Published Oct 25, 2016Since his untimely death in 1994, Bill Hicks has been recognized as one of the most celebrated and iconic comedians off all time. And although there's been some great unearthed material released since (including seven posthumous comedy LPs), Hicks was always at his sharpest, smartest and most vitriolic when the cameras were running.
Despite the fact that his first recorded special — released on VHS in 1989 and filmed in his home state of Texas — suffers from poor sound and editing, it's riveting and gratifying to watch Hicks in the midst of his transition from hackneyed joke-slinger to political pariah.
Opening with a voice-over speech — on top of footage of Hicks traveling from city to city on his Flying Saucer Tour — about how he would hijack a plane just to get his destination on time, gives the viewer a glimpse into just how subversive and fearless Hicks comedy was, even from the beginning. Although he starts off with a bit of obvious humour on how he once saw someone selling dirt in Tennessee, he incorporates it into a larger narrative about his perceived notion that American Southerners are almost exclusively hillbillies, giving a hilarious impression of a waitress asking him "What are you reading for?"
But once he launches into his now famous pro-smoking and pro-drinking-and-driving run (with the former later adopted by Dennis Leary), he demands complete control of the audience as the crowd squeals in laughter and shock. Although throughout the 60-minute set, Hicks never ventures too deeply into the coiled and politically-charged psyche he'll later been known for, only briefly touching on Bush Sr.'s "war on drugs" and a few of his own drug stories, Hicks still manages to come off hilariously sardonic and opportune.
For all of its surface flaws, his debut special shows how — even in his comedic infancy — Hicks was a one-of-a-kind comedian: clearly brave, clearly relevant and pretty clearly not a sane man.
Exclaim! is reviewing every standup comedy special currently available on Netflix Canada, including this one. You can find a complete list of reviews so far here.