Almanac Comedy: My Favourite Comedies #1

 

Bill Hicks – blowtorch, excavator, truthsayer, and brain specialist. He will correct your vision. Others will drive on the road he built.” – Tom Waits

 

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Hope you’re doing well tonight. I’m glad to be here. I’ve been on the road now for ten years, so bear with me while I plaster on a fake smile and plough through this shit one more time……just teasing, it’s magic every show.” – Bill Hicks

 

Warning- The enclosed videos contain coarse language that some may find offensive.

 

For as long as I can remember, the Melbourne Comedy Festival has concluded with a show called the Moosehead Awards, whereby a collection of comics that have appeared over the last month, get up and do 5-10 min ‘bits’ and raise money to assist young acts producing shows for the following year. It’s always sold out and a ripper couple of hours.

 

In 1993 I went to the Mooseheads with some friends and I’m not saying that the heavens parted and a beam of light shone down on the stage, but a lanky, cocky Texan dressed in all black came on stage and changed the way I looked at comedy and life for that matter.  With all due respect to all the comics that appeared that night, there was daylight between Bill Hicks and the rest.

 

Sadly Melbourne was where Bill was feeling the first signs of pancreatic cancer and we lost him 10 months later. Bill was at the tipping point of super stardom, writing scripts, having appeared on Letterman eleven times, conquered Edinburgh and was playing 2000 seat theatres in the UK. He had overcome alcohol and cocaine addiction for over five years and was at the top of his game artistically. I’ve just finished reading his biography by his best mate Kevin Booth for the second time and it’s still very emotional. He was a prodigy and I’ll do my best to explain why.

 

Bill came from a Southern Baptist family in a part of Houston, Texas that I would imagine looks like ‘Pleasantville’. It was a nuclear family, Dad Jim, Mum Mary, brother Steve and sister Lynn, everyone a college graduate. Nothing to complain about. Bill was an outstanding athlete at high school, especially track and baseball but had no passion for it. He loved rock n roll, Woody Allen and reading books.

 

 

When he was 13, inspired by Allen, he started writing jokes and when he was 15 he was appearing at The Houston Annex Comedy Club in front of paying adults with his close friend Dwight Slade. Bill would sneak out of his first floor bedroom window and hop into Kevin Booth’s car to take him to the venue. When Dwight moved to Oregon it was just Bill solo and he thrived, whilst Dwight continues to have a successful stand up career to this day. This is the comedic duo’s promotional headshot aged about 15, maybe younger.

 

 

Bill decided to avoid college and go it alone in LA when he was eighteen, where he started extending his craft for a year. Jokes about school and family were about his limit then but as you can see here in this rare footage, Bill was well and truly into his groove at having just turned nineteen and back home in Houston, looking like a boy scout.

 

 

 

 

The Houston Comics were known as the Outlaws and renowned for their partying. Bill, a staunch non-drinker, non-drug taker and non-smoker, was the antithesis of all three by the age of 21. In Booth’s biography, Agent of Evolution, there are numerous accounts of Bill’s exploits which, the second time around for me, an ex-addict, I frankly didn’t enjoy.

 

Bill was someone who whenever he took on something he was passionate about, was 100% “in”. He was always searching for the next thing, continuously trying to improve, whether it was his comedy, reading about different religions, transcendental meditation or experimenting on psilocybin mushrooms. Simply, alcohol made him angry and cocaine enabled him to drink for longer.

 

By the time Bill was 25 he was clean and working voraciously. I’ve heard it said that you need 10,000 hours of practice to attain mastery at something, well Bill averaged between 250-300 shows a year. It wouldn’t matter if there was five or five hundred in the audience, the stage was his pulpit and he was the preacher. No need for a set list, he “winged it” having so much material to call on. If he heard someone comment on a particular subject that day he would build it into his set and test it out, knowing  it could likely develop into something else.

 

Bill was a prolific reader and if he wasn’t working his one hour a day, it’s most probably where you would find him when he was on the road, head buried in a book. This is one of his most infamous ‘bits’ about taking a break in a waffle house.

 

 

 

 

American audiences didn’t understand him but the English did. From playing to a handful of hillbillies and a slot machine in Arkansas, Bill suddenly found himself performing to huge crowds in the UK in centuries old theatres. This bit is from the wonderful album Arizona Bay, where Bill describes the difference between crime in the USA and the UK.

