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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (Feb. 26, 1999)
December 16,1961 - February 26,1994
Comedian’s third eye I
wide open in CD afterlife I
CUFF HICKS is a senior news-edi
torial and English major and the
Daily Nebraskan opinion editor.
It was five years ago today that the greatest
comedian you’ve probably never heard of
passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age
His name was Bill Hicks (I’m not lucky
enough to be related, except maybe in spirit)
and not only could he have changed the world,
but in his own subtle way, he did.
Like Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, Bill
didn’t pull his punches.
I blow it s not a very popular opinion but...
I had a great time on drugs.
My friends and I took what Terrance
McKenna calls a “heroic dose ” of five grams of
dried mushrooms, and let me tell you, our third
eyes were squeegeed quite cleanly.
And I'm glad they ’re against the law, you
bum' why? Because I sat in a field ofgrass for
four hours thinbng “I love... everything.”
This isn’t to say Bill was pro-drugs entirely,
though. He thought drugs should be legal; idiots
should be outlawed.
was a comedian whose blisteringly dark humor
was ahead of his time, and often caused audi
ences to be offended. Like any of the other
greats, though, Bill never let that fact stop him.
It was him against the world.
The world is like a ride at an amusement
park, and when you choose to go on it, you think
it s real because that’s how powerful our minds
are, and the ride goes up and down and round
and round - it has thrills and chills and it’s very'
brightly colorful and it’s fun for a while.
Some people have been on the ride for a
long time, arid they begin to question, “Is this
real or is it just a ride? ” Other people have
remembered and they come back to us and sav,
“Hey’, don’t worry’, don’t be afraid e\’er because
this is just a ride,” and we kill those people.
I never had the privilege of seeing Bill
Hicks in person, but that’s never lessened his
impact on me. His very words have always
helped me picture the image of him taking the
It’s a club, any club. The room is small, yet
fairly packed. A lingering aroma of cigarettes
and spilled beer haunts the place like a ghost.
There’s a spotlight on the stage, but the glass
covering the light is filmed over with a thin
layer of smoke dust, so that the light isn’t bright
and shining, but faded and tired. People m the
audience murmur and whisper, growing restless
tor their speaker, their prophet, their sermon
from the mount, or the stage, if you will.
There’s probably a heckler or two readying
himself or herself (and Bill got both kinds) to
take him on after he got rolling, but Bill was
aware of that. He could pick them out of the
crowd and he knew what to do with them once
he got the spotlight on them.
Bill snaps the Zippo open and flicks his
thumb downward. The small waft of flame
brushes across the end of his cigarette, which
glows and flares with a quiet light in the wings
of the stage, lurking in the shadows. He takes a
long drag from the cigarette, holds it in for a
moment, then lets it slip out, a cloud rising
The emcee introduces Bill and then scurries
off the stage, knowing no one should get
between Bill and his congregation. A weary
smile crosses Bill’s lips, then he steps onto the
stage under the cover of darkness before the
light appears on him.
His words loft over the speakers, the micro
phone held close to his face. His very voice is
chalky and bitter.
Bill wouldn’t have it any other way.
People suck, that’s my contention, and lean
prove it on an Etch-A-Sketch.
Bill wasn’t out to offend everyone - his way
of thinking just wasn’t commonplace in the
world, and thus he was a veritable treasure trove
of arguments that offended everyone anyway.
Maybe that’s what I liked best about him. He
Same LSD story every time: Young man on
LSD thought he couldfly’jumped out of a win
dow’ and died. What a tragedy.” Don’t blame
acid on this guy. If he thought he couldfly why
didn’t he try> and take off from the groundfirst?
Just to check it out. He s an idiot, he s dead.
Why don’t we ever hear a positive story?
“Today, a young man on acid realized that all
matter is merely energy condensed to a slow
vibration. That we are all one consciousness
experiencing itself subjectively. There is no such
thing as death, life is only a dream and we 're
the imagination of ourselves... here’s Tom with
He loved to push things over the edge, and
keep on pushing. Nothing was sacred to Bill.
Bill thought about a lot of things, and he
out information in such a way that we the mass
es are forced to base our conclusions on erro
neous ...I’m sorry’, wrong meeting. I thought
this was the meeting at the docks. That s next
Everyone followed me on that, that’s the
frightening thing. Are we that cynical? “Yes we
are, Bill. We will take anything you give us."
While Bill wasn’t against religion per se, he
was against organized religion, and some of the
weird things that go along with it, and some of
them, in retrospect, seem pretty damn strange.
I was in Australia during Easter. They’ cele
brate the same way we do - commemorating the
death and resurrection of Jesus by telling our
' You want your grandmother to
die like a little bird in some hospital
room? Her skin so thin you can see
her last heartbeat work its way
down her blue veins....
Or do you want her to meet
Chuck Norris?* *
children a giant ounny raoDit
left chocolate eggs in the night.
