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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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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My Most Memorable Interviews of 2008

I recently went back and counted up how many interviews I’ve done for Bullz-Eye since I first came aboard the site, and I was astounded to find that – counting both one-on-one conversations as well as teleconferences – the number tops 200. Wow. Anyone who thinks that I don’t work hard for my money, I say to you that the figures speak for themselves. Looking back at the list of folks with whom I’ve chatted during the course of the past year, I find myself thinking the same thing I think every day of every year: it might’ve sucked to do all of that unpaid freelance writing for all those years, but it was totally fucking worth it. And with that bold statement, allow me to present a list of the interviews from 2008 that still remain fresh in my mind…for a variety of reasons.

* Best-received interview of the year:

Tom Smothers. I’m used to hearing from my friends when I do an interview that they enjoy, but I heard from several complete strangers that really loved the conversation Tom and I had about everything from the censorship of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” to the night John Lennon and Harry Nilsson were thrown out of the Brothers’ show at the Troubadour.

“Harry comes in with John Lennon. Well, he told John Lennon, ‘Tom likes hecklers. It helps him. It gets him through his show.’ And every time there was a silence, they were hollering out things like, ‘God fucks pigs!’ I mean, it was really filthy! Blows were thrown, and it just got wild. The next day, I got flowers and all kinds of apologies from Lennon and from Harry Nilsson.”

* Most politically-incorrect interview of the year:

Tony Clifton, the former alter ego of Andy Kaufman that’s now being performed by Bob Zmuda. To say that Clifton works a little blue is the understatement of the century, but it’s more than just dirty jokes; his whole act is one where he unabashedly says things that he knows will piss people off…and if you don’t know it’s an act, then it’s really gonna piss you off.

“Some people say that, with the repertoire I’ve got and with the rapport between the band and me, a few people have quoted it as being like Buddy Rich. I call ‘em like I see ‘em, just like Buddy. But Buddy was coked up most of the time, and I don’t do that. I prefer the Jack Daniel’s. I’m fucked up most of the time during the show. I have fun with the band. I call ‘em niggers. And I got a few Japs in there, I call ‘em Nips. I got everything mixed up in that band, like I say. I call ‘em the way I see ‘em. Listen, lemme tell ya this: you know why I get away with it? ‘Cause I got black people in my family. Yeah. And I’ve got the rope to prove it. Look, the blackies are good. They’re good for the sports and for the music. See, the Jews are good at making the money…or at taking the money from you.”

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