 

 

 

 

Speaking of the LA riots, this is another brilliant piece about Reginald Denny, the poor guy who stopped driving his truck when confronted by a gang of thugs.

 

 

 

 

There was little considered taboo for Bill to talk about. He was seen as a demon in some religious circles and cities in the US but he could gladly debate it because he was so well read and practiced.  I know little about religion but like Bill and many others, it’s the level of hypocrisy within the institutions that’s so frustrating. Whether its the wars or the people that commit grievous acts in the name of their God, nothing has changed or is willing to evolve.  Bill was particularly vicious in attacking fundamentalist Christians who in the US make up approx. 40% of the population and don’t stand for anything Bill read about and inspired him in the Bible. He didn’t hold back when discussing religion but this is a memorable ‘bit’ relating to Easter. (a Lincoln Log is a chocolate bar in the US)

 

 

 

 

Bill, performed twelve times on Letterman’s top rating tonight show. Unfortunately after filming the 12th on October 1st 1993, Bill was back in his hotel room in New York when he got a call from the show’s producer saying that his bit was cancelled due to the content not being in line with the sponsor’s taste. One of those sponsors was a donor of the pro- life movement. This was devastating for Bill as he only had four months to live and there was absolutely nothing wrong with the set. Fifteen years later, a guilt ridden Letterman dedicated over half of one of his shows to Bill, inviting his Mum Mary onto the show to give a formal apology, then played the original set. This is the final part (there are three parts on youtube) of the interview with Mary including Bill’s set:

 

 

 

 

Bill was no saint but I think you always knew where you stood with him. He adored his family and friends and passed away quietly holding Mary’s hand at their home in Little Rock Arkansas. He was 32. I’ve read a lot about the man over the years and there have been websites dedicated to him that were all about, ‘what would Bill say today’. I’ve had no interest in them but a couple of my nephews and I saw a British comic ten years ago at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, doing a show as ‘Bill Hicks, the Angel’. He came out in a big pair of angel wings and delivered fifty minutes of ‘Bill-like’ observations relating to 9/11, internet porn and reality TV in the style of Bill. 10/10 for effort but it wasn’t the same.

 

Bill has left an enormous legacy and he was someone who crammed a lifetime of experiences into 32 years. In 2020 I spent a fair bit of time listening to US commentators discussing Trump and his disastrous reign. Commentators like Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, Seth Myers and Bill Maher are satirists backed by a plethora of writers who do witty stuff. My issue with them is that Trump was easy fodder for a comic. What about the hundreds of thousands of citizens that were dying? I found their commentary lame, lazy and impotent in the face of a pandemic and an imbecilic, dangerous President.

 

I honestly believe that if Bill were alive, something proactive to hold Trump to account would have been created much earlier, especially given the technology now available that was non-existent then. Bill Maher even admitted after the Jan 6 riot that he should have done more rather than taking the piss out of a clown President. Too late champ.

 

Some final tit bits from the great man if you’re interested.

 

Perhaps my favourite bit discussing his parents and family holidays:

 

 

 

 

Bill loved rock n roll and was utterly dismayed by the some of the music in the 80’s and the ‘corporate whores’ who played it. He wanted authentic artists who played hard on and off the stage (I am available for children’s parties):

 

 

 

 

Advertising and marketing were high on Bill’s hate list as were celebrities selling their souls doing TV ads…….. unless you’re Willie Nelson:

 

 

 

 

Hard to believe but yes, Bill made it to Hey Hey It’s Saturday (Australia’s top rating family variety show for 20 years) during his 1993 trip to Melbourne (follow the link for this one):

 

 

 

 

Bill disliked marijuana but had these great arguments as to why it should be legalised:

 

 

 

 

Bill on relationships:

 

 

 

 

Bill’s famous positive LSD story as read on the 6 o’clock news and used by the band Tool on their first album:

 

 

 

 

If you’re interested in more Bill, a good place to start is the award winning 2009 documentary The American, ironically produced by 2 x Englishman.

 

 

 

 

Bill left what money he had to The Bill Hicks Wildlife Foundation. The website is http://www.billhicks.org

 

Another excellent website with lots of excellent links is www.billhicksforever.org

 

Yes it’s bordering on obsession but Bill sits proudly overlooking us in our lounge room.

