American: The Bill Hicks Story

Granted, we would have been inclined to declare “American: The Bill Hicks Story” essential viewing regardless of its quality, because Hicks was one of the greatest comics, philosophers and preachers who ever lived. (There is a reason he was a member of the inaugural class of Bullz-Eye’s Stand-Up Hall of Fame.) As it turns out, “American” is essential viewing for reasons that go far beyond its subject matter. Never have we seen a documentary, especially one about a comedian, handled with such a personal touch.

The film digs into Hicks’ upbringing and his humble beginnings doing improv as a 14-year-old in Houston, and the rebels who assisted him on his quest. The interviewees are almost exclusively family members and childhood friends, with nary a single famous comic to be found (a most welcome change of pace). The movie’s most unique touch, though, is the animation, as the filmmakers used family photos of Hicks, his family and friends, and visually re-created the various stories interview subjects would tell, so that it looked as though you were actually witnessing these events happening. It’s a brilliant move, and one that will likely be borrowed repeatedly in the upcoming years.

The DVD’s second disc, meanwhile, will have Hicksophiles positively geeking out. There are never-before-seen clips, deleted scenes, extended interviews, and featurettes galore (over 90 minutes of ’em). Newcomers will be enthralled by the material; fans will love it for its grace. And the bonus features. (BBC/2 Entertain 2011)

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Denis Leary and Friends Present: Douchebags and Donuts

Well, this isn’t going to help Denis Leary’s reputation when it comes to stealing other people’s jokes.

Here’s a little back story: According to the biography American Scream, Leary used to do chunks of the routines of the late, great Bill Hicks. Hicks was aware of this, but since Leary played parts of the country that Hicks seldom visited, he let it go. Then Leary made No Cure for Cancer in 1992, where he committed the unpardonable sin of recording Hicks’ material, and taking credit for it. Louis C.K. later claimed that Leary’s song “Asshole” was based on a bit that he used to do. Leary has denied stealing from anyone because, well, what else is he supposed to do? Fortunately, we were able to ask Leary about Hicks directly, to which he gives a lengthy, thoughtful reply. (You can read it here.)

Now comes “Douchebags and Donuts,” a comedy show Leary organized with a few friends as a fundraiser for his charity. It’s a great cause, and it’s great that the show was a success. But the first word in that title has already invoked the ire of one Jay Louis, editor in chief of the sublimely funny site Hot Chicks with Douchebags. Louis went on a long and unusually pointed rant about Leary’s thievery, and how he’s been championing the mock of the douchebag for five years, building a mini-empire out of it. And that’s fine, but it’s not as if Louis created these goofy-haired halfwits – he was just the first to dedicate a site to mocking them, and in fact should be honored that his efforts have created such a groundswell that the phrase is slowly working its way into the pop lexicon with his definition as the #1 description. Before Jay, calling someone a douchebag just meant they were a jerk; now, it defines a very specific kind of jerk. Well done.

Having said that, Louis should have waited to see “Douchebags and Donuts” before criticizing it, since doing so makes him like those Republicans who call out movies they’ve never seen. If he had waited, he would have realized that the ‘douche signifier’ portion of Leary’s routine is pretty small, though it’s hard not to think of either Louis, Jay or C.K., when Leary performs his new song “Douchebag.” The rest of Leary’s routine is pretty tame, though, showing mug shots of Nick Nolte and James Brown and dissecting the side effects to popular medications (side effect for Viagara: Death). It’s no Cure for Cancer, or even Lock and Load, but it definitely looks better compared to the routines of his friends Lenny Clarke and Adam Ferrera, who come off like blue-rated Blue Collar guys. The star of the show, without question, is Whitney Cummings, who rips her mostly male audience to shreds while having fun with the idea of women as crazy bitches.

Some might point to the infrequency of comedy routines from Leary as an indictment that he is indeed a thief. That’s faulty reasoning, but Leary isn’t helping his case with “Douchebags and Donuts.” He’s clearly a funny guy, but one gets the sense that he was too busy with his myriad of other projects to work very hard on his own routine for this show.

Click to buy “Denis Leary and Friends Present: Douchebags and Donuts”

  

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The Comedy Central Roast of David Hasselhoff

As far as daises go, the group assembled to roast “Knight Rider” and “Baywatch” star David Hasselhoff was not the most star-studded, but all concerned brought the funny when it counted. With “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane serving as the master of ceremonies, the roasters hit Hasselhoff in the usual places – he’s a drunk, his shows were terrible, he’s a lousy singer – but the gifted comics still found a way to mine comedy gold from it anyway, particularly Lisa Lampanellli, who owned the show’s best line. (“Your liver was so black and bloated, it could have starred in ‘Precious.'”) MacFarlane is surprisingly dry as the MC – though he did drop in a little Stewie voice when discussing Pamela Anderson’s breasts – and that proves to be the right call. The biggest surprises are unquestionably the non-comedians. George Hamilton does it old-school but still manages to throw in a few good zingers, and Anderson has much better comic timing than you’d think. As for Hulk Hogan, well, he made for a better target than he did a roaster. Hamilton, in particular, pounded him.

