It’s just a ride
Bill Hicks died twenty years ago today. His death was shocking – for someone so talented and so vital to die so young. It is shocking now to think that happened so long ago.
Dying is always a great career move. Just ask Elvis. And there is no doubt that Hicks has remained in the public consciousness, at least in part, because he died young. There is always a greater allure to someone who disappeared at their peak, rather than someone who grew old and irrelevant. But there is also a whole lot more to that with Hicks.
His work has lived on with a near Tupac-esque flow of posthumous material, but not as a nostalgia piece for the late eighties/early nineties. In the early 2000s you could listen to his material about George Bush and the Gulf War and apply it just as easily to George W. Bush with Afghanistan and Iraq. You can hear footage about Billy Ray Cyrus and imagine Hicks is actually talking about Miley. His work has remained relevant, still doesn’t feel old.
Hicks tapped in to and pulled apart the hypocrisies and inadequacies of the modern world. Twenty years on you can listen to him and realise that nothing has really changed, and we could really do with a Bill Hicks now, rather than the bland procession of inoffensive, observational, nonpolitical, arena-hopping stand-ups we have today.
But beyond the material, there is the craft. The more you hunt out of Hicks the more you realise he was honing a lot of the same material. Rather than constantly trying new material, he was refining and perfecting what he had. He was a master of delivery, with the sort of comic timing that only comes from working incredibly hard, tweaking his act night after night until he got to the point where everything worked, where even if you didn’t like or agree with the content, you still had to marvel at the presentation.
And beyond his cynical and confrontational persona there was a heart. This was comedy with a soul. Like all the best art. We should be grateful that Bill Hicks shared his ride with us, even though it was far too short.