Phill Jupitus hosts an hour-long documentary about Bill Hicks for Radio 2.
A BBC spokesman said: ‘This documentary charts Bill’s fascinating life: his love/hate relationship with America; the continuing censorship of his act; his quest for spirituality; his popularity in Britain; his battle with drink and drugs; and, finally, his battle with cancer.
‘Interspersed with live material, it demonstrates why Hicks is still many comedians’ favourite stand-up.’
Born December 16th, 1961 in Valdosta, Georgia, William Melvin Hicks was the youngest of three children. By the time he was seven, Bill had lived in four states before settling in Houston. As a child Bill yearned to be a comedian. He idolized Johnny Carson and the stand-up comedy of Woody Allen.
In junior high school, Bill met Dwight Slade and they became fast friends. Together, the two spent hours creating comedy routines. Bill and Dwight’s ambitions of performing in front of an audience seemed hopeless. Even though there were no comedy clubs nearby, they made recordings and sent them to local agents. One package earned them an overnight slot on the Jerry Lewis telethon, but they were underage and couldn’t perform. Finally an opportunity arrived when the Comedy Workshop opened in Houston. Chauffeured to the club by friend Kevin Booth (the only one of the three with a driver’s license), they convinced the club manager to give them a shot. Bill & Dwight became the venue’s youngest regular comics. With only a handful of performances under their belts, Dwight’s family relocated, leaving Bill to focus on his solo act.
Shortly after graduating high school, Bill moved to LA to start the first phase of his love/hate relationship with the city. Performing alongside then-unknowns Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, and Gary Shandling, Bill found the going rough. After two years he had had enough and returned to Houston. Although his experience in the heart of the showbiz beast had been disappointing, Bill remained enthusiastically dedicated to stand-up comedy. He began touring, relentlessly, building a small but loyal base of fans.
In 1984 with the support of Jay Leno, Bill appeared on David Letterman’s show for the first time (at the time of his death, Bill had performed on the show eleven times). He began playing more prestigious rooms and fellow comedians developed tremendous respect for his work. Hicks tried again to integrate into traditional showbiz by moving to New York, which he found more agreeable than LA. There Bill stopped taking drugs, a habit he had picked up during hard years of touring. Although he attended AA meetings, Bill never renounced his drug use, explaining in performances that he had “some great times on drugs.” This blunt honesty flowed over into other areas of his performance and Bill addressed a variety of subjects with new, pure clarity.
Bill’s comedy (despite his own claims to the contrary) was not about hate or pessimism. Bill was an unabashed optimist. He believed that most people were good at heart but evil forces were deliberately distracting us all from creating a better world using television, lies, tobacco and alcohol as opiates. Bill felt a revolution of thought was coming and that it was his duty, as an emissary of the truth, to bring whatever light he could to anyone who would listen. This blunt, straightforward expression of these ideas could cause clashes with less enlightened, unsuspecting audiences. The result was sometimes dangerous; Bill had his ankle broken and a gun was pointed at him on stage. Despite these experiences, he refused to compromise his material and soldiered on.
Bill died of side effects of his cancer treatment in the presence of his parents at 11:20pm on February 26, 1994. He was 32 years old.
“February 7, 1994 –
I was born William Melvin Hicks on December 16, 1961 in Valdosta, Georgia. Ugh. Melvin Hicks from Georgia. Yee Har! I already had gotten off to life on the wrong foot. I was always “awake,” I guess you’d say. Some part of me clamoring for new insights and new ways to make the world a better place.
All of this came out years down the line, in my multitude of creative interests that are the tools I now bring to the Party. Writing, acting, music, comedy. A deep love of literature and books. Thank God for all the artists who’ve helped me. I’d read these words and off I went – dreaming my own imaginative dreams. Exercising them at will, eventually to form bands, comedy, more bands, movies, anything creative. This is the coin of the realm I use in my words – Vision.
On June 16, 1993 I was diagnosed with having “liver cancer that had spread from the pancreas.” One of life’s weirdest and worst jokes imaginable. I’d been making such progress recently in my attitude, my career and realizing my dreams that it just stood me on my head for a while. “Why me!?” I would cry out, and “Why now!?”
Well, I know now there may never be any answers to those particular questions, but maybe in telling a little about myself, we can find some other answers to other questions. That might help our way down our own particular paths, towards realizing my dream of New Hope and New Happiness.
I left in love, in laughter, and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit.”
Dark Poet premiered at 10.30pm on BBC Radio 2 on August 21, 2007.