William Melvin Hicks (December 16, 1961 – February 26, 1994) was an American stand-up comedian, social critic, satirist and musician. His material—encompassing a wide range of social issues including religion, politics, and philosophy—was controversial and often steeped in dark comedy.
At the age of 16, while still in high school, Hicks began performing at the Comedy Workshop in Houston, Texas. During the 1980s, he toured the U.S. extensively and made a number of high-profile television appearances, but it was in the UK that he amassed a significant fan base, filling large venues during his 1991 tour. He also achieved some recognition as a guitarist and songwriter.
Hicks died of pancreatic cancer on February 26, 1994, at the age of 32. In subsequent years, his work gained significant acclaim in creative circles—particularly after a series of posthumous album releases—and he developed a substantial cult following. In 2007, he was No. 6 on Channel 4's list of the "100 Greatest Stand-Up Comics", and rose to No. 4 on the 2010 list. In 2017, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him No. 13 on its list of the 50 best stand-up comics of all time.
Hicks at The Laff Stop in 1991
|Birth name||William Melvin Hicks|
|Born||December 16, 1961|
Valdosta, Georgia, U.S.
|Died||February 26, 1994 (aged 32)|
Little Rock, Arkansas, U.S.
|Genres||Dark comedy, political satire, observational comedy|
|Subject(s)||American culture, American politics, current events, pop culture, human sexuality, philosophy, religion, spirituality, recreational drug use, entheogens, conspiracy theories, consumerism|
Hicks was born in Valdosta, Georgia, the son of James Melvin "Jim" Hicks (1923–2006) and Mary Reese Hicks. He had an older sister, Lynn, and an older brother, Steve. The family lived in Alabama, Florida, and New Jersey before settling in Houston, Texas when Hicks was seven years old. He was drawn to comedy at an early age, emulating Woody Allen and Richard Pryor, and would write routines with his friend Dwight Slade. At school, he began performing comedy (mostly derivations of Woody Allen material) for his classmates. At home, he would write his own one-liners and slide them under the bedroom door of Steve, the only family member he respected, for critical analysis. Steve told him, "Keep it up. You're really good at this."
Early on, Hicks began to mock his family's Southern Baptist religious beliefs. He joked to the Houston Post in 1987, "We were Yuppie Baptists. We worried about things like, 'If you scratch your neighbor's Subaru, should you leave a note?'" Biographer Cynthia True described a typical argument with his father:
Hicks did not, however, reject spiritual ideology itself, and throughout his life he sought various alternative methods of experiencing it. Kevin Slade, elder brother of Dwight, introduced him to Transcendental Meditation and other forms of spirituality. Over one Thanksgiving weekend, he took Hicks and Dwight to a Transcendental Meditation residence course in Galveston. Worried about his rebellious behavior, his parents took him to a psychoanalyst at age 17. According to Hicks, the analyst took him aside after the first group session and told him, "You can continue coming if you want to, but it's them, not you."
By January 1986, Hicks was using recreational drugs and his financial resources had dwindled. However his career received another upturn in 1987, when he appeared on Rodney Dangerfield's Young Comedians Special. The same year, he moved to New York City, and for the next five years performed about 300 times a year. On the album Relentless, he jokes that he quit using drugs because "once you've been taken aboard a UFO, it's kind of hard to top that", although in his performances, he continued to extol the virtues of LSD, marijuana, and psychedelic mushrooms.
He eventually fell back to chain smoking, a theme that would figure heavily in his performances from then on. His nicotine addiction, love of smoking, and occasional attempts to quit became a recurring theme in his act throughout his later years.
In 1988, Hicks signed on with his first professional business manager, Jack Mondrus.
On the track "Modern Bummer" of his 1990 album Dangerous, Hicks says he quit drinking alcohol in 1988.
In 1989, he released his first video, Sane Man; a remastered version with 30 minutes of extra footage was released in 1999.