Best of all, Hasselhoff shows the world that he really can sing, charging into the room singing “Hooked on a Feeling” and finishing with some power ballad that, strangely, has his voice drowned in the mix. When it does rise above the instruments, though, it sounds good. His recent reality show may have been canceled, but Comedy Central’s roast of Hasselhoff strikes the right balance of good-natured skewering. It also serves as one of the last performances by the late Greg Giraldo, who was just about to move up to the next level. Pity.

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Back from Hell: A Tribute to Sam Kinison

Originally broadcast on Comedy Central in February of this year, this one-hour show features over a dozen comics paying heartfelt tribute to one of the true comedy greats, with footage of Kinison routines both well-known and previously unreleased serving as the anchors to the topics that the comics discuss. There isn’t much here about Kinison’s life that hasn’t been covered before, but it’s still fun to watch guys like Denis Leary, Chris Rock and Ron White talk about Kinison’s influence while opening up about the differences between his on-stage persona and the off-stage teddy bear. The discuss his love of rock music (and even include the promo video and a live performance of “Wild Thing”), and how he brought the rock and comedy communities together, and even include a snippet of a religious sermon Kinison gave when he was still a preacher. The one thing they glossed over – and to be honest, we’re not at all surprised that they did this – was how much the quality of Kinison’s material dropped when the ’80s were over, when he stopped writing jokes and started screaming “Fuck You!” at the top of his lungs. It’s all right to acknowledge an artist’s decline and still love them; John Lennon was a shell of his former songwriting self when he died, but people still love him, and rightly so. It would have been nice to see these comics, and this special, do the same.

Click to buy “A Tribute to Sam Kinison”
Click to read Bullz-Eye’s induction of Kinison into their Comedy Hall of Fame
Click to read Bullz-Eye’s 2009 interview with Sam Kinison’s brother Bill Kinison

  

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Bill Hicks: The Essential Collection

Bill Hicks has become the trendy name to drop of late when talking about influential comics, and while it’s irritating to see Hicks become a hipster icon, the simple fact is that it’s better late than never for Hicks to find a larger audience, hipster cred or otherwise. Truthfully, it’s not surprising that Hicks didn’t find a larger audience during his lifetime; his material, while rooted in truth, was sardonic and mean. He spoke at length about pornography and fantasized about being an angel of death. He also brewed up material that a million comics wish they had thought of. Using terminally ill people as stuntmen in movies? Genius. Unconscionable, but genius.

This four-disc set (two CDs, two DVDs, one download card) tries valiantly to create some order from the chaos that was Hicks’ brain, saving the political material for Disc 2 and using Disc 1 to talk about everything else. A chronological sequencing probably would have worked better, for two reasons: it would give the unfamiliar a better sense of how Hicks’ material evolved, and it would get the listener more excited as they go through it simply because Hicks is playing to bigger and bigger crowds. Several of these tracks are marked ‘Previously unreleased,’ but many of those are just different versions of bits that appeared on the albums Ryko issued in the late ’90s and early ’00s. There really isn’t a duff bit here, and they even had the balls to include “Worst Audience Ever,” where Hicks ran into a particularly stoic crowd in Pennsylvania, and made sure they knew it.

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Fans will want this collection for the DVD material. Disc 1 contains some early (as in 1981, when Hicks was 19 years old) routines, mostly recorded at the Comix Annex in Houston. Hicks was still finding his voice during this period, and for a show in Indianapolis in 1985, it looks as though Hicks’ new idol was Steven Wright, as he delivers his material in a monotone voice. (He’s also wearing a news boy cap, just like his friend Sam Kinison.) The material he had written then wasn’t great, but it’s still interesting to see what stuff he went through before he settled on talking about Jimi Hendrix cutting Debbie Gibson in half with his cock. And speaking of Kinison, one of the two Houston gigs from 1986 literally screams Kinison, from the constant yelling to the trench coat. The money piece from Disc 1 is the poolside interview with Hicks from 1988, where he speaks of Kinison’s permanent banning from a local comedy club, inspiring the birth of the Outlaws.

Disc 2 features the rare “Ninja Bachelor Party,” a delightfully silly 30-minute martial arts spoof film Hicks shot over a period of eight years, along with a series of bootleg clips of Hicks in Austin in the early ’90s. The bootlegs are just that, shot from the back of the room and frequently out of focus, but it also features the best material on either DVD, and it’s fun to see the Relentless and Arizona Bay material acted out. It doesn’t quite serve as the definitive collection of Hicks’ work, but it’s not called The Definitive Collection. It’s The Essential Collection, meaning it’s all must-own stuff. Just be prepared to seek out the rest of Hicks’ essential material.

Click to buy “Bill Hicks: The Essential Collection”

  

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