back to article Bill Hicks: 25 years on from the cult comedian's big break

It’s 25 years since Bill Hicks took the Montreal Just For Laughs comedy festival by storm with a blistering, intelligent comic set that was basically his, then new, debut album Dangerous. Within two years the semi-underground stand-up was a regular on British TV in-between successfully touring across the USA and Australia. And …

  1. Dapprman

    Better live than on video

    Saw him at Liverpool University on the Revelations tour. Had no clue who he was but a friend who owed me a tenner had a spare ticket so I went. Laughed so hard it was almost painful. Saw the Revelations video when it came out (and have seen it again since) and it didn't work quite so well. He was one of those comedians who you really needed to be in the audience to get the real benefit of his show.

    Was truly a great comedian with an audience.

    1. wolfetone Silver badge

      Re: Better live than on video

      But, did you ever get the Tenner back?

      1. Pliny the Whiner

        Re: Better live than on video

        I have to agree with wolfetone, Dapprman, that you dropped the ball on the main point of your post: Did you ever get that goddamned ten-spot back?

        I was born before Bill Hicks, but neither his name nor his face ring any bells. That's a shame, since he seemed to hate everyone I hate, namely, "politicians, evangelical preachers, pro-lifers, middle-of-the-road pop stars,* and drug hypocrisy." I'll make a point of watching all of his surviving material.

        * Oxford comma added

  2. Franco

    I always got the feeling watching Bill that laughter was a by-product. If he got his audience to think about what was going on around them then he'd done his job (Iraq has incredible weapons. How do you know? We looked at the receipt)

    His rants about music (SEND IN VANILLA ICE!) were hugely entertaining, but his views on religon and drugs were always going to make a mainstream breakthrough in the US a struggle.

    1. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

      I'd no idea who he was

      I'd no idea who he was but I realised I have been paying homage to him ever since I discovered watching Putlocker on Opera.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Sorely missed

    Legend is a much abused description these days but entirely justified in Hicks' case.

    "I'll show you politics in America. Here it is, right here. 'I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs.' 'I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking.' 'Hey, wait a minute, there's one guy holding out both puppets!'"

  4. EddieD

    Very dangerous

    I saw him once during the Festival in Edinburgh, even though I barely remember it as I was pissed as newt - not unusual for me during the Festival.

    I had a really bizarre moment in 2001 when I was given a Bill Hicks video, and he did this routine about President Bush involving the world in a war in Iraq - I thought it was wonderfully current and edgy, till I did the inevitable double take, it was recorded a decade earlier, and the Bush was GH, not GW.

    I still dig out my recordings, they're still as perfectly pitched now as the first time I heard them.

    My father introduced me to Lenny Bruce, Bill picked up his ball and ran with it. So many comedians try to emulate his anger, but never manage to blend in the satire, wit and most importantly humility, that tempered Bill's rants.

    1. Jim 59

      Re: Very dangerous

      The author should probably have mentioned Lenny Bruce earlier that the penultimate paragraph. LB's wikipedia page is a great read. Both blokes are fascinating. Not to my personal taste as it happens - I prefer my politics neat, without the satire/rage mixer. I hope they make that film of BHs life.

      Lenny Bruce faced much higher levels of censorship in the 50s. So much so, he remained virtually unheard, but his name lives on today. Strange to think that censorship was fought against for decades, gradually reduced, then suddenly replaced by a much more virulent, PC derived censorship, out of all proportion to the original.

      Now we seem to have the worst of both worlds. On the one hand we are downing in extreme hard core porn, while on the other you can't say what you think, and even muttering a single word can get you sacked and ruined. I hate to say it, but did Bill and Lenny (et al) unwittingly contributed to that situation?

  5. TeeCee Gold badge

    "a chain-smoker despite occasionally quitting for short periods."

    He worked that into his act too (from memory):

    "Those of you who've seen me before will expect me to do some stuff on the pleasures of smoking about now. Well, it ain't going to happen as I've given up."

    Heckler: "Boooooo".

