Bill Hicks died shockingly early of pancreatic cancer at the age of just 32. This collection of essays, interviews, performance transcripts, Q+A sessions and other written works attempts to give the full scope of the man using primary sources rather than as a post mortem biography. I knew little about him prior to reading this; I knew he was an American firebrand comedian who made his name in the UK, having been more popular here than over there.
I also know he was one of a few American stand-up comedians of that era to truly break the British market. We definitely have a different taste in comedy to our American cousins. Our tradition of self-deprecating humour, sometimes caustic tone and satire critical of politics amongst other things with a tradition of attacking most taboo subjects, Blighty was probably the best place to make his name. That and the largely conversational nature of our stand-up comedy traditions.
I hadn’t realised quite how caustic he could be and having now read some of his material, I would compare him to Scottish firebrand Frankie Boyle. In amongst the shocks are some enlightened views, a left wing political persuasion that doesn’t ring fence fellow leftists – and that’s the way it should be. While we criticise others, we should not stop at criticising the anti intellectualism inherent in our own political sphere. Clearly a highly intelligent guy, his comedy is not to everybody’s tastes and I wonder whether he deliberately went for shock factor sometimes.
He was at his best when expressing himself intellectually, stating that a US Presidential Election is no choice at all because no matter whether you vote Republican or Democrat, either way you are voting for the party of business with no choice between corporate America and corporate America. Critical of Reagan, of the first Bush and the Gulf War, I imagine it came as a refreshing change to the flag waving “Good Bless America” to some. He even made jokes about the British weather, though not the kind we are used to “I like British weather because you guys actually have some, unlike LA”. Yet for all his jokes about the UK, you get the impression that there was a lot of fondness for the country that enabled his fame in such a big way.
This is a fascinating insight into the man but I felt the volume often lacked structure with often no clear grouping. The only categorisation was by year, not by theme or material type. This is only a small criticism though.
The transcription could have been better. I didn’t need to read every “uhh”, “erm” and “aah” of a stand-up routine, for example. It also means that a lot of the material is repeated as his comedy routines blend into one another.
Otherwise, a good volume.