Bill Hicks: The Great Crusader of Comedy

In Features by Critical Eye

Bill Hicks was the chain-smoking, anti-establishment American stand-up comedian that spawned many imitators with his observations and searching questions on numerous topics such as drugs, smoking, war, aliens, pornography, religion, governments, advertising, conspiracies and dead rock musicians among them.

A Southern Baptist preacher’s son, Bill seemed to have adopted the ability to work a crowd, wandering the stage, often pausing for thought, with an apparent improvised and ad-hoc approach, before launching into another tirade. His views on the problems with society and how we are covertly manipulated were a common theme, urging us to think outside the box.

Unsurprisingly, he often drew criticism for causing offence to more sensitive viewers, and was therefore considered unsuitable for primetime TV, although he was beginning to infiltrate the mainstream media at the time of his death from pancreatic cancer in 1994 at just 32 years of age, and is now regarded as one of greatest stand-up comedians of all time.

The producers for U.S. talk show host David Letterman’s show pulled his performance shortly before Bill’s death and years later would invite his mother onto the show to apologise and explain the reasons for the decision, subsequently showing the performance in its entirety. He later remarked, “It says more about me as a guy than it says about Bill, because there was absolutely nothing wrong with that.”

Besides his infectious dry wit, Bill’s shows had many socially pertinent issues heavily interwoven into his performances in his attempts to wake-up Americans to the manipulation of governments and the media in general.

One such observation included the First Gulf War and U.S. foreign policy in the region, and their propensity for funding and arming regimes and then later launching attacks against them, which in many ways was ahead of its time.

The Waco Massacre in 1993 was another red flag that he was to highlight, railing against what he saw as the lies and deception of the government who he claimed were responsible for the fire that killed 76 men, women and children at the Texas ranch following a 50-day siege, in which flame throwers were used by the military in the first instance, after federal officials set fire to an isolated compound. Bill was present at the time, managing to gain access to the area and watched the events unfold.

Despite his profanities, Bill Hicks would always close-out his performances on a positive note and the following excerpt was no exception, with its enduring and essential message for mankind:
“The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly coloured, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while. Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” And we … kill those people. “Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this ride, shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok … But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride. And we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one. Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defences each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.”