I was given this volume of writings and transcriptions of Bill Hicks by someone who was under the mistaken impression that I was a fan of Hicks. So I read it, and found it of greater interest than I had anticipated.
One thing that struck me was that comedy was really only a secondary feature of Hicks' work. Primarily, he was a social critic and something of a philosopher. He was a relentless critic of politicians, the media and of hypocrisy in all its guises. He had a complete, and possibly naļve, faith in the essential goodness of humankind, blaming capitalism for the problems in American society. He also talked about God a lot, and referred often to the teachings of Jesus, often to point out the ways in which organized Christianity deviated from the teachings of their prophet. He saw his own task as being to force his audience to hear their own inner voice of reason, beneath the incessant hum of the agenda-driven and fear-mongering mass media. Another central theme for Hicks was drugs: he wanted them legalized, on the grounds that alcohol causes more destruction than any illegal substance. Hicks' politics did not help him win mainstream media coverage in the USA, and his fame in his own lifetime was greater in Britain.
This volume also contains the original treatment for Hicks' intended TV show for Channel 4, "The Counts of the Netherworld"; a bizarre affair, highly ambitious, quite pretentious, with little apparent humour. It features a manifesto in poetic form from Hicks, proclaiming himself to be "the Voice of Reason/ In a world gone mad, adrift on banal seas". Hicks was nothing if not earnest, bringing an evangelical zeal to his mission to "enlighten people to think for themselves". He was cynical about society, but he never extended this to people. He never really explained why, either, if people are so good, society is so, in his view, bad. He had, I think, a psychological need to believe in the goodness of people and the meaningfulness of life. This becomes even clearer in his last writings, when he knew he was not far from death. He becomes almost sentimental. He never seems to have stopped looking for his parents' approval, either, still trying to convert them to the music he liked on his death bed. The deadpan persona hid a sensitive, insecure individual who longed for acceptance and fellowship. But his foremost allegiance was to truth and in his pursuit of this he certainly showed himself to be a man of integrity, and integrity is the one thing we look for in our cultural icons these days. As to whether he was a genius, I'm not so sure, unless one can be said to have a genius for integrity. Many in Hicks' wake have faked this characteristic successfully enough, but Hicks was the real thing, one cannot deny him that.