On Thursday, Feb. 24, the Alamo Drafthouse Village will host the third Bill Hicks Night, in part to celebrate the release of this collection
Love All the People
by Bill Hicks, foreword by John Lahr
Soft Skull Press, 384 pp., $16.95 (paper)
When The New Yorker writer John Lahr profiled comedian Bill Hicks in a 1993 article, he captured the fearless, vociferous sage Hicks came to be known as. But he also humanized Hicks by showing his uncertainty with his future, his career. Shortly before his death from pancreatic cancer in February of 1994, Hicks' last performance on Letterman was cut, making him the first comic act to be censored on the show. Lahr, who was with Hicks right after the appearance, relays Bill's frustration at the censorship and close-mindedness. But even after the corporate hand dealt him the blow, and knowing he only had a few months left to live, Hicks continued to have an enlightened outlook: "As Bob Dylan said, 'The only way to live outside the law is to be totally honest.' So I will remain lawless."
Lawless is one way to describe Hicks' double-fisted approach to comedy and politics. This collection of routines, interviews, and random writings from his 15-year career covers drug use, UFOs, abortion, homelessness, and all the gray matter in between. Eerily prescient were his rants against Bush Sr. during the Gulf War: "Boy, Bush turned out to be a real demon, didn't he? Remember when Bush was first president? Cover of Newsweek: 'WIMP President!' Apparently, this stuck in the guy's craw a little bit. Guy turned into a fucking demon, man." Hicks also had the post-9/11 hypocrisy nailed way back in '92: "I believe the puppet on the right shares my beliefs. Well, I believe the puppet on the left is more to my liking. Hey, wait a minute, there's one guy holding up both puppets! Go back to bed, America, your government is in control."
Hicks just told the truth, bucking at the numbing banality of consumer-driven culture and basking in the white-hot glow of enlightenment between drags of a cigarette. He both embraced and assailed his audience, making them question their own existence while he inwardly examined his own. He never delivered on the "dick jokes" he assured the audience were coming when he imparted some heady cosmic wisdom. "I smoke," Hicks said in several acts. "If this bothers anyone, I recommend you look around the world in which we live ... and shut your fucking mouth." He was sitting on a powder keg, smelling the lack of outrage, and hearing the sound of a million shrugging shoulders. If he had been allowed to stick around for a few years, he could have ignited it. But, as Hicks often lamented, his kind are always the first to go.
The Alamo Drafthouse Village will host the third Bill Hicks Night, curated by The Show With No Name's Charlie Sotelo, on Thursday, Feb. 24, 9:45pm.