In his own words (mostly).
Satire is as old as human history… although I have to wonder why there isn’t any in religious texts. I suppose the dogma in them could be considered satirical… but I digress.
Comedy is a big part of my life. It always has been. If you knew my family, you’d understand it had to be.
My parents provided so much for me throughout my life: support, guidance, a near-crippling fear of interpersonal relationships, and the resulting need for decades of therapy, but they also introduced me to the joy of stand-up comedy.
On Saturday evenings during the winter we spent living in Canada, my parents, my brother, and I would gather around the hi-fi (yep, it was a hi-fi) listening to stand-up comedy. In particular, one comedian.
My gateway into the world of comedy would be the man who, over decades, shattered racial barriers, helped “normalize” stand-up comedy, and would become known as “America’s dad.” Unfortunately, this guy would end his career by being outed and convicted as a serial rapist… but I digress.
It was right around this time that I saw Andy Kaufman do “Foreign Man” on Saturday Night Live - it’s hard to think of two more divergent comedy styles, but both straight stand-up and the absurd remain my favorites (let’s not get into Monty Python and sketch comedy).
Andy Kaufman’s six-minute bit on that first episode of SNL should be in the Smithsonian.
Over the years, weaving in and out of my life would be Cheech and Chong, Mort Sahl, Bob Newhart, George Carlin, Robin Williams, Lenny Bruce, Sam Kinison, etc. In late 1994, I was flying to Ohio for a friend’s wedding, and I stumbled on an article in The New Yorker by John Lahr - “The Goat Boy Rises.”
It was about a comedian I had never heard of - William Melvin Hicks, better known as Bill Hicks.
Lahr details the unfortunate, nay tragic, story about how, in 1993, comedian Bill Hicks had been cut out of an episode of the new David Letterman show on CBS.
The number of drafts, subjective legal lunacy, and hoops that a clean comedian has to jump through to appear on television would test the patience of a Buddhist monk.
And Bill Hicks did not work cleanly.
In any event, as I sat reading Lahr’s article 30,000 feet above the ground, I was struck by two things:
As a long-time Letterman devotee, I realized there had to be something more at play why Letterman censored Hicks. Their relationship included 11 previous appearances on his show when it was on NBC. It would take about 10/15 years, but eventually, the dust settled, and the truth revealed itself. Letterman’s decision was driven by insecurity (Letterman’s word), fear, and, like everything else, commerce.
Reading the cut segment’s text in The New Yorker, I realized that Bill Hicks wasn’t just a comedian; the man was a prophet (ok, that’s a stretch, but he spoke to me). This was more than just comedy - it was satire, philosophy, and social commentary; it was… just different. I quickly realized that Hicks was the funniest (and smartest) comedian I had run across. I wanted to turn to the guy next to me, jam the magazine in his face, and say: “READ THIS!"
I discovered Lahr’s article before we had the world on our phones and could pull this kinda shit up in a matter of seconds.
With that said, Bill Hicks’s albums became my white whale for a few years. Visiting a friend in Knoxville, I stumbled onto Rant in E-minor. Obviously, I bought it, and my friend and I returned to his place and dropped the CD in.
As he and I sat in the living room, our faces wet with tears of laughter, we could hear our lady friends’ eyes rolling as they sighed into their chardonnay. They each knew they would suffer the consequences of having our comedic third eye squeegeed.
Over the years, the Bill Hicks legend and fan base grew. And as the fan base grew, so did the quest for the lost Letterman segment. All those jokes are on his albums in some capacity, but there was something about seeing/hearing this lost segment.
One could argue it was a Bill Hicks fan’s holy grail… but that’s a bit hyperbolic.
Found footage of Hicks made its way onto the various new media platforms, books were written, and documentaries, authorized and otherwise, were made; but that lost segment from 1993 remained missing.
In 2008, David Letterman invited Bill’s mother, Mary Hicks, onto his show for a mea culpa and to air this long-lost segment.
Fun fact: In a true sign that Hicks had posthumously made it here in America, nutjob conspiracy theorists posited that media knucklehead and halfwit Alex Jones was Bill Hicks in disguise.
Alex Jones is an imbecile… Bill Hicks was not.
On this episode of Abandoned Albums, we’ve pulled a bunch of audio from around the internet (all linked below) and put together a far-from-definitive story about Bill Hicks.
We touch on the two albums released in 1997, three years after Hicks had passed away from pancreatic cancer, Arizona Bay and Rant in E-minor. But the truth is this episode about Bill Hicks is told by those who knew him. And the story is told against the backdrop of the Letterman story.
Only a handful knew that Bill Hicks would die four months after that October taping.
David Letterman was not one of them.
“The only music podcast that matters.”
American: The Bill Hicks Story - the full documentary
New Yorker Article by John Lahr
All Clips of Bill Hicks on Letterman (including Mary Hicks)