Comedy Dynamics Presents: Bill Hicks (Fathom Events, NR)

He wasn’t nearly as appreciated in his time as he should have been, especially in America, but his popularity seems to rise with every new year.



I was first introduced to the stand-up comedian Bill Hicks in early 2003, when a friend of mine at the bookstore I worked at played one of his albums on the store’s sound system after closing. (Thanks, Jim Madison, wherever you are.) Later that year I moved to England to go to graduate school, and I was quick to learn that Hicks is seen as something of the second coming in that country; it is not an exaggeration to say that he’s widely adored, despite being something more akin to a cult figure in America. (Odd, given that he’s American himself—and from Texas, no less.) With the help of a wider availability of his routines in England, and the 2004 book release of transcriptions of his work called Love All the People, I caught the bug, and these days I’d rank him as one of the more influential figures of my adult life (barring people that, you know, I’ve actually met in the real world).

But… Bill Hicks died in 1994 at the age of 32, from pancreatic cancer, so he was nearly ten years gone before I ever heard of him, which of course means that I never had the opportunity to see him live. Sure, I’ve listened to all his albums enough that I basically have them memorized, but it isn’t quite the same.

My trajectory in Bill Hicks fandom is pretty common—he wasn’t nearly as appreciated in his time as he should have been, especially in America, but his popularity seems to rise with every new year. So, as something of a band-aid over the fact that the legions of his fans forever missed the opportunity to see him live, Fathom Events is doing a one-night-only theatrical showing of his breakthrough performance, generally referred to as “Relentless,” which was recorded at the Montreal International Comedy Festival in 1991. “Breakthrough” here is a relative term—this is where people in the industry came to know who he was (these days, people like Patton Oswalt cite him as a huge influence, and a very young Patton even opened for him a couple of times), but it isn’t like Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live or anything. Hicks was never a household name, and it will make sense why when you see his act—he doesn’t soft-pedal anything, and his comedy style is closer to furious tirades than traditional jokes, and he’s prone to exceptionally graphic imagery. Take for example a scene from Rant in E-Minor, his last recorded performance, where he describes Rush Limbaugh laying in a bathtub while Republicans pee on him: [as Barbara Bush takes her turn] “Her flaccid, wrinkled labia unfurls halfway to her knees, like some ball-less scrotum…”

Alas, the “Rush Limbaugh” bit isn’t in “Relentless,” but that doesn’t mean you won’t be treated to countless other classic bits of his, most notably his “Play from your fucking heart” admonishment to modern musicians, which will likely give you legitimate chills. And more importantly, if you’re already a fan, this is the first good opportunity in quite some time to see his act with a large, live audience, even if Hicks isn’t live himself. Of course there’s the requisite new footage (narrated by Hicks’ brother Steve) one would expect of an event like this, but the real draw for me is that this is probably about the closest I’ll ever get to seeing him live in my lifetime. | Pete Timmermann

Comedy Dynamics Presents: Bill Hicks is one night only, April 27th, at 8 p.m. For a complete list of theatres showing the event, including seven in the metro St. Louis area, visit Fathom Events’ website. Tickets are also available through Fathom’s website, as well as each participating theatre’s box office.

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