Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Love, Laughter, and Truth

Today is the birthday of Bill Hicks- a comedian who died at the age of 32 from pancreatic cancer in 1994. Little-known except in England, he was an American from Texas, who started doing stand-up comedy when he was only 14. He gained notoriety in his hometown, as he dominated grown-up comedy clubs- even surpassing comedians who were twice his age. He then moved on to LA to pursue his career in a more serious fashion, but although gaining the respect of Rodney Dangerfield, Jay Leno, and others, did not achieve the level of popularity he hoped for. This may have been partially because he was much more of a social critic than a straight-up funny guy crowd pleaser. In fact, his aim was not to please at all, but rather to challenge people by pontificating on the hypocrisies of political institutions, religion, and the media. His style of comedy was marked by an innate sense that tragedy was in fact quite funny. Not everyone can appreciate that.

He fucking told the truth. And the truth is hilarious. And painful. And tragic. Few comedians can really turn tragedy into comedy, but Hicks did it effortlessly. People admire George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, and Richard Pryor (all wonderful socio-political philosophers in their own right) in the same way, but I contend that none of them really took on issues of the day in quite the essential and holistic way Hicks did. Hicks' comedy is still relevant, 15 years after he died... A rare thing indeed. I've left a few quotes for you, just a taste of his brilliance.

On existence:

Life is like a ride at an amusement park. And when you choose to go on it, you think its real because thats how powerfull our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round. It has thrills and chills, and its very brightly coloured , and its very loud and its 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! Dont worry, dont be afraid, ever, because, this is just a ride.'

On drugs and consciousness:

"Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration. That we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves. Here's Tom with the weather."

I would like to say a few words on Dennis Leary and the controversy surrounding his act. It is clear that Leary knew about Hick's smoking bits, and had been to his shows. And, as it is common among comedians to borrow each other's material- it is an established fact that Leary stole Hick's act and even his persona outright. There are plenty of examples to watch on youtube, so you can make your own assessment. When asked about Leary by an interviewer, his response was only this, "I have a scoop for you. I stole his act. I camouflaged it with punchlines, and to really throw people off, I did it before he did."

This is one of his classic acts:

Hicks at Dangerfield's

I just really love him, and his comedy has given me much joy- so I wanted to pass it on.


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