William Melvin "Bill" Hicks (December 16, 1961 — February 26, 1994) was an American stand-up comedian, born in Georgia and raised in Texas from the age of 7. He began his stand-up career in the late 1970s, having grown up a big fan of Woody Allen and Richard Pryor, and would often sneak out of the house to perform sets at local clubs. His rebellious, free-thinking attitude was obvious at a young age, to the point that his parents actually brought him to a psychoanalyst at age 17; the analyst actually sided with Bill.
His love of recreational drugs took a toll on his finances, but after years of working the nightclub circuit, he finally got his big break on Rodney Dangerfield's Young Comedians Special. From there he moved to New York City and began performing 300 times per year for the next several years. He developed a habit of chain-smoking while on stage, which worked its way into his act almost immediately. In 1989 his first video, Sane Man, was released. In 1990 his first album, Dangerous, hit the shelves, and a television special, One Night Stand, came out that same year. Despite the exposure, Hicks never quite broke through like his contemporaries, such as Sam Kinison, but he did gain a big following in the UK, where he taped another special, Revelations. On this special, he debuted his now-iconic "It's Just a Ride" speech to close the show.
Bill was part of a particularly infamous moment in late-night talk show history, with his aborted final appearance on Late Night With David Letterman in 1993. The material in his five-minute set included some cynical material about the pro-life movement, which afterward led to the entire set being pulled from the air. To say Bill was displeased would be a massive understatement, and he made no secret of his bitter feelings afterward. This came shortly after Bill's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Despite this, he continued performing at his usual rate until he finally went home to be with his parents in Little Rock, Arkansas in early 1994, where he passed away. Years later, in 2009, Letterman expressed regret over the incident and even invited Bill's mother on the show to watch the clip being broadcast at last.
Hicks' caustic style of observational comedy focused mostly on his (very) low opinion of society and the media, with venomous attacks on politicians and shallow pop culture. He also covered his own personal habits and problems (most notably his addiction to cigarettes) and made frequent mention of his mushroom-induced psychedelic experiences.
He has a number of high profile fans, including John Cleese, Bill Bailey, Richard Jeni, George Carlin, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Henry Rollins, tool, and Radiohead. Hicks also made a posthumous appearance in an issue of Preacher.
A documentary film about his life, entitled American: The Bill Hicks Story, was released in 2010.
Hicks and his comedy provide examples of the following:
- Anti-Love Song: "Chicks Dig Jerks", in which Hicks bemoaned the All Girls Want Bad Boys trope and his own horrible luck with the ladies.Hitler had Eva Braun / Manson had Squeaky Fromme / Ted Bundy got lots of dates / I wonder what I'm doin' wrong.
- Asian Speekee Engrish: Purposefully subverted. Bill has a bit about being heckled in Chinese and impersonates the accent, but the heckler is actually very eloquent and well-spoken.Heckler: Why you no do dick joke? Win crowd back! They no want to hear your philosophy, they want to hear dick joke!
Bill: Huh, what a rational heckler.
- Author Filibuster: Hicks' personal politics and philosophy informed much of his act, and his stand-up consisted mostly of his waxing about his thoughts on those subjects.
- Bait-and-Switch: His bit on the Pro Life movement implied that his friends were divided between pro-life and pro-choice until he revealed that the real debate centered on whether pro-lifers were evil or just annoying idiots.
- Bile Fascination: One of the bits on Rant in E-Minor: is about his fascination with COPS.Is anyone like me in that they are compelled, drawn against their will, to watch the show COPS every fucking night? ...I am OBSESSED with that show. I can't not watch it. I'm like a guy with a sore tooth, I can't stop touching it.
- Black Comedy: "Rush Limbaugh munches scat!" and his jokes about abortion, just for starters. He even joked about his own cancer.
- Brick Joke: Rant in E-Minor has a bit about Gideonsnote at one point, wondering where the hell they come from. His theory: "Gidea." Towards the end of the show he does a bit about semen, resulting in a particularly grotesque example of this trope:Entire nations have flaked and crusted in the hair around my navel... Maybe even Gidea!
- Broken Pedestal: Bill couldn't get a whole lot of momentum on American TV, though he had a frequent spot on the Letterman show and was at one point sponsored by Rodney Dangerfield. One of the things that pained Hicks the most was watching his former idol, Jay Leno, shilling Doritos ('Crunch all ya want. we'll make more!') and becoming a corporate mascot for NBC.
- The Bully: Hicks thought that America itself was this to the rest of the world.I'm so sick of arming the world and then sending troops over to destroy the fucking arms, you know what I mean? We keep arming these little countries then we go and blow the shit out of 'em. We're like the bullies of the world, you know? We're like Jack Palance in the movie Shane throwing the pistol at the sheep herder's feet:
Jack Palance: Pick it up.