In 1990, Hicks released his first album, Dangerous, performed on the HBO special One Night Stand, and performed at Montreal's Just for Laughs festival. He was also part of a group of American stand-up comedians performing in London's West End in November. Hicks was a huge hit in the UK and Ireland and continued touring there throughout 1991. That year, he returned to Just for Laughs and filmed his second video, Relentless.
Hicks made a brief detour into musical recording with the Marble Head Johnson album in 1992 collaborating with Houston high school friend Kevin Booth and Austin Texas drummer Pat Brown. During the same year he toured the UK, where he recorded the Revelations video for Channel 4. He closed the show with his soon-to become-famous philosophy regarding life, "It's Just a Ride." Also in that tour he recorded the stand-up performance released in its entirety on a double CD titled Salvation. Hicks was voted "Hot Standup Comic" by Rolling Stone magazine in 1993. He moved to Los Angeles in 1992.
Progressive metal band Tool invited Hicks to open a number of concerts in its 1993 Lollapalooza appearances, where Hicks once asked the audience to look for a contact lens he had lost. Thousands of people complied.
Members of Tool felt that they and Hicks "were resonating similar concepts". Intending to raise awareness about Hicks's material and ideas, Tool dedicated their triple-platinum album Ænima (1996) to Hicks. Both the lenticular casing of the Ænima album packaging as well as the chorus of the title track "Ænema" make reference to a sketch from Hicks's Arizona Bay album, in which he contemplates the idea of Los Angeles falling into the Pacific Ocean. Ænima's final track, "Third Eye" contains samples from Hicks's Dangerous and Relentless albums.
An alternate version of the Ænima artwork shows a painting of Bill Hicks, calling him "Another Dead Hero," and mentions of Hicks are found both in the liner notes and on the record.
In 1984, Hicks was invited to appear on Late Night with David Letterman for the first time. He had a joke that he used frequently in comedy clubs about how he caused a serious accident that left a classmate using a wheelchair. NBC had a policy that no handicapped jokes could be aired on the show, making his stand-up routine difficult to perform without mentioning words such as "wheelchair."
On October 1, 1993, Hicks was scheduled to appear on Late Show with David Letterman on CBS, where Letterman had recently moved. It was his 12th appearance on a Letterman late-night show, but his entire performance was removed from the broadcast: until that point the only occasion where a comedian's entire routine was cut after taping. Hicks' stand-up routine was removed from the show, Hicks said, because Letterman's producers believed the material, which included jokes involving religion and the anti-abortion movement, was unsuitable for broadcast. Producer Robert Morton initially blamed CBS, which denied responsibility; Morton later conceded it was his decision. Although Letterman later expressed regret at the way Hicks had been handled, Hicks did not appear on the show again. Hicks was undergoing chemotherapy at the time of his final Late Show appearance, unbeknownst to Letterman and most others outside of Hicks' family and died less than four months later.
Letterman finally aired the censored routine in its entirety on January 30, 2009. Hicks' mother, Mary, was present in the studio and appeared on-camera as a guest. Letterman took responsibility for the original decision to remove Hicks' set from the 1993 show. "It says more about me as a guy than it says about Bill," he said, after the set aired, "because there was absolutely nothing wrong with that".
For many years, Hicks was friends with fellow comedian Denis Leary, but in 1993, Hicks was angered by Leary's album No Cure for Cancer, which featured lines and subject matter similar to Hicks' routine. According to American Scream: The Bill Hicks Story by Cynthia True, upon hearing the album Bill was furious. "All these years, aside from the occasional jibe, he had pretty much shrugged off Leary's lifting. Comedians borrowed, stole stuff, and even bought bits from one another. Milton Berle and Robin Williams were famous for it. This was different. Leary had practically taken line for line huge chunks of Bill's act and recorded it." The friendship ended abruptly as a result.
