There are far few braver - and funnier - people who have lived in the latter part of the twentieth century. You hear it said all the time, of the comedian who lived 'on the edge', but to call Bill Hicks a comedian is like calling David Bowie a guitarist.
It would be easy to dismiss Hicks as belligerent, cocky, cold and bitter but to do so is to miss the point. A liberal, outspoken protestor against the right-wing governments of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, the banality of the common American collective consciousness (on the Waco Siege: "What do you think the daily schedule of the compound is now? I heard they had Bible Studies and Ammunition Studies back-to-back? They have Reloading Classes for the children?" "Just like every home in America."), and the disbelief that he lived in a country where John Lennon can be shot dead but where Barry Manilow can continue to put out albums ("I'll drive you to Kenny Rogers' house!"). While Hicks spoke his anger and disgust at the apathy of the nation, on stage he was casual and relaxed. You felt that he was holding court while chatting with friends.
In June 1993, at the age of 31, Hicks was diagnosed with aggressive pancreatic cancer. While receiving weekly chemotherapy, he continued to tour, record a comedy album as well as film a pilot show for Channel 4. He died the following February.
A dozen books have been written on Hicks, each of them penned by fans with more than a hint of sadness tainted throughout, but a recent documentary, American: The Bill Hicks Story, manages to take this extraordinary life and give it the humour that ran through it. Using cut-and-paste animation among still images and original video recording, this is the deserved document of a Very Entertaining Man.
American: The Bill Hicks Story is distributed in the UK by 2entertain.