Today is the 20th anniversary of the death of the comedian Bill Hicks. One of the most thought-provoking, dark and controversial stand-up performers from the US since the likes of Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and Richard Pryor.
The first time I heard Bill Hicks was on a Select Magazine sampler tape, taken from his performance at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal. We had good stock of satirical or 'alternative' comedy in the UK, a long legacy of boundary-pushing comedians since The Goons or Monty Python. But Bill lit me up like a firework on first listen. He was different. His political and social commentary, flipped on its head and back again, the widely accepted moral approach to life offered by religion and western so-called civilisation. I was not familiar with Lenny Bruce at the time, so he appealed to the albeit quiet and middle class rebel in me, my search for individual identity and rejection of values from my conformist Catholic education.
Bill personified the counter-culture which rose during the late 80s and early 90s. Many of us completely fatigued and in despair after years of Tory government, destroying the country with capitalist greed. But his routines, with few gags and lengthy 'editorials' - as he termed it - brutally, without apology, cut to the core of hypocrisy and injustice. You could not outright label him politically. His approach to topics such as abortion sympathised with popular feminist views, however, his routine glorifying his use of pornography were inflammatory, if you took him too seriously.
Now I am a mother, my attitude has changed towards a few parts of his comedy. His somewhat naive stance on drugs, 'I think drugs have done some good things for us. I really do.' plus references to desiring under-age girls sexually, even though meant sarcastic, were uncomfortable - his delivery was not always sarcastic enough. Which is what made him deeply unpopular in the Bible-fevered US mainstream.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of his doctrine heavily influenced my thinking and how I approach forming an opinion. At least I try! He set the bar. He still make me weep with laughter, even though I am beyond counting how many times I've listened. With a lot of material available on Spotify, I have binge-listened in honour of his memory. He is with his maker (and I sincerely hope it is his version of God) but very much alive in the comedy hall of fame. Thank you Bill, teacher, jester, thorn in the establishment's side.
Listen to Dangerous on Spotify, probably my favourite.