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Movie Review: American: The Bill Hicks Story

Around about the time I started talking about “À bout de souffle” instead of “Breathless,” and took, for whatever reason, to equating “interesting interests” with “interesting people,” I came into possession of a record album by the name of Arizona Bay by one Bill Hicks – a comedian of the class folks get awful tetchy about hearing referred to as “comedians.”

“A prophet, boys,” they’ll gasp. “A seer,” is the talk. “Jais the things that man puts out of him in them records… honest to God I was off work a week or more over the head of it, the wife’ll tell you herself, for it was that powerful, this bit of saying that he was goin’ on with.”

If you laugh at Bill Hicks, you’re not getting it. If you were getting it, you’d be doing your laughing from the back window of a Massey Ferguson parked twenty-two fields away, for that’s where your face would be, and the rest of you strewn about the wall next your Ma’s sideboard in a senseless mash o’ scorched skin and singed pube and jangled fragments from status updates about this quiz you took one time that told you what part of your own eye you are (you are the eyeball part of your eye).

“Comedian?! Fuck off! You total tube of tits!”

“Fuck off!” I says, “you total tube of tits!”

“What?” says himself back in the day, shrugging. “Was funny. Stuff about ‘what’s G-12 do?’ Some laughin’ I done at that.”

“Well it’s not meant for laughin’! Would you’ve laughed at Jesus, would you? Would you’ve said aw some laughin’ I done at that man Jesus Christ Almighty on the Cross? An’ him stood there with the Holy hangin’ off him in ropes right there in front of you, and talking the kinds of Truth could blow the cock off a submarine?”

Nobody likes hearing that Bill Hicks was a comedian, any more than they like hearing about how great a pop group the Beatles were. Better that these exponents are considered somehow greater than the form, rather than evidence of its own inherent greatness.

Well a comedian he was, Mr. Bill Hicks, and one that no amount of injustices – being ignored by seemingly everyone in America (“Verily I say unto you, no prophet is accepted in his own country” and blah); being unignored by most every humanities student who ever read Robert Anton Wilson and pretended to like Tim Buckley and took this fierce amount of drugs last night boys, you should’ve seen the state I was in, God almighty I was trippin’ that hard half the folk on my street came out in lumps all down the left-hand side – could blunt or diminish or render any the less Fucking Hilarious.

Shortly after hearing that record mentioned a thousand things-you-couldn’t-care-less-about ago, itself being the third Bill Hicks album, and the first to be released after his death from pancreatic cancer in 1994, I set about acquiring the rest: Dangerous (1990), Relentless (1992) and Rant In E-Minor (1997), all of which are absolutely essential. Rant In E-Minor, in particular, is one of the greatest records, comedy or otherwise, that any woman or man has ever in the history of making-noises-that-can-be-heard-later-on-in-a-different-room put their name to, IMO, IMHO, ROFL, FTW!!!

But here now is something else that needs to be said, and that tends to be forgotten when Bill Hicks is invoked of an afternoon or an evening and we’re all sat slobbering at our collective vision of the man like a roomful of horny Lion-O’s before a Jaga made out thoughts of people looking at our balls.

There’s a tension that exists in those performances that all this talk of “sage” and “visionary” and what have you not tends to cloud. A schism, mean to say, between the lefty/liberal, come-on-people-now, fuck-the-fuckers pose, and the worldview attested to by a fair chunk of the material itself. Times, that is, when Hicks is stood there like Nietzsche having just spent a week shuddering his way through a thought about anyone other than Nietzsche, telling us all, in case we forgot, that he is, indeed, a visionary, and that the rest of us are so far beneath him that were we to spend the next ten thousand years digging upwards through the clouds with spades of fire and gorgon-gaze and revelation, still we’d be lucky if we got close enough to suck the damp out the laces of a pair of knackered Air Jordans he threw out his window sixteen centuries past.

About Aaron McMullan

  • El Bicho

    Shark and Barger recently show up in comments and now an article by the Duke, who no longer identifies himself as such to the masses, so they may not know to what I refer, although that’s not an isolated occurrence. A wonderful trip down memory lane while also existing in the now this is.

    Welcome back and thanks for drawing attention to this film. I was one of the few Americans who enjoyed him when he was around on TV and even opening for Kinison once or twice. He was in the George Carlin mode but rarely let people just laugh without thinking and the mirror was too much for some, especially in America, especially in certain parts, especially at that time.

    I am so looking forward to taking a gander at it because the film by Ron Howard sounds like a terrible idea since it’s going to be by Ron Howard.

  • Flex

    The documentary is somewhat superficial, nonetheless, very important, because it shows how everything started for Bill Hicks, and there is great archive footage of his early stand-ups. It also makes one feel very interested particularly in his great come back moment, after he gave up drugs and alcohol, and as far as what made him become the Bill Hicks that conquered the UK unfortunately little was said about this period in the movie.

    The final scenes are Hicks’ best moments. And after the late George Carlin there was nobody else who could have filled his shoes and enlightened audiences with greater political insights such as Bill.

  • Eric Olsen

    Blessed again we are with Dukification!

  • Mat Brewster

    I’ll add my huzzahs to the return of the Duke, er, Aaron McMullan whoever the hell that is.

    Also, love Bill Hicks. Must see this documentary.

  • Aaron McMullan

    Ach God love you, the lot of you, the terrible welcome you make a fella feel.

    Sir Bicho – thank you very much, sire, and I do hope this number makes its way to the US fairly soon. It does sort of make sense, regardless of the title, that we get it first, since not only is it made by a couple brit cats, but also, as you say, a scant few there were who gave him much of the time of day in his own country. In that respect, I suppose, the Howard flick might do more good than harm. Still, it’d be better if this were to attain some sort of Capturing The Friedmans/Devil and Daniel Johnston break-out momentum instead, that we might be spared Parenthicks, or, God forbid, A Beautiful Bill. The Bill Hicks Code, mind you, I would support with each of the me’s that are mine.

    Flexcin, thank you for the comment, Bill’s standing in the UK is touched upon a fair bit towards the end of the picture, I thought. Certainly there are a few avenues – in addition to those flagged in the article doohickey – that could’ve done with a bit more inspecting. But then, there’s only so much you can do with an hour and a half.

    Sir Olsen – glad I am, sire, to be back!

    Sir Brewster – A grand time of it, you’re in for. As I say, one of the main delights of the thing is the ammount of “fresh” material it has hanging about itself. A DVD stuffed to the backs of the balls with much more of the same would be an absolute wonder, and hopefully that’s what we’re in for.

  • Scott Butki

    What’s up with the name changes, guys?

    I loved the documentary – I saw it when it was screened at south by southwest and wrote about it.

    I’ll seed your piece over at newsvine if you don’t mind and steer those who read my piece there over here.

  • Aaron McMullan

    Scott, thank you very much, man, I am very grateful for that. And I really enjoyed reading your take on the whole shebang, also.

  • Steve

    This is one of the best things I’ve ever read!!!

  • Aaron McMullan

    Lord above, Steve, that is a sore lovely thing to be sayin’ of an afternoon or an evening or any time at all that might be halfways measurable. Thank you, sir, for your comment and for takin’ the time to have a wee nosey in the first place.