/ wonder why we 're messed up
as a race.
Bill was harsh, there’s no
two ways about it, and he
He appeared on Letterman
eleven times, trying to find his
groove with much of his lan
guage toned down.
(Even in the quotes you see
here, I sometimes had to clip
language myself, but I think
Bill would’ve understood,
though not necessarily
nau an sons 01 lueas aooui me government.
You can actually go to the sixth floor of the
Schoolbook Depository. It’s a museum called...
The Assassination Museum. I think they’ named
it that after the assassination. lean't be too sure
of the chronology> but... Anyway they have the
window set up to look exactly like it did on that
day. And it s really accurate, you know, ’cause
Oswald s not in it. I don't know who did their
research, but we ’re talking painstaking detail.
Every so often, people would complain he
dwelled on the JFK assassination too much, as
it was a recurring theme in his act. He was per
fectly ready with the retort, though, as he
People say, “Bill, quit talking about
Kennedy, man. It was a long time ago, just let it
go, all right? It's a long time ago, just forget
about it.”I’m like, all right, then don't bring up
Jesus to me. As long as we 're talking shelf life
here, you know. “Bill, you know Jesus died for
you.” Yeah, well it was a long time ago. Forget
FTie best part of Bill’s delvings into the JFK
assassination was that his audience went with
You know' why Ilove talking about the
Kennedy assassination? Because to me it’s a
great archetypal example of how the totalitari
an government who rules this planet partitions
approved or, wny l did it, in order to pass on ms
The 12th time he performed for Letterman,
he was sure he had it down pat. Then his seven
minutes of fame was cut. His performance had
“too many hot spots,” a Letterman producer
It practically broke Bill’s heart.
Four nights later, he gave the same set
before a small audience and caught it on tape.
After his seven minutes were up, he left the
stage. When they brought him back up, he had
this to say about the Letterman show:
They've always been very good to - well, to
be honest, every single set I’ve ever done
they’ve de-balled me, okay? And I put up with it
because I love Dave Letterman. I’m beginning
to realize: I’m in an abusive relationship.
And do you want to know the punch line of
this whole story? “Bill, we really love ya. We
want you back on in a coupla weeks.” I don’t
know ifI can learn to juggle thatfast.
Bill never appeared on Letterman again.
Censorship became just another one of the
things in life Bill detested. Like, for example,
California. He was waiting for the day an earth
quake banished L.A. to the ocean.
Oh won’t we party hard when L.A. goes ker
splash. Leaving nothing but a cool, beautiful
serenity called... Arizona Bay.
Even though Bill was from Austin, Texas,
his popularity rose faster overseas than it did
here. In England, he was even offered a com
mercial, but Bill was above that.
Here s the deal, folks, you do a commercial,
you 're off the artistic roll callforever, end of
story... If you do a commercial, there s a price
on your head, everything you say is suspect.
Don’t think Bill didn’t have sympathy,
You know, if you 're young and struggling,
OK, I 'll look the other way. Still, you do a com
mercial and you ’re off the artistic roll call forev
er and that goes for everyone ... except Willie
Nelson. With a $30 million dollar tax debt,
Willie’s pockets were a little deeper than the rest
“I’m sitting here selling tacos, waiting for
the woman in the rose tattoo ... my butt is so
Poor Willie... pass the hat, get him off the
Taco Bell commercial! We gotta save Willie!
Nothing was taboo to Bill. That’s one of the
reasons why so many people had trouble with
him. Like his idea to use terminally ill people as
“Ahh, Bill, terminally ill stunt people?
That’s cruel.” You know what I think cruel is?
Leaving your loved ones to die in some sterile
hospital room surrounded by strangers. Put ’em
in the movies. You want your grandmother to
die like a little bird in some hospital room? Her
skin so thin you can see her last heartbeat work
it s way down her blue veins....
Or do you want her to meet Chuck Norris?
“Hey, how come you dressed my grand
mother up like a mugger? "
“Shut up and get off the set. Action! Push
her towards Chuck! ”
“Wow, he kicked her head right off her
body? Did you see that, did you see my gram
my? ” She s out of her misery and you ve seen
the greatest fdm of all time. Pm still feeling
some resistance to this, what’s up? You and your
fake sympathy. OK, not one of my more popular
theories. But just do me one thing. Don’t ever
say you love film as much as I do. I think we've
found your limit.
I’ve only begun to scratch Life According to
Bill Hicks and I’m running out of space.
Much like mushrooms squeegeed Bill’s
third eye, his surreal and bleak comedic ranting
There are four full CDs of Bill:
“Dangerous,” “Relentless,” “Arizona Bay” and
“Rant In E Minor.” I cannot recommend them
Bill Hicks’ legacy will long outlive the man
himself and for every person that has their third
eye opened by Bill’s wisdom, that’s one more
than there was before.
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