One of the smartest and most under-appreciated standup comics of all time has a birthday today. Bill Hicks spent most of his life touring comedy clubs and theaters trying to bring the medium of standup to a higher level of consciousness and purpose. Sadly, he passed away at the age of 32 from pancreatic cancer before he could fully accomplish his mission.
Hicks got his start in the Houston comedy club scene at a very young age. He was still in his teens and had to sneak out with his friends to go to the Houston Laff Stop to perform on stage and the club had to get special permits just to allow them to even enter the club. He joined the Texas Outlaw Comics–the touring group of comedians founded by the late Sam Kinison–and booked himslef in just about any club that would have him as part of what he called his “Flying Saucer Tour.”
He courted controversy in his act as a means of diffusing anti-intellectual philosophies on topics such as sex, drugs, war, love, life, and everything in it. He adopted a take-no-prisoners approach to comedy and audiences who doubted him . Still, his act wasn’t about ranting for the sake of ranting. His goal was to present a deep message about love and fear to the crowds who came out to see him.
In fact, his most legendary accomplishment happened years after his passing. He had made several appearances on David Letterman’s Late Night and Late Show, but his final performance in 1993 didn’t make it to the airwaves. That was courtesy of some material that Letterman deemed too controversial for their audience. Letterman corrected the mistake in 2009 by airing Hicks’ set–and he even invited his mother on the show to apologize for it. So check out the comic who could even make Letterman get all sincere about something…