|William Melvin Hicks, better known as Bill Hicks (December 16, 1961 ? February 26, 1994), was a controversial American stand-up comedian, satirist, and social critic.|
Hicks is often compared to Lenny Bruce (although he frequently denied knowing much about Bruce's life or work) and Sam Kinison (a contemporary and friend). Comedian Richard Pryor figured largely as an inspiration and stand-up idol for Hicks, as did Woody Allen who also served strongly as a very early influence for a pre-teen Hicks. Like Lenny Bruce, Hicks challenged formal and informal forces of censorship, and suggested a disconnect between the values and operations of modern life, particularly in the United States, a country toward which his humor frequently adopted a tone ranging from cynicism to scathing critique. Hicks characterized his own performances as "Chomsky with dick jokes".
Born in Valdosta, Georgia, Bill was the son of Jim and Mary (Reese) Hicks, and had two elder siblings, Steve and Lynn. The family lived in Florida, Alabama, and New Jersey before settling in Houston, Texas when Bill was seven. Hicks has two school-age stories on the Flying Saucer Tour Vol. 1 album. He said he was raised in the Southern Baptist faith. He was drawn to comedy at an early age, emulating Woody Allen, and writing routines with his friend Dwight Slade. Worried about Bill's behavior, his parents took him to a psychoanalyst at age 17, but the psychoanalyst could find little wrong with him. The therapist apparently joked that Bill's parents would probably benefit more from a few sessions than Bill himself.
In 1978, the Comedy Workshop opened in Houston, and friends Hicks, Slade, and Kevin Booth started performing there. At first, Hicks was unable to drive and so young he needed a special work permit. He worked his way up to once every Tuesday night in the autumn of 1978, while still in high school. He was well received and started developing his improvisational skills, although his act at the time was limited. Bill Hicks, Kevin Booth, and Jay Leno reminisce about the Comedy Workshop years in the It's Just A Ride documentary.
In his senior year of high school, the Hicks family moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, but after his graduation, in the spring of 1980, Bill moved to Los Angeles, California, and started performing at the Comedy Store in Hollywood, where Andrew Dice Clay, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, and Garry Shandling were also performing at the time. He briefly attended Los Angeles Community College, mentioning the unhappy experience on Flying Saucer Tour Vol. 1. He appeared in a pilot for the sitcom, Bulba, before moving back to Houston in 1982. There, he formed the ACE Production Company (Absolute Creative Entertainment), which would later become Sacred Cow Productions, with Kevin Booth, and worked at local Houston comedy clubs like The Comedy Workshop (as did Brett Butler). At some point he attended the University of Houston briefly.
In 1983, Hicks started drinking heavily while using other types of drugs, which may have influenced his increasingly disjointed and angry, at times even misanthropic, ranting style on stage. As had become his trademark, he continued attacking the American dream, hypocritical beliefs, and traditional attitudes. At one show, two Vietnam veterans took exception to his statements and sought him out after the show, breaking one of his legs and cracking one of his ribs.
Hicks's success steadily increased (along with his drug use), and in 1984 he got an appearance on the talkshow Late Night with David Letterman, which was engineered by his friend Jay Leno. He made an impression on David Letterman, and ended up doing eleven more broadcast show appearances, all hugely popular, despite being bowdlerized versions of his stage shows.
In 1986, Hicks found himself broke after spending all his money on various drugs, but his career got another upturn as he appeared on Rodney Dangerfield's Young Comedians Special in 1987. The same y