    "Boo? BOOO? What the fuck is that supposed to be? If I was sitting where you are, watching Bill Hicks and hearing him say that he'd given up smoking, I'd be standing on my fucking chair yelling 'JUUUDAAAAS!!!!!'..."

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. x 7

    "revered in Britain"

    Don't think so. I've never heard of him, and no-one I know admits to knowing of him

    1. Diziet Sma

      Well damn with a sample size THAT big your data is clearly irrefutable!

    2. Roq D. Kasba

      And yet many people do.

    3. graeme leggett Silver badge

      I think I can compensate for your lack of awareness in that I bought four CDs (Arizona Bay - what if California fell into the sea - was one) of his material and [I think] a VHS.

      I ought to dig them out again. While his material was edgy at the time, it seemed to come from a genuine philosophy to hold the subject matter up to critical inspection rather than a simple desire to shock.

      He used paradox in an interesting way. His response to menacing redneck Christians after a gig where he poked fun at Jesus - "so, forgive me" (he of course told it better)

      1. Triggerfish

        I remember seeing him make that forgive me comment in an interview. He had what can only be described as a dismissive smirk that came from a genuinely don't give a fuck attitude.

        Although my first encounter was watching him doing a angry rant about music and rock and roll, and finishing with the plea to New Kids On The Block that if they did want to be rock and roll they should go on stage during a show and kill themselves.

    4. CraPo

      I've heard of him

      But then I saw him when I was a student at Leicester University in 1992 when Daniel B Myers dragged me along. I've revered him ever since (Bill Hicks, not Daniel B Myers)

      1. Dave Walker 1

        Re: I've heard of him

        That's exactly the same place that I first saw him

        (I didn't go with Daniel B Myers though - I convinced my then girlfriend, now wife to come with me)

        Laughed my ass off, then promptly found everything I could of his

    5. Irongut

      Hey we finally found goat boy!

  7. Haku
    Thumb Up

    He was also on BBC1's Paramount City in 1991

    I captured this in from my one of my old Betamax tapes:

  8. x 7

    If he was really "revered" In think I would probably have heard of him, even if I didn't like him. But the simple fact, I've never heard of him at all. Neither positively or negatively.

    1. Dr_N

      If you were into comedy in the 90s, then it's less likely you've heard of him, "x 7"

      However he was a comedian who did have a large following in the UK that seemed, for a while at least, to increase posthumously.

      Just because you never heard of him doesn't really mean anything.

      Are you in marketing, perchance?

      1. Simon Buttress

        He's going after that Ignorance of Bill Hicks dollar

        That's a good market, he's very smart....

    2. Duffy Moon

      Conversely, I doubt that anyone I know hasn't heard of him.

    3. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Is it just comedy, or every field of endeavour, in which you having heard of someone is the sole criterion for their consideration as "revered"?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Then you clearly spent your life with your head somewhere dark and smelly. I'm guessing you were a fan of Vanilla Ice.............

  9. Efros

    Unheard of in large parts of his homeland

    When I came to New England, some 14 years ago, I introduced a lot of my work colleagues to Hicks as they had never heard of him before.

  10. Al Taylor
    Thumb Up

    London gig

    Saw Hicks in London back in the day, the Goat Boy part of the set had me on my knees I was laughing so hard.

    1. Agincourt and Crecy!

      Re: London gig

      Goat Boy featured large in our password lists for a while.

      I think we need a Satanic goat and Vanilla Ice Icon.

  11. GrumpenKraut

    The Hicks particle

    Only learned about him after he died (forgive me, I grew up with another first language!).

    Since I have listened to his performances, he is my first answer for "favorite comedian?", anytime.

    Genuine, that's what he was. Makes many popular comedians look shallow and toothless.

    Icon because he is gone.

