Location: New York, New York, United States

Saturday, December 11, 2004


History of Comedy Atricle from Two Drink Minimum. (
© 2004, Jim Mendrinos

Remembering Bill Hicks

Written By Jim Mendrinos

You don’t realize that it’s history when you’re living it. As I look back on my career I am starting to realize the wealth of talent that I was fortunate enough to have shared the stage with. Some of these people have left their mark stand-up comedy. Unfortunately, many of those people are now gone.

A great number of quality comics from my generation passed during the prime of their careers. Dennis Wolfberg, Ronnie Shakes, Rick Aviles, Bob Woods, Charlie Barnett, and Sam Kinison all were influential when they passed, and they all passed much too young. As time passes, some of these performers have slipped into the backdrop of our industry. Others, like Sam, are as popular now as they were when they passed. What I am amazed by is the performer who is more popular in death than they were in life.

This month will mark the 10th anniversary of the passing of Bill Hicks. (12/16/1961 – 2/26/1994) While never reaching superstar status while he lived, it is clear that he has impacted the current generation of comedic talent. The sheer number of comics who pay homage to Bill is apparent every time you turn on the television and see someone who dares to speak the truth as they see it. If anything, the Bill Hicks legacy may be inspiring comics to spew the truth, and worry about repercussions later.

Legend has it that Bill was 13 when he did his first show. He did his last one a fewweeks before he died. In between he was on the road all the time. He liked to keep busy, because as he once told me, “I have something to tell them even if they don’t want to hear it.” Frequently, they didn’t.

I worked with Bill, and I was always surprised by how small the percentage of people who “got him” was. The hardcore fans, and there were many, would hang on his every word like he was a philosopher. However for the casual comedy fan who didn’t know what Hicks was about, the experience was not always a pleasant one. Hicks didn’t do comedy that you could dispose of quickly. His notions rattled around in your psyche long after his set ended. Those concepts were sometimes brutal, usually funny, and always true to Bill Hicks’ vision of the world. And if there’s one thing that people don’t want to hear, it’s the truth.
It was different as he started gaining a fan base. The audiences that came for Hicks were great audiences. But just when his star seemed to be rising, two things happened that made life miserable for Bill. Those two things were Sam Kinison and “Dice.” Not that Bill was in competition with either of them, but as they gained popularity, clubs started selling Hicks as a clone of the other two. While Hicks and Kinison might have shared some dark comedy veins, Bill’s style was more like a dark philosopher then Sam’s rock and roll comedian persona. As for the comparisons between Bill and Dice, I never saw it. The closest I can figure is that they both spoke English. (Paul Outhwaite’s brilliant bio of Bill quoted Hicks on the comparison to Dice. Hicks said, "consider me the antidote.")

1990 saw the two events that would take Bill out of the shadows of other comedians, and thrust him into stardom. The first of these was the release of his first CD, Dangerous. The second event was Hicks' trip to London. While he was firmly in the second tier of comics states side, in England he was a star. It was that critical and popular acceptance that refueled his artistic explosion, and he was able to move forward and record the CD that many consider his masterpiece, Relentless.

It was about this time that Hicks became fully sober. With artistic fulfillment came the realization that he didn’t need any outside stimulants to keep him happy. Bill was finally at the place he wanted to be, fully realized as an artist, and as a man. It was a joyful time that would be all too brief.

In June of 1993 Bill Hicks was diagnosed with cancer. Not one to be slowed down, he continued to work, recording Arizona Bay, and the tracks for what would become my favorite Hicks’ CD, Rant in E-Minor. He did club dates, and wrote a humor column for the British magazine, Scallywag. He was also getting the best American reviews of his career.

October 1st 1993 was the official deification of Bill Hicks. That was the date of his Letterman appearance that was censored. This was the most public censoring of a comedian since another comedy Deity, Lenny Bruce, some 30 years earlier. On January 6th, obviously weakened, Bill did his final set in New York. Forty-one days later he was gone.

In the past ten years he has become an icon. He is a legend for comics, and a footnote in social history. Having lived through his times, and having spent time with him, I can tell you he is more popular now than he was when he was flesh and blood, and I believe the reasons why may be those recordings. He continues to inspire many with his truthful, and funny works, and his dark poet persona continues to attract a loyal following of those who think that he is speaking directly to them.

Chris Young, Comedy Central’s Talent Development guru had this to say about Hicks’ recordings: “When Bill Hicks came out with “Dangerous”, he blew my mind! I’d never heard someone talk about the things he talked about, and it was in a way that really made sense. He could look at an issue and just filter out all the bullshit. He made you laugh and made you really think about things. He was like a preacher spewing all the truths I hadn’t heard up till that point. He had zero tolerance for hypocrisy. On his “Relentless” album, his material on the Gulf War could have been written today. I’ll never forget the bit about performing as a clown at children’s party and corrupting children with drugs and porn. The clown’s name was Belezebozo. Genius. If only Bill was still with, us so he could rant about everything that’s going on in the world right now.”

Like a myriad of artists’ that came before him, Hicks is appreciated more in death then he was in life. And just like each of those great artists before him, he will inspire other artists for generations to come.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never looked at stand up as an art form until I heard Bill Hicks. RIP.

February 15, 2010 at 1:30 AM  

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