"The world is like a ride at an amusement park. And when you choose to go on it, you think it's real because that's how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round. It has thrills and chills and it's very brightly coloured and it's very loud and it's fun, for a while. Some people have been on the ride for a long time, and they begin to question: Is this real, or is this just a ride? And other people have remembered, and they come back to us, they say, 'Hey don't worry, don't be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride ...' And we ... kill those people." (Revelations)
Bill Hicks was born William Melville Hicks in 1961 in Valdosta, Georgia and grew up in Houston, Texas. For a certain generation, Hicks was seen as perhaps one of the most scathing social critics, pouring scorn on the all too apparent foibles of US society. Although perhaps best known for his prolific rants against non-smokers, Hicks was nevertheless not a fan of banal jokes about airplane food, long queues at the seven-eleven and the differences between men and women.
His real skill lay in the acerbic way in which he unravelled the very fabric of modern life, and questioned the unquestionable. The rank hypocrisy of the American government and of those in power was laid bare by Hicks:
"Supreme Court says pornography is anything without artistic merit that causes sexual thoughts. No artistic merit, causes sexual thoughts. Hmmm . . . sounds like every commercial on TV doesn't it?"
Hicks' venom was not only reserved for the American right, it was also reserved for, pop stars who sold out by selling diet coke, the slimy marketing executives whom he urged repeatedly to kill themselves, the suburban zombies, who watched the 'pituitary retards' on American Gladiators with their idiot box glowing behind their closed curtains, pro-lifers, fundamentalist Christians, and proponents of the anti-intellectualism he felt was rife. For Hicks, the American Dream was just that, a vacuous empty reality of commercialism and thwarted dreams. He is quoted as saying that the USA effectively stood for the United States of Advertising. Hicks' take on reality TV would have been truly interesting today.
He was often misunderstood, and courted controversy in America as he refused to moderate his views. On October 1, 1993, he was to appear on the David Letterman show for the twelfth time, but his appearance was cancelled somewhat controversially. At the time, he was doing a routine about pro-life organisations, where he encouraged them to "lock arms and block cemeteries", and go to funerals and open the caskets in order to shout “Get Out!”, instead of picketing outside abortion clinics, but his routine was cut from the show. The show's producers and CBS denied responsibility for the cut, but the reason appeared obvious to many during the following week's Letterman program when a commercial for a pro-life organisation was aired. Hicks himself felt betrayed, and hand-wrote a 32-page letter of complaint. Later, Letterman expressed regret at the way Hicks had been handled. Unfortunately Hicks had died by that time, and never heard Letterman's sentiments.
Hicks also was more than willing to argue against the norm, and argued for peoples rights to choose what they did with their bodies, no matter what substances they decided to partake of. Despite having given up drugs (including the one he was most famous for nicotine), he still argued for the right of people to be able to take them. His main argument stemmed from the quality of music produced by drug-takers as opposed to non-drug takers:
"George Bush says we are losing the war on drugs. Well, you know what that implies? There's a war going on and people on drugs are winning it! Well, what does that tell you about drugs? Some smart, creative motherfuckers on that side. You see, I think drugs have done some good things for us. I really do. And if you don't believe drugs have done good things for us, do me a favor. Go home tonight. Take all your albums, all your tapes and all your CDs and burn them. 'Cause you know what, the musicians that made all that great music that's enhanced your lives throughout the years ... rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreal fucking high on drugs. The Beatles were so fucking high they let Ringo sing a few songs.” (Relentless)
Nottingham Comedy Underground's tribute night to Bill Hicks will be held at The Loggerheads on Saturday 24 Feb with Comedy from Dave Bishop, Lou Saffire, Rodney Marques, Cooper (the comedy poet). Live music from Alem da Lemba, Won Lost the Other and Das Ragworms. Free entry. Donations to charity on the night.