer personally, taken to his social media private profile and attacked him about his personal life. After this they stomp and sulk with name-calling. Not one of them has challenged anything in merit. One did say he was wrong about the crucifix routine, which is not the case. So for those who have said that Bill Hicks fans are precious, self-aware, easily-fed, and completely ludicrous; for the answer, one need only pop along to any media page and ask whether he was actually that funny and see the response.
A common retort, among the swearing and abuse was "Why come to a Hicks page with an article like that?" To which the response was clear, this article contains more positive comments than negative regarding him. All it is trying to say is he was not perfect. Apparently that is not the case.
Me, personally, I worship John Lennon. If I was on a John Lennon site and someone said, I really liked him but All You Need is Love sucked and his avant garde Two Virgins stunt was self-involved and risible, I would not start looking at pictures of their family and making fun of them.
My favourite Bill Routines
Jay Leno and Satan
Orange Drink (although being from the UK I can assure you it is totally false)
Debbie Gibson/Tiffany/Jimi Hendrix Mall Tour
Light Smokers ("I get through two lighters a day")
Dirt for Sale
Judas Priest Suicide Kids
Hands up smokers