At least three stand-up comedians have gone on the record stating they believe Leary stole Hicks' material as well as his persona and attitude. In an interview, when Hicks was asked why he had quit smoking, he answered, "I just wanted to see if Denis would, too." In another interview, Hicks said, "I have a scoop for you. I stole his [Leary's] act. I camouflaged it with punchlines, and, to really throw people off, I did it before he did." During a 2003 Comedy Central Roast of Denis Leary, comedian Lenny Clarke, a friend of Leary's, said there was a carton of cigarettes backstage from Bill Hicks with the message, "Wish I had gotten these to you sooner." This joke was cut from the final broadcast.
The controversy surrounding plagiarism is also mentioned in American Scream:
Hicks's performance style was seen as a play on his audience's emotions. He expressed anger, disgust, and apathy while addressing the audience in a casual and personal manner, which he likened to merely conversing with his friends. He would invite his audiences to challenge authority and the existential nature of "accepted truth." One such message, which he often used in his shows, was delivered in the style of a news report (in order to draw attention to the negative slant news organizations give to any story about drugs):
The American philosopher and ethnomycologist Terence McKenna was a frequent source of Hicks' most controversial psychedelic and philosophical counter-cultural material; he infamously acted out an abridged version of McKenna's "Stoned Ape" model of human evolution as a routine during several of his final shows.
Another of Hicks' most quoted lines was delivered during a gig in Chicago in 1989 (later released as the bootleg I'm Sorry, Folks). After a heckler repeatedly shouted "Free Bird", Hicks screamed, "Hitler had the right idea; he was just an underachiever!" Hicks followed this remark with a misanthropic tirade calling for unbiased genocide against the whole of humanity.
Much of Hicks' routine involved direct attacks on mainstream society, religion, politics, and consumerism. Asked in a BBC interview why he cannot do a routine that appeals "to everyone", he said that such an act was impossible. He responded by repeating a comment that an audience member once made to him, "We don't come to comedy to think!", to which he replied, "Gee, where do you go to think? I'll meet you there!" When asked whether there was a "half way" point between audience expectations and his own, he said: "but my way is half-way between, I mean, this is a night-club, and, you know, these are adults, and what do you expect?"
Hicks often discussed popular conspiracy theories in his performances, most notably the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He mocked the Warren Report and the official version of Lee Harvey Oswald as a "lone nut assassin." He also questioned the guilt of David Koresh and the Branch Davidian compound during the Waco Siege. Hicks would end some of his shows, especially those being recorded in front of larger audiences as albums, with a mock "assassination" of himself on stage, making gunshot sound effects into the microphone while falling to the ground.
On June 16, 1993, Hicks was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that had spread to his liver. He started receiving weekly chemotherapy, while still touring and also recording his album, Arizona Bay, with Booth. He was also working with comedian Fallon Woodland on a pilot episode of a new talk show, titled Counts of the Netherworld for Channel 4 at the time of his death. The budget and concept had been approved, and a pilot was filmed. The Counts of the Netherworld pilot was shown at the various Tenth Anniversary Tribute Night events around the world on February 26, 2004. After being diagnosed with cancer, Hicks would often joke that any given performance could be his last; the public, however, was unaware of his condition, and only a few close friends and family members knew of the disease. He performed the final show of his career at Caroline's in New York on January 6, 1994; he moved back to his parents' house in Little Rock, Arkansas, shortly thereafter. He called his friends to say goodbye before he stopped speaking on February 14.
Hicks died from the effects of pancreatic cancer on Saturday, February 26, 1994 in Little Rock at the age of 32. His body was buried in the family grave plot in Magnolia Cemetery, Leakesville, Mississippi.
In early 1995 his family released a brief essay that Hicks had written a week prior to his death:
In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, comedians and comedy insiders voted Hicks 13th on their list of "The Top 20 Greatest Comedy Acts Ever". In "Comedy Central Presents: 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time" (2004), Hicks was ranked 19th. In March 2007, he was voted sixth on Britain's Channel 4 list of the 100 Greatest Stand-Up Comics, and rose to number four on the 2010 list.
