‘Hicks was an artist, and the medium he chose to express his message happened to be jokes. Hicks did to comedy what Dylan did to pop music; he took something that was looked down upon as a low artform and took it so seriously, put so much of his spirit into it, that he turned it into an effective vehicle for the Truth.’
Wednesday marked the twentieth anniversary of the death of Bill Hicks. More than just about any other comedian, Hicks retains a cult – even cultish – following, as the quote above from a Guardian reader testifies. The trouble was that far from being a purveyor of The Truth (whatever the hell that is), Hicks was preaching to the prejudices of his audience, delivering sarcastic commonplaces while being, for the most part, resolutely unfunny.
Of course, humour really is a matter of taste. What one person thinks is hilarious may leave another person cold. (The continued popularity of Miranda Hart is a case in point, in my humble opinion.) Yet as one commentator has noted, fans of Hicks tend not to mention how funny he was. They like to talk about how he cut through the ‘bullshit’ to tell it how it was, barely bothering with humour. That’s because he was, for the most part, a ranting barroom bore.
His acts were just one angry lecture about the stupidity of just about everything: Christians, rednecks, corporations, single mothers, Republicans. If you work in marketing, you should just ‘kill yourself’. Rednecks ask stupid questions about the purpose of reading. Trailer-trash single moms just shit out babies whose fathers they can barely remember. This poisonous worldview would be just as much at home in the pages of the Daily Mail as in any radical publication. It makes Richard Littlejohn look like a mild-mannered liberal.
His excoriation of the first Iraq war is just trite rather than rich in laser-sharp insight. Even his libertarianism comes across more as a brattish dickyfit of individualism than any useful defence of individual rights. ‘Here is my final point, about drugs, alcohol, pornography, whatever that is. What business of yours is it as long as I don’t harm another human being? What business is it of yours what I buy, read, shoot or do to myself? What business is it of yours? Let me answer the question for you, in case you’re having a little moral conflict in your head. NONE of your fucking business!’