Sheepherder: I don't wanna pick it up mister, you'll shoot me.
Jack Palance: Pick up the gun.
Sheepherder: Mister, I don't want no trouble, huh. I just came down town here to get some hard rock candy for my kids, some gingham for my wife. I don't even know what gingham is, but she goes through about 10 rolls a week of that stuff. I ain't looking for no trouble, mister.
Jack Palance: *icy whisper* Pick up the gun.
[Hicks fearfully leans over and reaches for the gun, then makes gunshot sounds and falls to the floor, then gets up after a few seconds]
Jack Palance: You all saw him. He had a gun.
- Careful with That Axe: He does this occasionally for effect. For example, from the routine "Gays in the Military:"Anyone... DUMB ENOUGH... to want to be in the military... should be allowed! [...] AREN'T Y'ALL FUCKIN' HIRED KILLERS?! SHUT UP!
- California Collapse: The "Arizona Bay" routine is all about his delight at the prospect of California falling off into the ocean.
- Chirping Crickets: He'd sometimes imitate crickets chirping during bits to signify time passing, such as when he and his friends dropped acid and drove around in one friend's car that could talk, and they spent most of a night pondering the meaning of the car saying "The door is ajar."
- Covert Pervert: He point-blank described Rush Limbaugh as looking like "one of those gay guys that like to lie in a tub while other guys pee on him."
- Cultural Rebel: Hicks was always ready to bash American politics, or American provincialism, or the dumbing-down of the American media, but he celebrated American movies, rock music and porn, and if he criticised them at all it was for not being more awesome. This has not stopped some people from thinking that he suffered from Cultural Cringe.
- Caught with Your Pants Down: In one bit on the Dangerous CD, hotel housekeeping barged into his room while he was "occupied", and he worked this into a way to make them regret it.
- Dead Artists Are Better:
- Hicks had nothing but ire for modern musicians doing ads or anti-drug campaigns and lamented the hollowness of their music and personalities.PLAY FROM YOUR FUCKING HEAAAAAART!!!!!!
- Bill's own career wound up being this. During his lifetime, he never quite broke through to the mainstream, save for many late-night talk show appearances. Yet it was only after his death that he gradually became known as one of the most influential stand-ups of all time. Dude's like the Ramones of comedy or something.
- Hicks had nothing but ire for modern musicians doing ads or anti-drug campaigns and lamented the hollowness of their music and personalities.
- Deep South: Hicks loved to take shots at the worst aspects of Southern culture, lampooning the rampant ignorance and hypocritical, judgmental aspects of hardline Christianity that often go hand in hand with Southern stereotypes.
- Draco in Leather Pants: Invoked. This was his view on how some women might treat Satan.Female Impression: What a great butt!
Bill: He's Satan!
Female Impression: You don't know him like I do.
Bill: He's the Prince of Darkness!
Female Impression: I can change him.
- Driven to Suicide: Invoked in a bit where Jay Leno realizes how far his career has fallen while interviewing Joey Lawrence and shoots himself on stage.
- Drugs Are Bad: Hicks noted in one bit that news stories about drugs and drug use were always negative, and wondered what a positive drug use story might sound like.Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration...that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There's no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we're the imaginations of ourselves. Here's Tom with the weather.
- Drugs Are Good:
- Hicks routinely did material on the benefits of using marijuana and hallucinogens, going so far as a "families should trip together" bit, and likening the effects of mushrooms to a religious experience.Shit, man, not only do I think pot should be legalized... I think it should be mandatory.[referring to mushrooms] I took what Terence McKenna refers to as a heroic dose... *audience laughs* Five dried grams... *audience ooohs* Yeah, my third eye was squeegeed quite cleanly.
- The page quote summarizes Hicks' belief about the overall positive effects drugs have had on the music industry, citing The Beatles and "Yellow Submarine" as one example.
- He also had a problem with the Moral Guardians involved with drugs:Why is the drug czar in this country — well, let's go back; Why do we have a "drug czar" in this country? A. B, why is he a cop? Why do they put drug users in jail? They're sick; they're not criminals. Sick people don't get better in prison.
- Hicks routinely did material on the benefits of using marijuana and hallucinogens, going so far as a "families should trip together" bit, and likening the effects of mushrooms to a religious experience.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: His early performances were heavily inspired by Woody Allen and as a result, he comes across as dorky and nebbishy, with none of the sharp commentary he was famous for.
- Fan Disillusionment: A theory Hicks "claimed" explained Judas Priest's apparent desire to kill off their fans.
- Fan Disservice: There's a segment on the Revelations show in which Hicks indulges in his 'Goatboy' persona for about ten minutes, during which the audience is very, very noticeably squicked out.
- Final Speech: Invoked; Bill had a verse he'd written released after his death, which ends with this:I left in love, in laughter, and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit.
