Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"It's Just a Ride": A Tribute to Bill Hicks

"I deal only in facts, that's why I'm a cocky bastard."

Today marks the sad 20-year anniversary of when the world lost a true visionary, a comedic legend and even I dare say a prophet. Stand-up comedian Bill Hicks was only 32-years-old when he passed away in 1994. I often say that Hicks is one of my most favorite people -- let alone comedians -- to have ever lived. To me, Hicks was not just a stand-up comedian. He was a philosopher, a social critic, a satirist, and someone who was not afraid to point out hypocrisy and tried to right many wrongs through his comedic observations.

Hicks was born on December 16, 1961, to Jim and Mary Hicks, the youngest of three siblings. He started doing stand-up comedy in Texas when he was only 16-years-old. He was inspired by comedians such as Woody Allen, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison, and George Carlin, and soon learned that he got the most laughs when he did impressions of his family, and pointing out their eccentric ways. By 1987, Hicks had moved to New York City and had begun perfecting his routine, which came to fruition in 1990 when he released his first comedy album, Dangerous, and performed on HBO's One Night Stand. In 1993, he was asked by progressive heavy metal band Tool to open for them at the Lollapalooza music festival, and the band later featured a clip of Hicks' routine on their album AEnima (1997), which they dedicated to Hicks. On June 16, 1993, Hicks was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that had spread to his liver. His final performance was at Caroline's in New York on January 6, 1994. Hicks died at his parents' house in Little Rock, Arkansas, on February 26, 1994. (NOTE: For a more in-depth view into what Bill Hicks was -- and still is -- all about, check out the masterful 2009 documentary American: The Bill Hicks Story.)

I discovered Bill Hicks soon after graduating high school, which, coincidentally, was soon after he died (1994). The number one thing I respected and admired about Hicks was how he didn't make the usual generic observations that comedians make. Ya know? Family bits (he did those in his youth), bits about everyday rude people, or the usual ongoing battle-of-the-sexes observations. Don't get me wrong. He would occasionally wade into those waters. However, his stuff deals more with political, religious, social, military, and moral issues. The only comic who had come before him who had dealt with such issues was Lenny Bruce (from the 1950s and 1960s) and George Carlin was just starting to touch on these subjects in the 1980s. Since Hicks, there have been comics such as Denis Leary, Lewis Black, Louis C.K., Patton Oswalt, Doug Stanhope, Joe Rogan, Bo Burnham, and Lee Camp are just a few of the comics inspired by Hicks' style. But what is most legendary about how his ideas are still relevant today ... 20 years after his death. Even Hicks' routine about former President George H.W. Bush and the first Iraq War could be said about George W. Bush and his Iraq War. Ironic. Sadly, the same hypocrisy and injustice that Hicks addressed during his life still are present today -- in fact, some of these issues have become more prevalent since Hicks' time on stage. And the fact that one can listen to Hicks and still hear him make a valid point about these issues (i.e., religion, abortion, killing, the JFK assassination, politics, pointless television, war, drugs, sex, and music) ultimately proves his true talent for remaining socially important to our society.

Many of Hicks' topics were -- and still are -- hot-button issues; which is why some people do not like him, care for his comedy, or downright loathe him. I, on the other hand, enjoy the way Hicks' material can make me laugh and think. His delivery on criticisms and pointing out hypocrisy is my style of comedy. Oscar Wilde once said, "If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you." Even Hicks knew a good amount of people didn't care for his comedy. This is one of my favorite interviews with Hicks on that very subject. And it's a good introduction before showing his more controversial clips.

"When did thinking not become entertaining!?"

First off, people who have not been exposed to Hicks' comedy before should know that Hicks was not an atheist (he was raised Southern Baptist and spoke lovingly of Jesus and God, but used them in his humor to make a point and point out hypocrisy), nor was he some political-agenda-type who was rooting for a particular political party (he hated both sides of politics), and these examples will be proven in some of my favorite routines of his. I should say that Hicks was a proponent of certain drugs (particularly mushrooms, marijuana, and LSD); and while I don't agree with every view of his on this, I still find his views funny and profound -- especially when it comes to Hicks' drug experience opened his mind to God's implementation of universal love. Second, I do have to warn that these clips contain heavy cussing ... so if anyone's offended by that, boy, did you pick to read the wrong article!

On Religion:

Hicks was not an atheist but he did not shy away from the hypocrisy that he saw in most of Christian fundamentalism. As he said in one of his routines, "God is love and there is nothing but love, being all-encompassing, has no opposite. You are completely forgiven on all things, there's nothing you've ever done that has ever swayed God's pure and unconditional love for you."

On War & Politics:

Hicks grew to dislike politics because he saw all of the hypocrisy and lying coming from each administration. He noticed the U.S. arming countries and then returning years later to bomb said country all because that country had "become too dangerous." Hicks was a patriot in every way because he questioned its practices and held up the U.S. to a higher standard. So, when that standard was not met or the country did things he found despicable and underhanded and exposed them in his routine. It has been attributed to former President Thomas Jefferson that "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." Actually, that phrase was coined by then-New York City Mayor John Lindsay in 1969. However, the phrase does correlate with President Teddy Roosevelt's quote: "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." And that was what Bill Hicks was doing! He was pointing out wrongs that he felt needed to be pointed out.

