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‘Bill Hicks: Love All The People – Letters, Lyrics, Routines’ – More Material For A Comedy Cult
When I think of Bill Hicks I most immediately remember that he died around the same time as Kurt Cobain, but to considerably less fanfare. (Not that the mainstream media seemed too up on who exactly Cobain was, either, caught on the hop by a musical movement they’d been doing their best to disregard and talk over.)
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Hicks is a one-man cult that’s acquired some kind of saint-like status over the years, revered, imitated, adored and idealized. I would undoubtedly count myself as a fan – mostly because I love any fearless voice in comedy, the imposition of a unique worldview without respect for social constraints and ‘we’ve always done it this way’ and ‘you can’t say THAT!’
But I have trouble with any notion of ‘Saint Bill’, since it requires so much air-brushing of history and re-classifying of jokes and routines from one category to another. Certainly if not a misogynist, Hicks was initially a tad unreconstructed in his approach to sexual politics in his early comedy career. I guess he had a right to freely express what he was really thinking and really found funny (and maybe air a few biases and fantasies too). Certainly I’d sooner have even an out and out woman hater expressing himself freely, rather than one thinking one thing in private and publicly saying another. I just think, call it what it is: say what you want, but call it what it is.
And the repurposing of work! With the whole Eddie Izzard kerfuffle over re-using comic material, I guess many comics have had to reconsider their mode of synthesising routines and rethink their whole approach. Seemingly it’s common practice for a comedian to re-tool routines gradually until new material is introduced and invigorates the work. All I can say is, after extensive viewing and re-viewing of Hick’s available audio-visual material, is that he conducted this process very, very slowly!
Is this book, ‘Bill Hicks: Love All The People – Letters, Lyrics, Routines’, published by Constable in 2004, examining Hicks’s life and work worth the price of admission? It does include an awful lot of transcriptions of recorded material, which may or may not be a good thing depending on how familiar you are with his routines. On the other hand there’s other stuff in there: interviews, letters, essays, reviews and lyrics. Hard to resist for a true devotee and aficionado! Go on, you know you want to!