Devotees have incorporated Hicks' words, image, and attitude into their own creations. By means of audio sampling, fragments of his rants, diatribes, social criticisms, and philosophies have found their way into many musical works, such as the live version of Super Furry Animals' "The Man Don't Give a Fuck" and Adam Freeland's "We Want Your Soul". His influence on the band Tool is well documented as he is sampled at the beginning of their song "Third Eye"; he "appears" on the Fila Brazillia album Maim That Tune (1995) and on SPA's eponymously titled album SPA (1997), which are both dedicated to Hicks; the British band Radiohead's second album The Bends (1995) is also dedicated to his memory. American indie rock band Built to Spill's song "Planting Seeds" on its 2009 album There Is No Enemy alludes to Hicks's routine on advertising and marketing, which appears on the performance film Bill Hicks: Revelations. Singer/songwriter Tom Waits listed Rant in E-Minor as one of his 20 most cherished albums of all time.
Comedians who have cited Hicks as an inspiration include Joe Rogan, Dave Attell, Lewis Black, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Russell Brand, Ron White, Frankie Boyle, and Brendon Burns.
The British actor Chas Early portrayed Hicks in the one-man stage show Bill Hicks: Slight Return, which premiered in 2004. The show was co-written by Chas Early and Richard Hurst, and imagined Hicks's view of the world 10 years after his death.
Hicks is mentioned in the 1999 British film Human Traffic. In the movie, the young and hip club-going protagonist, "Jip" praises Hicks as an alternative thinker, and explains that he needs to get a regular infusion of Hicks's insights. Before leaving his house to start on the movie's main adventure, Jip states: "...first a daily injection of the late prophet Bill Hicks... just to remind me not to take life too seriously." He then watches a clip of one of Hicks's rants about drugs, and how they had never affected him badly.
Hicks is the subject of at least two tribute songs including "Bill Hicks" released in 2000 by fellow Texan Ed Hamell of Hamell on Trial, and the 2007 “Bill Hicks” by Australian gypsy-blues group Juke Baritone and The Swamp Dogs.
Rock band Clutch mentions Hicks in the song "How to Shake Hands" from their 2018 album, Book of Bad Decisions. "First thing that I'm gonna do is disclose all those U.F.O.s, put Jimi Hendrix on the 20 dollar bill, and Bill Hicks on a five note"
Annex Houston (1986) was a video of an early stand up performance live in Texas.
Sane Man (1989) is the first officially video recorded Bill Hicks show.
Ninja Bachelor Party (1991) is a 1991 low-budget comedy film produced by and starring Bill Hicks, Kevin Booth, and David Johndrow. It is a parody of martial arts movies and was intentionally dubbed improperly.
One Night Stand (1991) is an HBO stand-up series that first aired on February 15, 1989. The half-hour series aired weekly and featured stand-up comedy specials from some of the top performing comedians. The series originally comprised 55 specials over the course of its four years on HBO.
Relentless (1992) was recorded at the Centaur Theatre during the annual Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Despite the common title, the CD was recorded at a separate performance, after the Just for Laughs festival had closed.
Revelations (1992) is a live performance that Hicks performed at the Dominion Theatre, London in November 1992.
Russell Crowe announced in 2012 that he would direct a Bill Hicks biopic. Crowe was originally thought to be playing the comedian, but Mark Staufer, the actor's schoolmate and writer on the film, suggested the part is now open for casting. Production was expected to start in 2013, but, as of 2018, no further announcements regarding the film's progress have been made.
...from its triple-platinum 1996 release, "Ænima."
Bill Hicks, blowtorch, excavator, truthsayer and brain specialist, like a reverend waving a gun around.
