In the '90s What’s Up With That? Seinfeld era of pre-#firstworldproblems observational humor, Bill Hicks was a bristling outlier. What was up with Bill Hicks, really, was his rage. He railed against the evils of corporate greed, was outraged over consumer complacency, fought vehemently for the freedom of expression, and was deeply offended by the criminal unfunniness of Jay Leno. (No doubt, 20 years on, you can relate to one, if not all, of these trangressions.)
Much of his work has been made available over the years, but Rykodisc just released a new EP of previously unreleased material, in honor of his 50th birthday today, with plans for the definitive box set in mid-January.
While alive, his charged diatribes (which made up for in passion what they sometimes lacked in cohesion) were aggravating and off-putting to mainstream audiences, as evidenced by an infamous appearance (or rather, non-appearance) with on David Letterman that was rectified years later by the late-night host.
Still, the Texas-born Hicks, who began building his stand-up career in Hollywood in the '80s, has long had a cult following in the U.S., with an even larger fan base in the U.K. He’s endured as the inspiration of countless pop culture references, and was the subject of a recently released documentary chronicling the comedian’s brief but invaluable legacy. His caustic, anti-establishment humor (along with his music) has inspired a spectrum of hugely popular comics and artists, from David Cross to Russell Brand to Tom Waits.
Nearly 20 years after his death at 32 from cancer-related illness, Hicks’ body of work is worth a revisit in this age of unrest. Granted, in this cultural climate of self-promotion and personal branding—promoted here on this very website—Hicks’ notions about "selling out" seem contradictory and quaint. But Hicks saw comedians as artists, with integrity, autonomy, and the freedom to speak your mind as the ultimate goal—a goal something any creative mind can get behind.
In honor of what would’ve been his 50th year, we present a series of some of Bill Hicks’ best material. Warning: NSFW—particularly if you work in marketing or advertising.
Bill Hicks On Marketing:
Bill Hicks On Drugs and Evolution:
Bill Hicks On Religion: