I grew up believing that British comedy was the best, as only the Canadian/British child of a Belgian French mother and an English American father can. It was true colonisation of the mind. The Goons, Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, Tony Hancock and Monty Python were unsurpassed, I thought.
Much later, I discovered Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and – surely the greatest of all – Bill Hicks. When Bill was on form, nobody was anything like as perfect. His routines on the first Gulf War stand out as the best and funniest commentary on war ever. As he lived from 1961-1994, I can only imagine what he would have made of the current wars in this world.
In 1992, he announced that institutions were crumbling and this was a good thing having already said – in all seriousness – that all advertising and marketing people should kill themselves, now, offering helpful practical hints on how they might do this.
At its best, there is nothing as visceral, real and outstanding as Bill. Simply, he told the truth and it was and remains utterly hilarious, while making you think more deeply about life, the universe and everything. I have become convinced that the best American comics – Bruce, Pryor and Bill – tap into something universal and deep that adds to understanding existence and laughing about it all, while learning.
I have been trying to see this movie for some time. I am a Bill Hicks obsessive. I can quote whole routines. His “life is just an amusement park ride” is brilliant in its own right, but poignant for his early death from pancreatic cancer.
Bill wasn’t a big exponent of clean living. He’d had a lot of fun on drugs and drink and shared some crazy stories about quite how much of a roller coaster ride his life was. “What you reading for”, he quotes an unfortunate waffle house waitress in Georgia as saying. Not “what are you reading”, but “what you reading for”. He tells us he reads for a lot of reasons, but pretty high up there is so that he will never be a waffle house waitress. It’s unspeakably cruel, but very funny and values brains and thought. How much in life does that?
I had been trying to see this movie for some time, but had been delayed by assorted events. Then, it came to the Stratford Picture House. Ironically – Bill might have enjoyed this – the one off showing was delayed by Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” movie running over time. Bill liked irony.
So, I have a vague idea that Film 4 made this movie. Equally, there were lots of other people in Screen 2 laughing their heads off. Some were American. But my brain was busy being transported to a world of fairness, free of hunger and war in which we all know we are one mind and one consciousness and just along for this ride.
If you love Bill as much as I love Bill, you will adore this movie. There are lots of comments from family and friends and while it never really explains why Bill shone so brightly, it does explain how his fame grew in England and who was there, supporting him. I have never had family closeness so I envy Bill that marvellous birth family who all have so much love and acceptance. But it goes with a tragic and early death at 32, so I envy selectively.
I am very glad I got to see him live. It was frightening, in the way that prophets always are. I had a chance to meet him, but didn’t, due to family obligations. Yet every word seems to speak to me personally, even now.
Every so often, someone comes around who shines a beacon of light on life. Often, this sudden spotlight is uncomfortable. As I write, I am putting Bill’s older routines on the cassette player and enjoying the voice and seeing the hangdog expressions all over again, underscoring a message of clarity and wit. Whether you see this movie or not, find some Bill and listen with all your heart. It’s magical.