The patchwork of entertainment news we get clobbered by most days is an eerie reminder of how little has changed since Bill Hicks prowled comedy stages, serving as a lonely voice of sanity out amongst the wilderness of institutionalized idiocy.
I’ve written about Bill Hicks once before. I had seen David Letterman’s tribute to Hicks, where he brought on Bill’s mother and personally apologized to her for the incident where Hicks was kept off his show due to Hicks’s propensity for inflammatory material. I thought it was a classy move on Letterman’s part – if belated, since Hicks died in 1994 of pancreatic cancer. I then went on to describe why I believe that Hicks’ brand of inflammatory material would have been necessary to broadcast, as I think Hicks’ perspective, and those like his, demand to be heard. (You can read that article here.)
Television is absolutely flooded with mediocrity and moronity. Since television is only ever a reflection of what the American people are most concerned with at the time, that is a disturbing statement. I’ve made the point here and elsewhere, many times, that it’s not a crime to enjoy turn-your-brain-off entertainment – but it IS a crime when the balances are off so badly. Mediocrity is rewarded and morons are everywhere, and even though we’re in the future, nothing’s changed. Some of the same morons are still prominent, in fact!
Again, it’s almost eerie that so many of Bill Hicks’ favorite targets back in the late 1980s and early 1980s are either still lingering, or have made their moronic return. The Bush family and the Iraq War are in sequels. Billy Ray Cyrus has returned with an even more ridiculous haircut, to pimp out his daughter to the world. The most recent Doritos ad (at the SuperBowl) was the most-watched ad of all time. The New Kids On The Block are back on tour, clearly not recognizing the obvious irony in their name. And creepy Jay Leno and his gargantuan head are still clogging up the late-night comedy world.
Watching the concert film Sane Man, I was filled with growing irritation.
That’s not true. Watching Sane Man, I was laughing constantly.
It’s only afterward that the irritation struck, when I realized that all of the above morons are happily moving into advanced age with ever-thickening wallets, while Bill Hicks was struck down in his prime by an insidious disease. So many people have nothing useful or interesting to say, meanwhile Bill Hicks was only getting started on expanding our brains and enlightening our perspectives. It’s just not fair.
But no one ever said the universe was fair. All we can do is keep Hicks’ work fresh in our memory, and luckily, there’s plenty of it available.
Sane Man is a concert film from 1989. It’s basically a rudimentary VHS recording of a typical Hicks performance, live, in front of a typical nightclub audience (with some amazing mullets), for a truly impressive length of time. I generally listen to Hicks’ CDs on repeat, so what struck me about watching him on screen for nearly two hours straight was his amazing confidence in front of a crowd. Hicks owned that stage. He clearly had absolute conviction that his words were worth hearing. (If he felt any personal reservations, it sure didn’t show.) His words were worth hearing, as always, but it’s nice to see that he seemed to know that too. If you like neurotic comedians, this ain’t your guy.
Sane Man isn’t my favorite Bill Hicks performance I’ve ever seen – for one thing the dated video elements and imperfect recording make it tiring to watch after a while. Also, a lot of the material Hicks performs here will be very familiar to diehard fans (a lot of it appeared in slightly different form on his albums), although it is a treat to see him act out his Jimi Hendrix routine. And this isn’t one for mixed company – Hicks gets particularly vulgar at a couple moments (understandable considering the fact that he’s playing to a drunken audience.) Personally, I never get tired of hearing any of Hicks’ bits and I’m not offended by his bluer material, so predictably, I loved Sane Man. I just wouldn’t recommend it as someone’s first exposure to Hicks’ brilliance. Start with any of the albums instead – they’re all still in print and available in most any music store that has a comedy section. Look for them (and more information) at the official website.
What I love about Bill Hicks is that, while his anger and disappointment were palpable, it was always clear that he was an optimist at heart. He wasn’t bitter about how things were; he just wanted things to be better. Bill Hicks left this earth too soon, but he left plenty of peerless comedy and immortal inspiration behind. He is as alive as ever, on his albums and videos.
If you want to read more about Bill Hicks, I recommend tracking down Cynthia True’s terrific biography, American Scream.
And if you want to read more about me, as always you can go here:
Behind every great book adaptation is a forgettable first try. — By Ryan Covey