Bill Hicks: Essential Collection

Bill Hicks
Essential Collection
(Ryko)

There was a time when comedy had an edge, it felt dangerous and was most certainly controversial. This was far before comedians having tag lines like “You might be a redneck if…,” “Here’s your sign,” and Get er’ done.”

Comics like the great Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce paved the way. They were “thinking” comics, who not only made you laugh, but also had messages to their jokes. Taking note from those two was a young kid named Bill Hicks from Houston, Texas. Hicks honed his comedy craft early, telling jokes to friends, crafting his act on anyone who would listen. By his senior year in high school he had a weekly Thursday night gig at a local comedy club. He was technically too young to be in the club, but he found a way; that’s how much he believed in his stand up.

Shortly after high school Hicks started touring the country playing every “shit hole” he could. Althought it took awhile, the hard work paid off and Hicks signed a deal with Ryko Records who released his debut comedy album Dangerous in 1990.

The self-described “Prince of Darkness”wasn’t afraid of anything. With his social awareness on the hypocrisy in American, Hicks takled all subects from drinking, drugs, smoking and even pro-life and did it with wreckless abandond. With his attacks, err.. I mean comedy on the evilness of our government to the souless corporate drones, Hicks influenced such bands as Tool, Built to Spill and Hamell on Trial.

Not only was Hicks a comedic mastermind, he was also a lover of music. He cited Jimi Hendrix and Richard Pryor as his prime influences. His love for music was spun into his routines when he talked “Artistic Roll Call,” “Save Willie” “Rockers Against Drugs Suck,” and “Flying Saucer Tour” just to name a few.

These tracks and a whole lot more (a total of 76 tracks) are included on the newly released Ryko four-disc anthology Bill Hicks: The Essential Collection.”

This “box set” if you will is more than a Hicks greatest hits collection. It is two CDs of his stand up and two DVDs plus a digital download card to give you even more Bill Hicks. Included in the double disc set is the never-before heard stand up routine from a lost Hicks show in San Ramon. The digital download is the very rare music CD from Hicks. The DVDs give fans plenty of great stand up moments spanning early-‘80s shows from Houston and a set of early-‘90s shows from Austin. There is also Hicks’ low-budget feature film “Ninja Bachelor Party.”

Hicks’ career broke in a time when Ronald Regan was running the country so his routine was served up on a silver platter. Sadly that career was cut short when Hicks was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on June 16, 1993. Despite the cancer spreading to his liver, Hicks kept performing and never told anyone except his family and close friends. At that time he would often start his routine with “This is my last show,” with the crowd not knowing the real truth.

While receiving chemotherapy, Hicks recorded his final comedy album Arizona Bay nd was working on a pilot television show “Counts of the Netherworld.”

Hicks’ actually final performance was on January 6, 1994, at Caroline’s in New York. As his health deteriorated, Hicks moved to his parents’ home in Little Rock, Ark., and finally divulged his illness to the rest of the world. He called friends to say goodbye on February 14, 1994, and left this world only 12 days later on February 26. He was just 32 years of age.

Bill Hicks wasn’t groundbreaking, but he did take the comedy of Pryor and Bruce to a whole new level. He was arguably the last of the social satarist. He said of himself that he was “Chomsky with dick jokes.” The comedian is still relevant to this day and probably will always be. Bill Hicks: The Essential Collection is the perfect way to honor his talents.