On Pornography: 
On Music:


Hicks was such a lover of music -- being a musician himself (he played the guitar and had a band MarbleHead Johnson, and then Lo-Fi Troubador) -- that he treated any mundane music, which so happened to be pop music of his day (MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, New Kids on the Block, Debbie Gibson, Rick Astley, etc.) with no respect. His favorite musicians included Jimi Hendrix, KISS, Elvis Presley, B.B. King, The Beatles, and Bob Dylan. And musicians Hicks inspired ended up dedicating albums to him: Radiohead, Tool, Super Furry Animals, The Bluetones, Pitchshifter, and Rage Against the Machine.

On Drugs:

On the JFK Assassination:

After hearing Hicks' thoughts on President John F. Kennedy's assassination, some might try to label him as that blockheaded "c" word. But Hicks was just using common sense ... oh ... and science, like, I don't know ... physics! What's also impressive is that Hicks was trying to stir people out of their apathy. He wanted people to investigate, explore and question things that were/are passed for "gospel" and yet don't make any sense whatsoever.

 On Media:

Hicks knew that most popular television entertainment as well as advertising was evil and an expressway to "dumbing down" the population. He often played out in his routine that any time people would start becoming suspicious of the goings-on in this country, some stupid entertainment like American Gladiators (I think today he would replace that with reality shows and competition shows like American Idol) would become a convenient distraction. And for anyone who thinks this thinking comes just from Hicks and is invalid, then take a look at the box office family hit The LEGO Movie again! That entire movie has points with which Hicks would most likely find amusing and relatable.

What makes Bill Hicks so relevant in today's times is how insanely inept government and legislators have become -- or, should I say, continue to grow. Hicks said it best when he said this in an interview:

Not only do I miss Hicks today because he could have contributed so much to this world, but I also miss him because I would have LOVED to have heard what he had to say about Bush Jr. and his administration, the second Iraq War, 9/11, Osama bin Laden, President Barack Obama, drone strikes, government shutdown, Benghazi, gay marriage, welfare, food stamps, Mitt Romney, minimum wage, cable news channels (and their talking heads), gun control, school shootings, and all of the rest of our zaniness. He taught independent thought and universal love which often came out as these maddening rants but as he would often say: "I gotta share this with you because I love you and you feel that."

Hicks believed in freedom above all else:

To say Bill Hicks was ahead of his time is an extreme understatement! Even if you strongly disagree with him or think him completely rude, Hicks still believed in his right to express his ideas and did so unabashedly. He is an inspiration to those who fight the seeming majority and are quite blissfully ignorant of what is going on behind the curtains of our government as well as in our society.

But here's what I love best of all about Bill Hicks ... and why he's one of my favorite people. He told insightful, philosophical truth while making it funny ... and he made no allusions about the impact of the injustice, lies, and manipulation he witnessed. He was courageous -- even in the face of those who were quick to dismiss him and make him think what he said didn't matter. Of course it mattered! It still matters today! Bill is Howard Beale (portrayed by Peter Finch) from the 1976 film Network; he's "as mad as hell and ... not going to take it anymore!"  Hicks is that voice who tells you to point out something when you know it's wrong. He was courageous ... a rebel ... passionate ... a free-thinker ... a humanitarian (even though he sometimes raged against some of humanity's ways) ... and he infused -- and still infuses -- those who listen to him with those same qualities. He's the voice in our heads telling us that what we do matters and not to give in to someone or some issue simply because it's what another group -- whether political, religious, or social -- tells you to accept.

Like I said before, Hicks believed in freedom ... but freedom for everyone -- not just one country or a particular group of countries. And he didn't associate or equate freedom with symbols -- as referenced here:

There is a famous routine of his in which he deeply believed (and I believe it as well). And it has become a highly-shared video clip and meme over the internet -- especially in the past few years. When ending his Revelations show at the Dominion Theatre in London, England, in 1993, Hicks spoke about his understanding of life and how we could make life better:

Here is the written text:

There is a reason why this video is one of the most viewed and shared videos in today's society: people are tired of fighting; people are tired of bullshit; people are tired of politicians who don't give a shit about them; and there is a small population which is steadily growing that is tired of self-righteous indignation from others and having the self-righteous force their beliefs and rules on them just because they don't believe in what the self-righteous believe. Instead, people want inspiration; people want truth; people want love; people want to treat each other better and not be oppressed by what someone tells them they should fear.

President Kennedy once said (doesn't matter what you thought of him as president or man; just truly listen to these words):

And that IS Bill Hicks' mission statement! He lived and breathed that statement! He believed that, deep down, we are all human and all are loved in God's eyes. 

Today, I raise a glass to not just one of the best stand-up comics who paved the way for many future comedians, but also to one of the best people who used his time here to make the world better and give us a better understanding into this life. Even though the world needs Bill Hicks now more than ever, he's still left us with much to ponder and appreciate through his recordings. Thank you, Mr. Hicks. 

In Memoriam: William Melvin "Bill" Hicks

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