    1. Desidero

      Re: The Hicks particle

      Yeah, I knew Jesus when he was still alive, before the "32 club" - much edgier & more unhinged. Now you get all these fanbois & goils into some post-mortem trip, t-shirts and all that Che Guevera or Bob Fucking Marley hippie gloss to make him mainstream - few know he was more comfortable as a skinhead Oi Boy (sans Doc Martins - insane to wear those kind of boots around the Dead Sea unless you're IDF). And I all but expected when the gospels came out, they were gonna cut his cross-and-fellatio act, instead focusing on the limp "turn the other cheek" stuff - hey, that was just when he was cutting his teeth on the borsch circuit in Judea's version of the Catskills - fat old ladies wearing cocktail dresses 3 sizes too small and he's gotta make 'em think he's the friendly kid next door. The real Jesus could curse like a true sailor on a 3-day shoreleave - even that swine rushing into the pond thing - he thought it was just a mischievous larf, better than tapping mailboxes, and then he gets all these promoters around going "Brilliant, effin' brilliant - now the wild geese". Fucking posers and bloodsuckers.

      1. asdf

        Re: The Hicks particle

        Granted an amateur attempt but that would probably be the same tone Bill would make about a post praising him so.

  12. Anonymous Cowherder

    Sorely missed.

    I loved the stuff that Channel 4 showed and digested as much as I could. I had the privilege of seeing him live in 92/93 at it was phenomenal. I would love to know what he thought of today's society and politicians.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    An absolute fucking legend.

    See title, that is all.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    1% then, not much better now

    Unfortunately the 1% survival rate "then" for pancreatic cancer has not improved significantly. Shitty disease which is very hard to detect, particularly against a background of drinking, working, and smoking. Kills normal people as well as rock star comics. Killed my dad.

  15. Johnny Canuck

    Honestly, I don't recall ever seeing him. When you consider that the "Just for laughs" Montreal comedy festival is on 2 or 3 times a day, you'd think that couldn't be. Even when they do "best of..." stuff he's not there. I watched the first video and found him mildly amusing by today's standards. That said, comedy is a very subjective thing. After all, some people just love fart jokes and slapstick.

  16. markw:

    Well known in Britain

    He did some wonderful material.

    I was trying to find his Lennon/Yoko rant but can't seem to find it.

    1. asdf

      Re: Well known in Britain

      Like Hendrix seems like he had to go to the UK to break through in many ways.

  17. CrosscutSaw

    What a loss

    Hicks was so good, I loved his rant on smoking. Then that bastard Dennis Leary straight up stole it.

  18. Breen Whitman

    "revered in Britain yet ignored at home" -> " blistering, intelligent comic set"

    Theres your answer.

    1. asdf

      hey now

      Careful there are an awful lot of funny American comedians. Granted many are naturalized citizens originally from Canada but a fact is a fact.

  19. mr. deadlift


    I'd hate to be dustbin in Shaftsbury tonight...

    No one, knows what it's like to be a dusssttttbin, in Shaftsbury with hooooliigans.

    Bill's time in Blighty infused a lot of his shows with the cultural differences vis-a-vis America, obviously where he grew up/lived.

    When he presented those shows on the road - it is hands down the best laff out loud stuff, it's not hate filled, not anger driven.

    I've got tears now just recalling his hooligans skit, that's when his comedy was at the best and it's at it's best because it translates brilliantly just well as it did back then, mostly because he thought he had the UK/US relationship boiled down to hooligans and US street gang dichotomy.

  20. asdf

    for the young uns

    How to explain Bill Hicks to the younger audience. Every Dennis Leary joke you have laughed at was almost assuredly written by Bill. Think George Carlin but even more biting and if possible brilliant. RIP both of them.

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: for the young uns

      "I have a scoop for you. I stole his [Leary's] act. I camouflaged it with punchlines, and, to really throw people off, I did it before he did."

  21. SharkNose

    [about the Gulf War] It was a very stressful time for me, the war. I'll tell you why - I was in the unenviable position of being for the war, but against the troops. And ah... Not the most popular stance I've ever taken on an issue.

  22. F0ul

    Dying was his best career move!

    He was funny in the day, but so were a bunch of other comedians (Daniel Kitson etc) who had the misfortune of getting older.

