LOGIC SETS YOU FREE No hypocrite was safe from Hicks’s raging comedy — bullies, rednecks, fear mongers, non-smokers, fundamentalists, New Kids on the Block.
Some people throw parades for firemen. Others wave flags at Marines: "Thank you for your service." But for those of us who live to subvert authority — and who have sensed a strange hilarity emanating from this shitty planet since before puberty — the late comedian extraordinaire Bill Hicks is the quintessential American icon. He died for our sins. Just like Lenny Bruce died for his.
American: The Bill Hicks Story (BBC DVD) doesn't take such notions lightly. In concept, content, and execution, directors Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas knocked this one outside of the box, which is appropriate, since that's the only place where Hicks operated. Of course, they couldn't have had an easier subject. Damn near every word the dude said deserved an audience.
Hicks realized the importance of humor in his teenage years, when he began using satire as an outlet to exorcise the resentment he'd nurtured as an adolescent in suburban Houston. By the age of 13, in the 1970s, Hicks was performing flash-mob-style sketches in his high-school hallways, and forming a comedy duo with his best friend to the end, Dwight Slade. This had been his destiny since first seeing Woody Allen tell jokes on television. Hicks would become a professional comic. His heart and gonads told him so.
After years of sneaking out of his parents' home to headline in Houston on school nights, by 18 Hicks was a pro, and he took his show to Los Angeles, "forsaking college and the easy life." At the legendary Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard, he earned his first accolade: the best young cat ever to do it. But that wasn't enough. Hicks had more to offer than jokes about his quirky Southern Baptist family, and about the high-school teachers who he outsmarted with ease.
A scene veteran at 21, Hicks fell out of love with Hollywood after a failed attempt to sell a screenplay. Back in Houston, he found the voice of outrage he'd been looking for — along with a new appetite for drugs and alcohol. Riding mushroom trips to higher comic consciousness, he arrived at a philosophy that would guide him forever on: logic sets you free. After that, no hypocrite was safe, from bullies, rednecks, and fear mongers, to non-smokers, fundamentalists, and New Kids on the Block. But before long the booze began to blind him. Within a year, he went from being a Letterman regular to a room-clearing alcoholic.
American is gorgeous beyond beauty — using imaginative animation techniques, it tells more with still pictures than most docs do with moving footage. But the film also sings because, despite his early departure, Hicks managed a full-circle existence, from youthful enthusiasm, to grown-up realities, to happiness and satisfaction. He trudged through a gauntlet of substance abuse and loneliness to get there, but in the time that Hicks took to sober up, earn mega-stardom, and ultimately die from pancreatic cancer in 1993, he'd finally figured out why he was put here.