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Profile – Bill Hicks

June 24, 2010

“It’s always funny until someone gets hurt. Then it’s just hilarious.”

Our new, long overdue profile is one of those classic examples of an artist completely underrated in his time: Bill Hicks.

It looks like his time has come due; a new documentary called American: The Bill Hicks Story is playing to rave reviews over in the UK and the trailer (below) has me struggling to contain my excitement.

Bill Hicks is not so much a comedian as an orator. His act can be hard to swallow because so much of it, especially later in his career, is designed to upend the status quo regarding politics and media. He attacks these establishments with such precise doses of seething venom that bearing witness to it runs the risk of generating terror instead of laughs. In fact, he delivers very few jokes onstage, instead substituting observations on the evils hiding in plain sight which happen to be hilarious despite their tragic absurdity.

His was a life spent performing; he started in his teens in venues he wasn’t legally allowed to be in, then sharpened his act through experiments with drugs and alcohol. Later he struggled publicly with censorship and cigarettes, and just when it seemed he’d finally cross over to the mainstream audience he was desperate to reach, pancreatic cancer stopped him in his tracks at the painfully young age of 32.

16 years later, as the political/corporate machine rages out of control in large parts of the world and advertising is as ubiquitous as oxygen, Bill Hicks’ ideas stand the test of time and hopefully will be heard by a new generation that sorely needs exposure to them.

If you have a spare hour, this public access interview from his native Texas where Hicks answers caller’s questions and is given carte blanche to say on TV what no mainstream outlet would dare put on the airwaves is a prime example of who he was: abrasive, cynical and an unapologetic thinker.

(Note: David Letterman – who is referred to above by Hicks while recounting how we was excised from the Late Show after recording one of his last bits – did try to make amends five years later, apologizing to Hicks’ mom on the show and airing his full set.)

There is no North American release date for the documentary yet so I suggest you all cozy up with a copy of Rants in E-Minor or Sane Man. Or you could just scour YouTube for gems like the one below.

Enjoy!

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