I was definitely influenced by Bill Hicks. Well, maybe less 'influenced' than 'inspired by'. When I first met him, I was doing stuff that I do now, so maybe I wasn't directly influenced by him. But he was certainly inspiring.
Arizona Bay is an album by comedian Bill Hicks, posthumously released in 1997. It was released alongside Rant in E-Minor, marking three years since his death. The album's title refers to the hope that Los Angeles will one day fall into the ocean due to a major earthquake. Hicks contends that the world will be better off in L.A.'s absence:
Ahhh, it's gone, it's gone, it's gone...All the shitty shows are gone, all the idiots screaming in the fucking wind are dead, I love it...leaving nothing but a cool, beautiful serenity called Arizona Bay. That's right, when L.A. falls in the fucking ocean and is flushed away, all it will leave is Arizona Bay.Bill Hicks (American football)
Bill Hicks (born May 16, 1940) is a former American football coach and player who was the 15th head football coach for the Howard Payne University Yellow Jackets located in Brownwood, Texas, a position he held for three seasons, from 1982 until 1984. His career coaching record at Howard Payne was 6–23–1. As a player, Hicks was an all-conference center at Baylor in 1961, and was named to the Baylor All-Decade team of the 1960s. He returned to the school to coach, and spent over a decade there as a defensive assistant. He was elected to the Baylor Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017. After leaving Howard Payne in 1984, he spent four years on the defensive staff at the University of Texas at Austin. He spent the last years of his career coaching at the high school level in Texas, retiring in 2013.Bill Hicks discography
The discography of stand-up comedian Bill Hicks.Dangerous (Bill Hicks album)
Dangerous is the first live CD album released by stand-up comedian and satirist Bill Hicks in 1990, on New York-based Invasion Records. The album was recorded over two nights at Caroline's in New York City.
Nearly all of this material was previously performed in Hicks' Sane Man special in 1989.
The album sold about 5,000 units.
Hicks explained the title to the LA Times by referencing a quote he attributes to Thomas Jefferson, although the veracity of the quote is not confirmed.[Jefferson's] quote was "No idea is dangerous to society wherein that idea can be openly discussed." That's why the album is called "Dangerous," because I'm discussing drugs and things drugs do.Denis Leary
Denis Colin O'Leary (born August 18, 1957) is an American actor, comedian, singer, writer and producer. Leary was the star and co-creator of Rescue Me, which ended its seventh and final season on September 7, 2011. He has starred in many films including playing Captain George Stacy in Marc Webb's film, The Amazing Spider-Man, Cleveland Browns Head Coach Vince Penn in Ivan Reitman's film, Draft Day, and as the voice of Francis in A Bug's Life and Diego in the Ice Age franchise.
From 2015 to 2016, Leary wrote and starred in the comedy series, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll on FX.Kevin Booth
Kevin Booth (born October 2, 1961) is an American film director, producer, lecturer and musician. He was known for his documentary film series American Drug War. Booth worked with comedian Bill Hicks, until the time of his death on February 26, 1994 and posthumously produced Hicks' records Rant in E Minor and Arizona Bay.
Booth also explored controversial subjects such as the Waco siege and the New World Order. Booth lectures at universities while continuing to make more films about American drug policy.Marblehead Johnson
"Marblehead Johnson" is a song by The Bluetones, released as a standalone single in 1996. It peaked at number seven on the UK Singles Chart in late September 1996. It was also included on the band's 2006 compilation A Rough Outline: The Singles & B-Sides 95 - 03.
