Stand-up comedy. It’s not something I was ever into – I don’t think staying up late to watch a segment of William Shatner appearing on the Melbourne comedy festival really counts. It’s Bill Shatner. I knew about stand-ups. I’ve seen Seinfeld. On the periphery of my experience I was aware that these comedy festivals were around, that people told jokes for a living. But I couldn’t tell you much more than that. Now I know what a fucking sad state of affairs that was.
Three years ago, my boyfriend introduced me to a stand-up comedian he loved: Bill Hicks. He sold this new experience to me by appealing to my sense of ‘I’m better than everyone else.’ What do I mean by that? Well, he told me that Bill Hicks liked to read. It was a specific line in particular from Relentless, actually…
‘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.’
It is safe to say that I’m now a firm convert. Bill Hicks was a fucking genius. The day he died – 20 years ago today – was a sad day for the world. I’m not sure if it’s sadder that no one has ever even come close to his brilliance or that we still have the same shit going on in our political environment, making his jokes just as relevant as they were when he first made them. I write about Mr Hicks with some trepidation. How can someone as talentless as me possibly feel that I have anything to add to Hicks’ cannon of work? What right does someone like me have to comment on him? But hey, I’m a human being (even if I’m not in his address book) and I want to talk about something that makes my little heart sing. Bill Hicks.
‘I don’t fit in with anything… I don’t agree with anything, not even what I just said.’
Bill Hicks got it. He gets me. He just understands. Thank God someone out there understands. That’s not to say I agree with everything he says – hell, I fall into the category of some of the people he ridicules (for instance, I like the mongoloid homunculus Billy Ray Cyrus – guilty – I’ve also been known to cough next to fucking smokers – I’m sorry Bill, but smoking’s a choice, being crippled isn’t). But he got it. Why? He saw past all the bullshit and the lies and he told it like he saw it. And thank fuck for that.
His career wasn’t always as successful as you might think for someone with such enduring popularity, but he is well and truly entrenched in the cult category now. Like most artists that push the boundaries (and are rewarded with lasting fame and adulation), Hicks found controversy, censorship, and a difficult career path. He struggled with money, addictions, alcohol… He worked tirelessly, reportedly performing 300 days a year in the mid-1980s. Trying to put the ‘wild partying’ behind him, he gave up drugs and alcohol – went on and off and on and off… the wagon for cigarettes. He started releasing videos and albums (both with stand-up and musical content) and gradually saw his star rise – if only halfway up the mast.
In June 1993, Bill Hicks was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died less than a year later. While starting chemotherapy, he continued to work until January 1994, leaving us on February 26th, 1994. But for 16 years he made us laugh with his wonderfully dark sense of humour and his accurate observations regarding the human condition.
‘We all pay for life with death, so everything in between should be free.’
Comedy was the name of the game, but it was philosophy that made him great. What did he philosophize about? What didn’t he?! Hicks shared thoughts on life, love, and death. His work tended to have a lot of the same themes: drugs, smoking, children, politics, education, religion, consumerism, religion, life, and so on. Here are a few of my favourite comments of his on each of these subjects. (oh yeah, and not necessarily a recurring theme but I want to call it out as I’m apparently one of the few people who will agree with him on the subject of Summer… Bill Hicks hated summer. Hated the heat. And the beach. I think, perhaps, this is a sign that I’m not crazy – that actually, this is a sign of genius. Yup, I definitely think I’m going to interpret it that way. Makes sense.)
- You see, I think drugs have done some good things for us. I really do. And if you don’t believe drugs have done good things for us, do me a favor. Go home tonight. Take all your albums, all your tapes and all your CDs and burn them. ‘Cause you know what, the musicians that made all that great music that’s enhanced your lives throughout the years were rrreal fucking high on drugs. The Beatles were so fucking high they let Ringo sing a few tunes.
- What business is it of yours what I do, read, buy, see, say, think, who I fuck, what I take into my body – as long as I do not harm another human being on this planet?
- I have taken drugs before and … I had a real good time. Sorry. Didn’t murder anybody, didn’t rape anybody, didn’t rob anybody, didn’t beat anybody, didn’t lose – hmm – one fucking job, laughed my ass off, and went about my day.
- 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?
- I smoke to fill the potholes in my soul.
- I smoke. If this bothers anyone, I suggest you look around at the world in which we live and shut your fuckin’ mouth.
- I believe that there is an equality to all humanity. We all suck.
- People often ask me where I stand politically. It’s not that I disagree with Bush’s economic policy or his foreign policy, it’s that I believe he was a child of Satan sent here to destroy the planet Earth. Little to the left.
- England, where no one has guns: 14 deaths. United States, and I think you know how we feel about guns – whoo! I’m gettin’ a stiffy! – 23,000 deaths from handguns. But there’s no connection, and you’d be a fool and a communist to make one.
- Stay docile America, you’re free to do what we tell you to.
- You ever noticed how people who believe in Creationism look really un-evolved? You ever noticed that? Eyes real close together, eyebrow ridges, big furry hands and feet. “I believe God created me in one day”. Yeah, looks like He rushed it.
- The whole image is that eternal suffering awaits anyone who questions God’s infinite love. That’s the message we’re brought up with, isn’t it? Beleive or die! Thank you, forgiving Lord, for all those options.
- I find it ironic that people who are against things that cause sexual thoughts are generally fundamentalist Christians who also believe you should be fruitful and multiply.
- I don’t know what you all believe, and I don’t really care … but you have to admit that beliefs are odd. Lots of Christians wear crosses around their necks … you really think when Jesus comes back, he ever wants to see a fucking cross? … Kinda like going up to Jackie Onassis with a rifle pendant on, you know. ‘Thinkin’ of John, Jackie. We love him. Just tryin’ to keep that memory alive, baby.’
- ‘Hey buddy, we’re Christians, we don’t like what you said…’ ‘Then forgive me.’
- You have forgotten how to perceive correctly.
- I’m reading a book, yeah, we’re thinking back East, we’re evolving.
- Do Not Disturb – it’s fairly fucking clear… then again, I’m a reader.
- I’m just trying to rid the world of all these fevered egos that are tainting our collective unconscious and making us pay a higher psychic price than we can imagine.
- ‘Who’s your favourite New Kid?’ ‘The first one that dies!’
- All the lesbian sex scenes were cut out of that film, because the test audience was turned off by them. Ha. Boy, is my thumb not on the pulse of America.
- I don’t mean to sound bitter, cold, or cruel, but I am, so that’s how it comes out.
Let’s say we lighten things up and talk about abortion.
I love dissenting voices. We need them. Bill Hicks was an original. He was true to himself and he concerned himself with things that interested him without selling out. You can buy his DVDs (Relentless, Revelations, Sane Man, HBO’s One Night Stand) and there’s plenty of material about him as well (documentaries, books). If you haven’t experienced the pure ecstasy that is Bill Hicks’ stand-up comedy, you haven’t lived. Get on the ride!