Bill Hicks Live

Bill Hicks was an acclaimed stand-up comedian whose acerbic persona and truth-telling style made him a star, particularly amongst other comedians; sadly, his early '90s rising star came to an abrupt halt with his death, of cancer, at the age of 32 in 1994. Bill Hicks Live collects three notable performances — the HBO special One Night Stand, his breakthrough performance at Montreal's Just For Laughs festival in 1991, and a late performance in London, England, where his health concerns may already be upon him, since he's quit smoking. Add to that a nostalgic retrospective featuring interviews with childhood friends and his admiring peers and this is a fascinating look at a strong comedic talent. To many, stand-up is a holdover from the 1980s — a sitcom-seeking "personality" standing in front of the famous brick wall at the Improv club, or one just like it. But what separates Hicks from his contemporaries is that for Bill, stand-up was the career choice. It was not a means to a different career. Doing stand-up was part performance art, part exorcism, part confessional and part sermon, and what he didn't do was alter himself or his material in order to be palatable to those who flinched at some of his less flattering subject matter. He was pro-drugs, after he'd given them up; to some extent anti-alcohol after a stint as a drunk; and his smoking screeds were hilariously on point to many a self-righteous audience. A native of Georgia, he turned the South into a punch-line with the affection that only a native could, but his critiques of America kept his profile lower than it should have been, despite 11 appearances on Letterman during his lifetime. His final performance, taped not long before his death, was in fact censored by the show and has never been seen (boy, that would have been an outtake!). The documentary "Just A Ride" is less a story of his life and more an appreciation by his peers, but in all, this package is an excellent introduction to newbies and a collector's item for long-time fans who miss when stand-up was something more than an audition for another job. (Ryko)