- Fridge Logic: Invoked as part of his comedy. When recalling the story about Judas Priest apparently putting subliminal messages in their music, telling people to kill themselves, he then asked: "WHAT performer wants his fuckin' audience dead?! I don't see the long-term gain here!" Funnily enough, Judas Priest themselves raised the same question, and ironically, didn't even write the song in question (it was a cover of "Better by You, Better Than Me," by Spooky Tooth).
- Gilligan Cut: Used at the end of some of his bits that are particularly critical of rednecks and Christians.A few guys cornered me outside after my last show. They said: "We're Christians, and we take offense at your show." I said, "Forgive me." Later, as I was hangin' from the tree...
- Girl on Girl Is Hot: Invoked on more than one occasion, especially when he was talking about how bad Basic Instinct was and how shocked he was that the test audiences didn't like the lesbian scenes that were eventually cut from the film.If I had been in that test audience, the only one protesting would've been Michael Douglas demanding that his part be put back in!
- Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Some of Hicks' material revolved around his very dim view of nonsmokers and their behavior(s) around smokers, although he also poked fun at his own smoking.
- Higher Understanding Through Drugs: One of his central themes was the use of hallucinogens to open the third eye and expand consciousness.
- History Repeats: A lot of Hicks's political material, from 1988 through 1991, became depressingly relevant again in the 2000s (to the point that many of the names had not actually changed) thanks to George W. Bush's Presidency and the Iraq War.
- Hypocritical Humor: Has a bit where he declares Daddy's Roommate to be disgusting, while simultaneously declaring Heather Has Two Mommies to be "quite a fetching read".
- Iconic Song Request: A heckler repeatedly shouting "Free Bird" triggered one of his most notorious rants (see Kill All Humans below).
- I Was Young and Needed the Money: He claimed this was the only possible excuse you can have to do commercials (apart from Willie Nelson, who got a pass for his $24 million tax bill).
- In one routine, Bill openly brags about all the great technology designed to save people with cancer, whilst declaring that people dying from nothing were screwed.
- He also cited the irony of pro-lifers killing doctors who performed abortions.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Hard as it is to believe, Hicks really did hold out hope for humanity and felt it could accomplish great things if people stopped living in fear of their own full potential.
- Kill All Humans: Hicks exploded in the aforementioned "Free Bird" heckler incident.Hitler had the right idea, he was just an underachiever! Kill 'em all, Adolf, all of 'em! Jew, Mexican, American, white, kill 'em all! Start over, the experiment didn't work!
- Lighter and Softer: Revelations is this, at least relatively so, partly because Hicks was playing to a UK crowd which adored him and sympathised with his politics, and so he was less inclined to troll and bait the audience.
- Manchild: Calls himself out in one routine, where he notes that the only things he seems to rent from video stores are video games and hardcore lesbian pornography.What am I, thirteen emotionally? I mean, I'm looking at this receipt I got from them, and it's like, Clam Lappers and Sonic The Hedgehog. That was one weekend. That was Easter weekend. Something's going on with me, man. That's a pretty scary way to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, with Clam Lappers and Sonic-fucking-Hedgehog.
- Masturbation Means Sexual Frustration: Hicks wasn't shy about discussing his compensating for being single.
- Misanthrope Supreme: Some of his darker bits focused on his very low opinion of humanity's tendency to bask in its own greatness.I'm tired of this back slapping, aren't humanity neat bullshit. We're a virus with shoes, okay? That's all we are.
- Mood Whiplash: Hicks liked to immediately follow up his vitriolic rants about musicians doing advertising and/or speaking out against drugs (which inevitably involved calling them "suckers of Satan's cock," along with a roar/inhale sound effect that's hard to describe) with the dark but lighthearted "Beelzebozo, the Clown from Hell" bit, a parody of clowns working at birthday parties.PLAY FROM YOUR FUCKING HEEEEAAAAAARRRT!!! *Beat* I am available for children's parties, by the way.
- Murder Simulators: Not a big fan of this mindset. Hicks once said of this trope: "WHAT performer wants his audience dead?!" In particular, Hicks tore into the line of thinking that video games make people violent. As an avid gamer himself, Hicks had little love lost for the Moral Guardians of his day on video games.
- My Dad Can Beat Up Your Dad: Brought up when Hicks was talking about his parents:I never got along with my dad. Kids used to come up to me and say: "My dad can beat up your dad." I'd say "Yeah? When?"
- No-Sell: Many of his contemporaries were in awe of his ability to completely ignore and outright revel in some of his early crowds' indifference to his style of comedy (before he gained his loyal following). Joe Rogan is fond of telling a story about a time at The Comedy Store where the crowd was not at all into him and he blithely went into a five-minute-long gag of the Devil shitting out Geraldo Rivera that was mostly grunts and strains. Half of the crowd walked out; meanwhile, his fellow comedians in the back were dying.
