Why I Hate The Cult Of Bill Hicks, By John Doran
, February 20th, 2013 07:56
Based on a piece originally written for the dear departed Plan B magazine in 2007. With thanks to my then commissioning editors Frances Morgan and Kicking_K
During a short Summer break to see my family in the North West last year, when I had slightly more time on my hands than usual, I was having a 'discussion' with some impassioned young people on the internet. During the course of the debate (I'd had cause to dress down an aspirant writer in private for sexism - a conversation which had then been made public by him) talk turned briefly to the quality of my own writing and whether I was qualified to give advice to other people.
One young firebrand with a palpable thunder in his chest suggested that a live review I wrote about Kanye West was "the worst thing ever written by an adult" and that I was a terrible writer (a view point I actually have some sympathy for).
When challenged by other members of the DiS community he cited as evidence the fact that there was a Bill Hicks YouTube embedded into the piece, and that I must be likening myself to the dead comic. And this is when my normally serene nature became violently discombobulated for a short time.
(The piece was one of the first I ever wrote for The Quietus and was built in the early days by our then Production Editor Tom Milway, a lovely man with a penchant for plaid shirts, country rock and quoting Hicks. It seems strange that when we first started the Quietus I couldn't even work out how to operate my own site.)
You can say what you like about my writing, it's probably true. You can say that I'm fat, ugly and bearded, this much is certainly true. You can libel me in anyway you see fit as long as you don't call me a bad father and don't suggest that I'm a Bill Hicks fan.
I don't just dislike Hicks. I fucking hate him. Let me explain why.
When Channel 4 showed Revelations in 1992, it really was the moment that Bill Hicks started his painfully slow climb towards canonisation. The hour long special had been carefully edited down to appeal to the sensibilities of C4’s then core audience. It toned down the laddish, sexist elements of his act, thus amping up (the admittedly brilliant) attacks on the Gulf War and the rise of the Christian right. Due to a trick of presentation he became a figure who effortlessly straddled the nascent new lad scene and the still strong culture of political correctness. But what would make anyone outright hate Hicks?
Well, for me it wasn’t the fact that he was a pot head and in thrall to imbecilic conspiracy theories. His ravings about the Warren Commission make you realise that if he were around today part of his routine would be a swivel-eyed diatribe about 9/11 and who was really responsible for the towers coming down, not to mention chem trails. It's no wonder he's become an internet idiot's poster boy. (At the end of Revelations, check how he gets ‘shot’ by an assassin because his truth was, y’know, too heavy for the government . . .) It wasn’t the latent paedophilia he aspired to, no doubt inspired by his heroes from the world of 70s rock. ("Why do you like young girls Goat Boy?" "Because there’s nothing between your legs. It’s like cotton candy framing a paper cut. I’m going to turn you over and spread your cheeks. It’s like a pink, quivering rabbit nostril.") Oh, my sides.
It’s not that he was a disgusting hippy. A fucking horrific libertarian no better in his politics of the self than Jeremy Clarkson or Frank Turner. Meaning the angry desire was there for him to protect his right to do whatever he wanted to do, whenever he wanted to do it, whether it be smoking cigarettes in public buildings and on planes, driving drunk, taking drugs no matter the ill effect they had on anyone else using, having access to hardcore pornography and violent movies or anything else his venality craved. All of this was to be at the expense of children, old people and parents if necessary and . . . Well, and what? I must have missed his sketches about union rights for immigrant workers. I mean, for Christ sake, Michael Moore is a level-headed, even-handed Marxist revolutionary stood next to Hicks.
It’s not that he was a drivelling thunder cunt. ("All matter is energy condensed to a slow vibration, we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There is no such thing as death, life is only a dream and we are the imagination of ourselves." And that crap about life being a fairground ride. How can anyone listen to this vacuous bullshit without developing a migraine?)
It’s not because of the rampant misogyny. (Actually, even though it kicks a hole in the side of what I’m saying, it actually is the rampant misogyny. The sketch where he summoned the ghost of Hendrix up to rape Debbie Gibson to death for making pop - aka phony music for girls and gay people - is a prime example. And this coming from a guy whose favourite bands were the utterly merit free KISS and the massively overrated Alice Cooper.) The butt of his jokes (above and beyond the absolutely deserving Christian right and Republicans, etc) were usually working class women, mothers, young children and the very old. Kind of weird. Kind of creepy. And you can't even play the 'it's just a joke' card in his defence. He was like this in real life. Take this classless put down of a female heckler for example: "You suck - you fucking cunt, get the fuck outa here right now. Get out. Fuck you. Fuck you, you idiot. You're everything that America should be flushed down the toilet, you fucking turd. Fuck you. Get out. Get out, you fucking drunk bitch. Take her out! Take her fucking out. Take her to somewhere that's good. Go see fucking Madonna, you fucking idiot piece of shit. [imitating her] 'You suck, Bill, you suck. I can yell at the comedian cause I'm a drunk cunt. That gives me carte blanche, I got a cunt, and I'm drunk, I can do anything I want. I dont have a cock, I can yell at performers, cause I'm a fucking idiot, cause I got a cunt.'"
My hatred for him is not because of his weak and cowardly misanthropy. "Hitler had the right idea, he was just an underachiever. Kill 'em all Adolf, all of 'em - Jew, Mexican, American, White - Kill 'em all! Start over, the experiment didn't work! Rain - forty days please, fuckin' rain and wash these turds off my fuckin' life - wash these human waste of flesh and bones off this planet. I pray to you God to kill these fuckin' people." Note the use of the phrase "my life": Hicks most certainly did not see himself as part of the problem. His narcissism allowed him to believe steadfastly in the kind of daydream that most of us realise is bogus by the time we're 13: if only everyone was like me - then there would be no trouble on the planet at all...
It's not because love for Bill Hicks in the UK was predicated on a slightly risible bias against Americans. Too many people on this side of the Atlantic had such a skewed view of the US that they genuinely allowed themselves to believe that only we were sophisticated enough to "get" his "radical" and "subversive" polemic; that he was such a "visionary" that he was too "dangerous" for his native land. (An idea aggressively played on by Hicks, who embarrassingly insisted on presenting himself as a martyr/messiah figure: Christ returned as a stand up comic to modern day America. An idea taken to its logical conclusion by John Niven in the novel The Second Coming.) We flattered ourselves a little bit too much. Culturally, the idea of a white comic as rock star has only washed in the UK over the last 25 years. The idea is seen as a bit lame in the States. There was literally an audience of tens of millions of people in America who felt exactly the same way that he did about the Bush dynasty, so it would be more correct to presume that they didn't take to him because they weren't as keen on jokes painting working class women having babies out of wedlock as stupid, venal sluts who couldn't keep their legs closed.
No, my problem with Bill Hicks is he’s become the Diana Spencer of stand up comedy, and each badly packaged CD and crappily subbed book makes wilder claims for him than the last. The canonisation has taken a good comedian who was slightly ahead of the curve and tried to make something religous out of him. The trouble is, however, that if you look to a comedian for humour, you get laughs; look to one for moral, spiritual and political guidance and you get a fucking joke.