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Comedy Review: Bill Hicks – The Essential Collection

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This four-disc set is a marvelous archive that honors the late comedian Bill Hicks who died in 1994 of pancreatic cancer at the much too early age of 32. Much of his comedy was rooted in his anger in reaction to the state of American culture and can be traced back to comics like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. He challenged audiences with his strong Left-libertarianism views and his vulgar language, causing Hicks to describe himself as “Chomsky with dick jokes.” He claimed to enjoy pornography and drugs, hate advertisers and Conservatives, and didn’t find your kids special.  Most importantly, he was as funny as he was outrageous.

The two CDs present previously released material from all seven of Hicks’ comedy albums. For hardcore Hicks collectors, there are also 11 tracks from a San Ramon, CA show though no date of the performance is given. The pieces are edited together out of chronological order and while the flow and pacing work, I would have preferred to hear his work as it emerged over time. Some of the material is dated, as when Hicks rails against the movie Basic Instinct and the first President Bush, though the jokes are still humorous for those who lived through the early ’90s. Other material appears to be timeless, as he deals with abortion, gays in the military, and Tonight Show host Jay Leno being a sellout.

The two DVDs contain material from his personal archives, most of which has never been released before. “Early Years 1981-’86” presents video from four appearances. The video is so bad on the Houston ’81 date Hicks appears ghostlike as the backgrounds can be seen through him. There’s a poolside interview with Hicks in 1988 discussing the Outlaw Comics, a group of Houston comedians that included Sam Kinison. Hicks plays the guitar and sings some of their story. “Austin Bootleg Series” is a collection of four club dates recorded by his brother Steve: November 1991, December 1992, and June and October 1993. While the video hasn’t been released on DVD before, some of the material can be heard on the CDs Arizona Bay and Rant in E-Minor.

The material that has been seen before probably hasn’t been seen by many people. “Early Years – TV Interview” is a two-minute Houston television news piece. “Outlaw Comics” is a performance from 1985 in Houston. The biggest offering is “Ninja Bachelor Party,” a 30-minute video Hicks created with Kevin Booth (who provides an introduction) and David Johndrow. After ten years of working on it, they released the video to an Austin theater in 1991. Hicks plays a Ninja master who trains a young man so he can fight Dr. Death, also played by Hicks. The dialogue is dubbed in later. From the quality, it’s something you’d expect to see on cable access. Certainly a rare treat for any Hicks fan, and there are some laughs over how silly the whole thing is, but “Essential Hicks”? That’s debatable and I would lean towards “no.”

The last element of the collection is Lo-Fi Troubadour, an album of original songs sung and performed on acoustic guitar by Hicks.  It is available as downloadable MP3s. Rather than funny songs, it is a serious endeavor as Hicks demonstrates he had potential if he’d had the opportunity.

Even for fans who already have Bill Hicks’ comedy albums, the rare video, coming in at over five hours, and the newly released audio definitely makes this an Essential Collection to your comedy library.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • http://kimcrawley.blogspot.com Kim Crawley

    El Bicho- Thanks for introducing me to Bill Hicks. I’m motivated to buy his Essential Collection now. I fancy myself a ‘left-libertarian’.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Kim, there are clips from his act on YouTube and around the net if you want a sample before taking the plunge