There may as well be a scientifically defined species difference between the kind of light comedy lover who follows comics like Dane Cook and Gallagher and the type who appreciate the incendiary barbs of hard-hitting truth with a spoonful of hilarity to wash it down. The two types generally don’t mix together well in a room, if we’re being honest. It’s this type of divide that enables such a wild variety of talent onstage, and while there are more than enough goofball comedians vying for a spot on the next endearingly-dysfunctional-family TV sitcom, there are very few comedy minds wiling to go to the polar-opposite depths of analytical depravity that Bill Hicks did.
Incredibly, the man only lived 32 years (he died of pancreatic cancer in 1994), but Bill Hicks ran the comedy gamut early on, honing his craft and stage presence from that of a lovable smartass cutting down the idiot herd commonfolk to a fine point of snarling sociopolitical commentary with a sheen of self-righteousness. Cancer claimed him early, but not before he caught fire with other influential minds, including David Cross and Lewis Black. Progressive rockers Tool included his "Drugs have done good things for people" narrative on the psychedelic wonderland track "Third Eye," as well as a painting of Hicks in the liner notes to their blistering 1997 album Aenima (on which the song is featured), with the caption "Another Dead Hero".
There’s a reason the man is so heavily revered, even 16 years after his death. His impact and brilliance can be seen in action on Bill Hicks: The Essential Collection, a CD/DVD multimedia reflection on the man which features two CDs worth of highlights from Hicks’ albums, a great deal of which was recorded after 1990, well into Hicks’ full-throttle point of sociopolitical cynicism. Also included are two DVDs, which contain hours of video dating back to 1981, when Hicks was just a teenage stand-up in Houston.
This four-disc set is a beautiful archive of the man’s unbridled, urgent fury in reaction to the state of American culture. He openly challenged audiences with his strongly left-leaning views and his vulgarity, which led Hicks to describe himself as "Chomsky with dick jokes." He despised conservatives, hypocrites and religious dogma, and didn’t find your kids special no matter how many bumper stickers you had on your car stating the contrary.
Most importantly, Bill made you think. He opened viewers’ eyes to their position in the herd, excoriated the complete farce we’re fed for a culture and dismantled each and every fear-mongering or misleading current opinion that crossed his path.
Watch a clip in which Hicks addresses the hypocrisy of the War on Drugs, while examining the system’s equal enthusiasm for supporting the alcohol industry.
The two CDs found in Bill Hicks: The Essential Collection present highlight material from all seven of Hicks’ comedy albums, as well as 11 tracks from a San Ramon, CA show though no date of the performance is given. The man passed nearly two decades ago, so you’ll have to forgive the dated references (such as when Hicks rails against the movie Basic Instinct and the first President Bush), though the material is equally damning and incendiary when applied to current situations.
Imagine the incredible fun Hicks would’ve had in deconstructing George W. Bush’s presidency, or the truth behind 9/11. The ultimate cherry on top would undoubtedly be Sarah Palin, who seems to stand for every tiny detail of what he hated most about the de-evolution of American culture. But I digress.
The two DVDs contain material from Hicks’ personal archives, most of which the world has never seen. "Early Years 1981-’86" presents video from four appearances, including a poolside interview in 1988 discussing the Outlaw Comics, a group of Houston comedians that included Sam Kinison. Various other oddities are included, but none more bizarre than the self-made Hicks-created film Ninja Bachelor Party, which we’ll reserve judgement on out of deference to the man who had such a meaningfully analytical and incendiary perspective on our culture.
The last element of the collection is Lo-Fi Troubadour, an album of original songs sung and performed on acoustic guitar by Hicks, done with genuine intent instead of the usual slapstick comic recordings.
If you’re looking for a great gift for the black sheep in the family, the one who likes to pull the veil from the ugly truth of humanity and laugh at the warts and blemishes, you’ve found it. Pick up Bill Hicks: The Essential Collection at Amazon.