Bill Hicks

23:55 Sat 07 Apr 2007
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This eveing I started watching a Bill Hicks DVD that I’d forgotten I bought. It’s amazing to me how fanatstic a comedian he was.

It’s also amazing to me that, as a comedian, he was sharper about politics than the vast majority of political pundits. This isn’t unique to our era, as there’s a long tradition of the court jester being the only one who can get away with telling the truth. But listening to Bill eviscerate lies (in this case the lies behind the “War on Drugs”) really makes me aware of just how far our political culture is from the truth.

More than that, it reminds me that a huge part of our political culture (and here I mean the entire “West”, or even all nominal democracies, and not merely the USA) is explicitly designed to keep out the truth, and to prevent as many people as possible from getting their hands on the levers of power.

Hicks knew this. He knew it, and he wanted as many other people to know it as possible, to raise our consciousness at least a little bit and to make us think about the bullshit that surrounds us every day. I think that every time he went out on stage, part of his message was “Look, if I can see this, why can’t everyone? Why, if it’s so obviously wrong, are things still this way?” That question could lead to despair, and Hicks definitely engaged that despair, but the act of making it into humor showed an alternative to that despair. In many ways, the serious message of his comedy was that we shouldn’t take ourselves seriously enough to despair.

There’s a tension in his work between pushing against taking life seriously and pushing against the totally outrageous bullshit that made him so angry (and rightly so), and the injunction not to take yourself too seriously is one way to overcome that tension. Get angry, be motivated by that, but don’t forget that you’re fallible too.

I think that Bill really felt the anger and the disgust, and he also felt the love for all the he frequently espoused in his routines. One of the things that makes him such a powerful comedian is that you know he really goes through those things, that it’s raw humanity he’s putting out there. But while doing that, while being really fucking honest, he also manages to make us laugh, and to make us think. Not just comedy, but art.

I never met him, never saw him, never even saw a live performance on television. But I miss him, and think that the world would be a better place if he were still alive.

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