 

 

 

 

Bill was respected worldwide by his peers and many have been quoted but I like this one from English actor/writer Simon Pegg who said, “Bill Hicks wasn’t just a comic. He was a crusader against humanity’s relentless capacity to underachieve.” Nicely put. RIP Bill. Love ya mate.

 

 

“I left in love, laughter and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit” Bill Hicks 1994

 

 

 

Part 1: #27 – #20 can be read HERE

 

Part 2: #15 – #19 can be read HERE

 

Part 3: #12 – #14 can be read HERE

 

Part 4: #11 –  can be read HERE

 

Part 5: #9 – #10 can be read HERE

 

Part 6: #8 –  can be read  HERE

 

Part 7: #6 – #7 can be read HERE

 

Part 8: #4 – #5 can be read HERE

 

Part 9: #2 – #3 can be read HERE

 

 

Read more from Ian Wilson HERE

 

 

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About Ian Wilson

Former army aircraft mechanic, sales manager, VFA footballer and coach. Now mental health worker and blogger. Lifelong St Kilda FC tragic and father to 2 x girls.

Comments

  1. John Butler says

    Ian, 30 years on Bill Hicks is still my go- to comedian when I need a laugh. He was fearless.

    Back in the day, he was a complete revelation. I had the Relentless CD on constant play for years.

    Outstanding number 1 pick, IMHO.

    Cheers

  2. thanks heaps John much appreciated

  3. Peter Zitterschlager says

    Loved the countdown, Ian, and agreed with most of your placings. Bill at number 1 is well deserved. He is hands down the greatest comedian ever.

  4. Glad you enjoyed it Peter. He was years ahead of his time. Still more than relevant now. many thanks

  5. Very hard to disagree with your #1, Ian.

    Bill Hicks was unique, and as you point out he was oft-imitated but never bettered.

  6. Thanks Smokie. Yes many have tried but never succeeded. As John mentioned it wasn’t just his intelligence that shone but his courage could never be questioned.

  7. george smith says

    For those gentlemen affected by Bill Hicks’ schtick about women loving jerks may I suggest the following:

    Reddit Friend Zone – a harsh assessment of your current situation when it comes to unrequited love, by folks who have been there, with a genuine hope that you will give up your fantasies and move on with your life.

    Bill Burr – the world’s harshest agony aunt (uncle) who will give you the unvarnished truth for any situation from divorce to forgetting your wife’s birthday…

  8. Thanks George. Not familiar with Reddit Friend Zone but have watched some Bill Burr and had a chuckle. We saw Jim Jeffries pre covid and of the modern satirists it was ok but not totally convincing. Steve Hughes we’ve seen many times and he is brilliant. A stand up with real intellect and conviction.

  9. george smith says

    Alright the Oscars for best comedy have been awarded, may I humbly present the Razzies for comedies I hate.

    Number 3 Our Man in the Company. I don’t actually hate this, I hate the political interference. In 1973 the ABC presented a pilot for a comedy, Our Man in Canberra, starring Jeff Ashby as a hapless backbencher. The ABC commissioners took exception to this and forced the writers to change the setting from Parliament to a corporation. (As if you could find such a thing in Canberra at the time instead of a branch office). Sadly the watered down version was as funny as lukewarm lemonade.

    Number 2 – Anything by Chris Lilley. Another pantomime dame. If you are going to make a comedy about the Australian version of Mean Girls, then how about getting a real mean girl from Home and Away to play the lead instead of slipping awkwardly into a school uniform yourself. Similarly with Jonah from Tonga, plenty of Islander actors about. If the guy was remotely convincing as either a schoolgirl or a young Islander then maybe he could get away with it, that’s assuming he’s funny, which he definitely isn’t…

    Number One – I wanted to give this to On the Buses, that sad classic British lead balloon of combination sexual innuendo and marital misery. But in the end there is only ONE Morcambe and Wise. They would invite guests on, Wise would simper about them like Molly Meldrum then Morcambe would come in make rude remarks that were neither coherent nor funny, but the audience lapped it up. Presumably Mr Morcambe was extremely feelthy live, but it was all tame for television. As funny as hiitting your knee on the coffee table. A true worst of the worst.

  10. haha! I hope it feels better getting that off your chest George! Can’t disagree with you although I thankfully missed Our Man in the Country by the sounds. cheers

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