By: Oberst von Berauscht (Two Beers) -
Comedian Bill Hicks lived a short and wild life, but his philosophy of life and unhinged barbs aimed at American Society inspired generations of stand-up comedians. Bill Hicks was a comedian who understood that his job could be more than simply making jokes on stage. He used his words and mannerisms to express fundamental truths and bring his audience to a catharsis.
Sadly, his honesty and willingness to attack the sacred cows of his country mercilessly made him an outcast, never rising to the fame and notoriety that many of his contemporaries achieved. In the years since his untimely death from pancreatic cancer at the age of 32 his work has come to be seen for what it is, the work of comic brilliance.
American: the Bill Hicks Story is a documentary about his life and legacy.
Filmmakers Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas tell Hicks’ story not by interviewing famous people who he inspired, but by the people who were there with him: his immediate family, his fellow Houston area comedians, and his closest friends. This benefits the film considerably by making it a more intimate affair. His life is not shown with rose tinted glasses as the story of his drug problems and sobriety later in life are told with a forthcoming honesty. A rare glimpse into his formative years is revealed, where he grew up under the iron hand of a fundamentalist Baptist upbringing, as well as his personal rebellion from that world.
Finally there’s the story of his last months, in which he was performing on stage as close as a month to his death. The filmmakers use cut and paste animation to give action to the thousands of images used in illustrating his life. This keeps the film thoroughly entertaining throughout and provides a visual compliment to the fascinating interviews.
One element of the film that is explored quite heavily is that, at the end of his life, Bill’s performances became far more prophetic, and often more angry. Bill’s humor ensured that this material wasn’t overly preachy or hateful, instead spinning a web of indignation so wide as to capture his audience fully. This dark material was released posthumously on “Arizona Bay” and “Rant in E-Minor”. The filmmakers put a great deal of time and effort into highlighting this, as when Bill knew that he was dying of cancer, his desire to reach the hearts and minds of his audience became even greater.
I doubt very much many of you disagree with this philosophy
The one flaw of this documentary is ultimately in its focus. It tells the story of his life professionally, but with so many of his family participating, there is surprisingly little information about his background and how he acted when he wasn’t working with his fellow comedians. This is a minor flaw that is addressed fairly well in Just a Ride, an earlier documentary about Bill that while less engaging cinematically, and far lower budget, does serve as a strong compliment to the material presented here.
Life is too short, so sit back and enjoy this film, I’ll let Bill explain it:
Bonus Drinking Game
Keep up: with Bill’s drinking, when he goes sober, drink for every smoking reference