The Sunday Review: Bill Hicks; Sane Man

Sunday 1 October (2006)

sane man

Oh, Bill Hicks. Like all great artists, he was criminally underappreciated in his lifetime. He died in 1994, before I even knew what stand-up comedy even was, and it was only about seven years later when I first heard of him. When I was in Manchester I downloaded all of his shows, and I loved them because they were edgy and genuinely hilarious – Hicks would talk about drugs, smoking and alcohol; vices, as well as extended rants about capitalism and sell outs. He was like the prototype angry poet, but instead of poetry he used comedy. Still, his shows reeked of performance, and when he launched into extended metaphors about sell-out popstars sucking Satan’s cock, literally acting out each part, it came across more like bizarre theatre – and it was still extremely funny.

Recently I’ve been acting very pretentiously again, and have become somewhat reclusive from my friends because I’m fed up of listening to Shakira on the pub jukebox and being the only one (apart from Sally) who genuinely doesn’t like it. I remembered one of Hicks tirades about music – put your fucking heart into it! – and knew it was time to return to his angry truths.

Sane Man came out in 1989 and was the first video Hicks released. It was after he had given up drinking and taking drugs, and as such is a tight performance, arguably from the peak of his career. It begins with a voice-over, a monologue:

God please help me. I’m so tired. I need my sleep, I make no bones about it – I need eight hours a day. And about ten at night. Then I’m good. But I am so tired of travelling, I am so sick of sitting in airport terminals, sitting on runways on planes that won’t take off… Everytime I see a hijacking on the news now I just think ‘do it, do it, do it, go for it, I understand, I’m behind you 100%’ because I have thought about doing that. Putting a gun to that pilot’s head and saying ‘this is a hijacking, now you get this motherfucking plane of the ground now!’ – ‘Where do you wanna go, Cuba, Libya, Palestine?’ – ‘No! I just wanna go where this plane was supposed to be FIVE HOURS AGO! That’s right, I’m hijacking this plane to Nashville!’ What a bummer at the end of all these hours of waiting that my ultimate destination is towns like Nashville or Baton-Rouge. I feel like a UFO. Cos just like UFOs I too am appearing in obscure southern towns in front of handfulls of hillbillies. And just like UFOs these hillbillies find me equally incomprehensible.

That’s Hicks. Tired, sarcastic, angry, underappreciated, funny. He begins the routine from the same point as the monologue; describing what he sees as ‘anti-intellectualism’ amongst Americans since 1980. I was in Nashville, Tennessee last week and after the show I went to a waffle house. And I’m sitting there, I don’t know anybody, and I’m eating and I’m reading a book. And this waitress comes over to me – ‘what you readin’ for?’ – I said ‘wow, I’ve never been asked that!’ Not ‘what am I reading?’ but ‘what am I reading for?’ I guess I read for a lot of reasons but I guess the main one is so I don’t end up being a fucking waffle waitress.

And it’s not long before he gets to his favourite subject – smoking. He moans about non-smokers – particularly the kind who ostensibly cough whenever someone lights a cigarette. I think that’s kind of cruel – I’m smoking and you come up coughing at me? Jesus! Do you go up to crippled people dancing to them too you fucks? ‘Come on Ironsides, race ya!’ You fucking sadists.

Of course, it’s impossible to transcribe stand-up comedy with any kind of accuracy – you really need to watch it. But where Hicks hits his high note is when he talks about drugs and Hendrix. He reminisces about a time when he and three friends dropped acid: We drove around in my dad’s car, and he had one of those talking cars. We’re trippin’ and the car goes: ‘The door is ajar.’ We pulled over and thought about that for twelve hours man. ‘Shit, how can a door be a jar?’ ‘Why would they put a jar on a car?’

I’m failing here. It’s impossible to describe this comedy, you need to watch it – a few drinks or a joint wouldn’t kill you, but even if you’re stone cold stober it’s still amazing. Hicks is an empassioned genius; he has the same self-deprecating style as Richard Pryor, and like Pryor he has the power to pull the faces and do the voices of the people he’s taking the piss out of.

The best thing about this is that it’s not just funny, it also makes you think. He attacks corporate America with venom, and almost screams at people to start thinking for themselves.

He is missed, and Sane Man should be watched by everyone.


2 Responses to “The Sunday Review: Bill Hicks; Sane Man”

  1. stan Says:

    Here’s something: this entire video appears to be on Youtube at the moment, so check it out.

  2. simon Says:

    Bill Hicks, along with Richard Pyror, reign like deities, and make all other stand-ups look like petty sycophants running through the motions and earning a living. You don’t hear jokes about Dentists from Bill Hicks.

    On Letterman, Bill, described being unhappy living in Los Angeles:
    Bill “I just don’t like it there. They’re all into this inner-child stuff.”
    Letterman: “I don’t know what that is.”
    Bill: “I don’t either. I don’t either. People come up and ask “Have you found your inner-child? Are you in touch with your inner-child?”
    Yeah, I found a picture of him on a milk carton;leave me alone, please. Do me a favour, get in touch with your outer-adult.”

    & one moment from the SaneMan DVD for the initiated to appreciate:

    “Can I ask you a question?” “sure”
    “It’s a one word question… ” “uh-huh”

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