The song was written as a tribute to Bill Hicks.Ninja Bachelor Party
Ninja Bachelor Party is a 1991 low-budget comedy film produced by and starring Bill Hicks, Kevin Booth, and David Johndrow. It is a parody of martial arts movies and was intentionally dubbed improperly. It was filmed throughout Austin, Texas, and Houston, Texas, over the course of ten years due to the producers not taking the project seriously.No Cure for Cancer
No Cure for Cancer is one of Denis Leary's standup routines from the early 1990s. It was made into a television special, a book, and a compact disc, all with the same title. Leary's routine focuses on vegetarians, cigarette smoking, drug use, and political correctness.One Night Stand (American TV series)
One Night Stand is an HBO stand-up series that first aired on February 15, 1989. The half-hour series aired weekly and featured stand-up comedy specials from some of the top performing comedians. The series originally comprised 55 specials over the course of its four years on HBO. Comedians who performed on One Night Stand include Bill Hicks, Bill Maher, Colin Quinn, Dom Irrera, Gilbert Gottfried, Norm Macdonald, Eddie Griffin, Martin Lawrence, D.L. Hughley, Damon Wayans, Larry Miller, Ellen DeGeneres, Louis C.K., Charles Fleischer, and George Wallace. This first-run of the series ended in 1992, with repeats edited for language and time continuing for years over Comedy Central, a former associate network to HBO.
One Night Stand returned on August 19, 2005. The series aired each Friday at midnight through October 21, 2005, showing a total of ten half-hour stand-up specials. Some of the comedians included are Louis C.K, Jim Norton, Patrice O'Neal, Bill Burr, Bonnie McFarlane, Kevin Brennan, Omid Djalili, Flight of the Conchords, and more. The 2005 version was directed by Linda Mendoza.Philosophy (disambiguation)
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence and knowledge.
Philosophy may also refer to:
Philosophical theory, a larger body of systematic philosophical theory
Philosophy (journal), a journal published by the Cambridge University Press
Philosophy (brand), a North American cosmetics and skin care company
Philosophy (album), an album by Coldcut
Philosophy: The Best of Bill Hicks, an album by Bill Hicks
"Philosophy" (Ben Folds Five song)
"Philosophy", a song by Tom Snare
Philosophy, a 1640 painting by Salvator RosaRant in E-Minor
Rant in E-Minor is an album by comedian Bill Hicks, posthumously released in 1997 through Rykodisc. It was released alongside partner album Arizona Bay on February 25, 1997, marking three years since his death.
The material on this album is darker and angrier in tone than some of his earlier work; Hicks can be heard screaming at his audience in between chapters, and very prominently during the track "You're Wrong Night".
In 2016, Comedy Dynamics re-released the album in an expanded double-disc edition called Rant in E-Minor Variations.Relentless (Bill Hicks album)
Relentless is a live album by stand-up comedian and satirist Bill Hicks. It was his second CD release, and his last one before his death from pancreatic cancer in February 1994.Salvation (Bill Hicks album)
Salvation is a two-disc live album by stand-up comedian and satirist Bill Hicks posthumously released in 2005 on Rykodisc. It was recorded at the Oxford Playhouse, and is an unabridged version of Shock and Awe.Shock and Awe (album)
Shock and Awe is a live recording posthumously released by stand-up comedian and satirist Bill Hicks in 2003 on New York-based Invasion Records. It was recorded at the Oxford Playhouse, and is an abridged version of the album Salvation.Totally Bill Hicks
Totally Bill Hicks is a video, originally released in 1994, documenting the life and comedy of Bill Hicks. It consists of two parts: Revelations, a recording of his last live performance in the United Kingdom made at the Dominion Theatre, and It's Just A Ride, a documentary about Hicks' life which features interviews with friends, admirers, and family.
In 2002 it became the first of Hicks' videos to be released on DVD, prompting one critic to comment on how topical the comedian's material had remained. His joke about the Bush administration learning about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction "by looking at the receipt" was made in the context of the Gulf War, but was equally relevant in the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.W. W. Hicks Beach
Major William Whitehead Hicks Beach (23 March 1907 – 1 January 1975) was a Conservative politician in the United Kingdom. He was Member of Parliament for Cheltenham from 1950 to 1964 and was also an Alderman of Cheltenham Borough Council.
Bill Hicks (discography)