    If Bill Hicks was around today, he'd be a columnist in the Guardian, and have a DVD out every Christmas of his fringe show!

  23. 0laf Silver badge

    If you were a student in the 90s the Hicks was probably on your radar.

    His stand up was certainly a point of reference for my mates who were all 17 in 1994. Just the right age for someone as subversive as he was.

  24. Joey M0usepad Silver badge

    who's Lenny Bruce?

    1. asdf

      sarcasm aside

      Oh how much blander and Lawrence Welkish the comedy might be today if George Carlin doesn't get arrested with Lenny Bruce. Making airplane glue jokes before it was fashionable lol.

  25. LucreLout

    Bill Hicks..

    ....was the funniest man that ever lived. Quite how the author can, with a straight face, cite him as an influence on Russel Brand, the least funny man that ever lived, is beyond me.

    If Bill Hicks had a shit, that shit would be funnier, smarter, and more personable than Brand. It would probably be more influential too.

    1. Desidero

      Re: Bill Hicks..

      Yes, the no-name down-market Hicks Shit is definitely more personable than the high cost Brand Shit, more flexible, durable, even re-usable. I saw Hicks shit once, and it was one of the funniest things I ever saw (he probably had a similar impression, as I was balanced between stalls with my bulging eyes sticking over the opening that was barely big enough to squeeze my head through). Laughing, dancing turds doing impersonations of the Rockettes (but with cigarettes in their ummm... mouthlike orifices) and little snippets of Springtime for Hitler (if you've never seen poop-laden lederhosen short-shorts, well, it was a treat, almost as good as their floater sailboat skipper routine) - slicker than whale shit in an ice floe, as Robin Williams used to say.

      As for influence, I'd have to disagree - sadly, these turds could barely make their way in show business - no knack for the glad handing, back slapping side of the business (if you can imagine), and while they made a noted mark in the short run, they were gradually pushed aside for more economical, eco-friendly turdlets and the trend towards efficiency supermodels - American Big Lots' influence, you know, along with those special Chinese container ships that can stack up big ol' logs like firewood. The curmudgeonly might say the Hicks' spawn were the more talented, and certainly cuter, but you can't fight progress nor City Hall - sadly, Hicks' shit went the way of the buffalo once strewn across the prairies of the great wide open.

    2. asdf

      Re: Bill Hicks..

      >Bill Hicks.. ....was the funniest man that ever lived

      To many perhaps but your great Grandma was probably laughing her ass off to Mark Twain or Will Rogers and would argue with you if she was alive.

  26. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Irongut

      Re: Another goddamned appreciation of the late, lamented Bill Hicks

      Stuart Lee is just bitter he's never been as funny as Hicks.

      1. Professor Clifton Shallot

        Re: Another goddamned appreciation of the late, lamented Bill Hicks

        "Stuart Lee is just bitter he's never been as funny as Hicks."

        That's quite probably true but I think his article would have made Hicks laugh.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    People rave

    about this artist or that, primarily to say by stealth "Me too!", to point to themselves as though a third party to say "I'm cool, look at what I'm into!". The trouble with Bill Hicks was all the yammer from the fanbois. It still is.

    1. asdf

      Re: People rave

      Then you never much listened to him or you would remember his material instead. Unlike the popular establishment hacks like Leno, Seinfeld or Romano (or their UK equivalents) some comedians actually point out BS about our culture that stays in your consciousness and makes you laugh.

      1. asdf

        Re: People rave

        or to be fair would at least say I didn't find him that funny (comedy is subjective and all) or say anything at all about him instead of ranting about his fans.

  28. Chewy

    Former fanboy

    As a former fanboy I don't think it has aged that well. I'd take Doug Stanhope over Hicks any day - far more misanthropic. Hicks was essentially Carlin meets Sam Kinison which may be the reason why he was passed over in the US during his lifetime.

    Goatboy just gives me the creeps especially going on about Debbie Gibson and Tiffany. The one timeless thing that Hicks wrote was the "Its just a ride" which isn't comedy.

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