Bill Hicks: comedian, prophet, pale demon

Just watched “Bill Hicks: Sane Man” on my Netflix stream. This is not my first exposure to Hicks. I have five or six recordings of his. But, good lord he was funny. He was sacrilegious, profane, vulgar, offensive, dark, full of hate, bile, and spewing gouts of flaming truth wherever he went.

I think my favorite part of a Bill Hicks set is how much his audience hates him. I have one recording where they get downright hostile toward him. And let’s face it, he wasn’t there to win friends. That might be what I love most about him. He was telling the truth as he saw it and if you didn’t like it, too bad. He was probably going to make fun of you next.

In case you’re not familiar with Bill Hicks, he was very liberal. He absolutely hated Reagan, the first Bush and was intensely critical of the first Iraq war. Can you imagine what it would be like if he lived today? Here’s what I think he’d being saying:

What is wrong with you people? You elected the son?! Did you miss all the crap his daddy did? And you let him go back to Iraq to finish the job? You believed that bit about the WMDs? You people are dumber than I originally thought!

Seriously, Bill had it nailed. He spotted the anti-intellectualism movement, the take-over of corporations, the awfulness of pop culture and on and on. He reminds me a lot of George Carlin, another truly great comic. The great thing about both of these guys is that they are funny but they are telling great truths and making serious points. They are using the laughs because, I think, that is a great way to get you to listen to some things that are otherwise unpalatable to most of us. I think they can’t help making the jokes either. I think they are those guys that are in a car accident, have their arm amputated and look at the doctor to say,”I’ve been meaning to lose weight, doc, thanks.” They’re the ones getting dirty looks at funerals because they couldn’t help making the people around them giggle.

The thing is, we need guys like this now more than ever. I think this is where Jon Stewart and The Daily Show come in. And, Stephen Colbert, yes. We have to hear some humor. Maybe I should try writing more humorously when I have something serious to talk about. Hmmm…

Mr. Hicks was, if you can believe it, darker and harsher than George Carlin. Hicks would point out how the great people of history tend to be murdered, they don’t die of old age. Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., John Lennon, JFK, etc. But, Ronald Reagan? He got shot, lived through it, and was old as Hell when he died. Note: this is well before the beatification of Reagan and the whitewashing of his legacy (go read the record, that brother raised taxes lots of times! And he dug spending tons of money on defense.) so Reagan was still the devil as far as Hicks was concerned. At the end of his set, Hicks sometimes would tell the audience his plan for world peace: if you took the trillions being spent on wars and gave it to the citizens we could build a home for every person in the world, then spend our time and money exploring space together in peace and harmony. What a wonderful world to live in. Then, Hicks stands with his arms up as the audience applauds, his set over… And gunshots ring out loudly in the room. Hicks crumples to the ground, clutching his chest, apparently shot to death, assassinated. The lights go out. Hardee har har.

In the tradition of dark comedy, Hicks makes sure that the laugh you were having a second ago gets caught in your throat. Sure, it’s a little self-aggrandizing, but, well, the man had some awesome, funny, truthful, and brutal bits. And, guess what? He was right. We could easily house the entire country if we wanted. But, no we can’t do that. House freeloaders??? No way!

It’s kind of weird. How would you rather spend trillions of dollars. Ending homelessness and giving the American Dream to everyone in the country? Or bombing people in another country that may or may not represent a threat to us? As George Carlin put it, they call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it. I am so grateful for people like Hicks, Carlin, Stewart, and Colbert for helping to wake me up.


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