- Overly-Long Gag:
- Porn Stash: Hicks joked about having one that was sizable, including his mother finding it after he dies, dying herself from horror, and chasing Bill through heaven, hitting him with a switch.
- Public Service Announcement: He had routines where he made fun of the government's anti-drug messages at the time... and that they didn't mention that drugs hadn't managed to kill Keith Richards.
- Rant Comedy: A staple of Hicks' performances, with countless examples throughout his career. Eventually devoted an entire album, Rant in E-minor, to it.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Notably, at a 1989 show in Chicago when he verbally tore a female heckler to pieces.[mockingly] I can yell at the comedian cuz I'm a drunk cunt! That gives me carte blanche! I got a cunt, and I'm drunk––I can do anything I want! I don't have a cock! I can yell at performers, cuz I'm a fuckin' idiot, cuz I got a cunt! [Beat] I want you to go find a fuckin' soul!
- Refuge in Audacity:
- Most of Hicks' material lives and breathes this trope.If you work in advertising or marketing...kill yourself. *crowd laughs* No, seriously. This is not a joke. You're thinking there's gonna be a joke coming — there's no fucking joke coming. You are Satan's spawn, filling the world with bile and garbage. Kill yourself.
- The killer joke (that he's been setting up from the start): "I know what all the marketing people here are thinking, (marketer impression) you know what Bill's doing? He's going after the anti-marketing dollar, that's a good market. He's very smart. He's very smart." Hicks was a genius at setting up punchlines with long, seemingly meandering set-ups.
- Most of Hicks' material lives and breathes this trope.
- Running Gag:
- Many of his rants and monologues about people he found morally detestable involved calling them: "suckers of Satan's cock," often with accompanying sound effects.
- He often bursts out in manic laughter after saying something hideously dark. On Waco:Anyway, the major news said that the Branch Davidians started the fire. Now I'm not mistaken, correct me if I go off the story here, and that all they did was shoot in tear gas — yet I've seen with my own eyes [...] footage of a Bradley tank shooting fire into the compound which... Isn't that odd that no major news source has picked up on that? How do you think that's newsworthy? Because that basically means that the government, from the FBI, the ATF, up to Janet Reno, and including Clinton are... ummm... LIARS AND MURDERERS! HA!HA!HA!HA!HA!
- Saying Sound Effects Out Loud: Bill was good at imitating gunshots and similar sound effects, sometimes bordering on Voice Changeling.
- Sex for Product: Taken to its Logical Extreme.Here is the commercial they want to do... Here's the woman's face. Beautiful. Camera pulls back, naked breasts. Camera pulls back, she's totally naked, legs apart, two fingers right here... And it just says: "Drink Coke." Now I don't understand the connection, but Coke is on my shopping list this week! [later, he bends over at the camera] Snnnnnnnnnnickers!
- Sexier Alter Ego: Randy Pan the Goatboy (Bill's sex-crazed alter ego who happens to be half goat), who can seduce anyone with a pulse and goes for Anything That Moves.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: Hicks' routines were salty, and covered all the F tropes with gusto, as the quotes on this page demonstrate.
- Smug Straight Edge: How he saw non-smokers as a smoker.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?
- Suicide Dare: Played for dark humour when he encourages any marketing professionals in the audience to kill themselves.
- Take That!: Bill wouldn't exist without it. He called his routine "comedy of hate," and one track on Rant in E-Minor is called "'You're Wrong' Night" for a reason.
- Take That, Audience!: Hicks would frequently shoot barbs at his crowds, some joking, some not so much.[to someone near the stage] How many packs a day do you smoke? *barely audible answer* A pack and a half?! What a little puss! Why don't you put on a dress and swish around for us? *sing-song* Pack and a haaaaalf, I smoke a pack and a haaaaalf... Makes me ill. I go through two lighters a day.How you doin' folks? Gotta bear with me folks, I'm very tired of [...] traveling, and, ah, very tired of doing comedy, and, ah, very tired of staring out at your vacant faces looking back at me, wanting me to fill your empty lives with humor you couldn't possibly think of yourselves. Good evening.
- Tempting Fate: Again, his little routine declaring people dying from nothing were screwed, whereas people like him who smoked had "all sortsa neat gadgets lined up."
- There Is a God!: In Arizona Bay, Bill responds to California sliding into the Pacific Ocean this way.There is a God, he loves us all so much...
- 30 Minutes, or It's Free!: Hicks' recipe for a perfect world? Let everyone stay home, get stoned, and order pizza.Domino's Pizza trucks passing each other on the highway. Let them get stuck in traffic — all our pizza will be free!
- With Due Respect: Hicks on Ronald Reagan:Why don't you answer a question like a man, you fucking lying, B-actor, dickweed, Mr. President-sir, with all due respect.