‘Hitler was an underachiever’

You can attribute the quote for this blog’s title to the late comedian Bill Hicks. Out of context you’d think that he’s an evangelical fascist with a penchant for wearing white robes late at night and a wife beater during the day, but if you actually listen to what he has to say then you will realise that he defies and criticises the stereotypes that I’m alluding to; he despises anti-intellectualism.

The 2009 documentary American: The Bill Hicks Story is brilliant. Entertaining too. The narrative chronicles Hicks’s life and death (from his early comic days to his struggles with substance abuse).  We hear anecdotes from his family, friends and fellow comics which provide the soundtrack to an interesting visual style where photographs and still images complement the animations that fill the gaps between the interviews and the bootleg video extracts of Hicks’s standup routines.

I was hooked when Dwight Slade, friend of Hicks, talks about the time they drove a van to the city on a school night to perform at a comedy club. This was sometime in the 1970s and they lived in Texas with families who were zealous and strict. When they got home Hicks’s parents found out and he copped it.

The fact that Hicks continued to pursue a career in comedy at that time, despite the tyranny of distance from comedy clubs and his immediate family, demonstrates his dedication to be successful.

You can see the gradual transformation in Hicks as a person and a comic. Before he experimented with alcohol and mushrooms he was fairly clean-cut standup act. He allowed the influence of drugs to affect his stage performances on purpose—his style changed to accommodate this destructive lifestyle and so he would rant and scream and speak his mind, uncensored. Very confrontational, and sometimes scary, to watch. I wonder how some of those audiences felt?

He cleaned himself up eventually and when he moved to New York he refined his material by elaborating on raw observations, which tended to segue to critical discussions on topical issues. He might attack the media for their biased objectivity (Waco massacre) or subvert hypocrisy in American society (check out the TOOL album Ænima).

I’m glad this scene made it on the disc.

Despite cleaning himself up, Hicks Passed away in 1994 due to pancreatic cancer. He was 32.

His family and his friends embrace Hicks’s legacy and the most heart-warming aspect of this is how his parents accept him for who he was—even though he broke the mould of his upbringing.  

American: The Bill Hicks Story is fantastic. The extras on the disc will appease fans too. Audio tracks and bonus featurettes, very cool. I highly recommend that you see it. Even if you don’t appreciate some of Hicks’s crass, in-your-face stuff there is so much to learn from his life experiences as well as his perceptions and views on reality.


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