News Ian O'Doherty

Saturday 20 September 2014

Want to feel old? Bill Hicks died 20 years ago today

Published 26/02/2014 | 02:30

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Bill Hicks
Anders Breivik

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the death of a man who is, for many, the single most important thinker and commentator of the last few decades.

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Normally, that's the kind of sentence guaranteed to have the sceptical frantically turning to the next page. After all, few people have the time to wade through some tedious tribute to someone they had never heard of, particularly when it's a comedian. Let's be honest, comedy lovers have a tendency to react as hysterical fan boys, regardless of our age and to the irritation of others, when it comes to speaking about our favourite performers.

But in this case, above all, I'd suggest the sceptics hold off on turning the page. Because William Melvin Hicks, who died at 32 from pancreatic cancer, was no ordinary comedian. After all, how many comedians have their own motion passed in the House of Commons, no less, which said "that this House notes with sadness the 10th anniversary of the death of Bill Hicks, on 26th February 1994"?

The idea of somewhere as profoundly and definitively establishment as the House of Commons marking the passing of such a furiously iconoclastic character seems odd. But the Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Pound's gesture was apt recognition that this was a man whose vision had long surpassed traditional stand-up comedy and had become a moving, powerful and savagely brutal assault on the absurdities we all allow ourselves to collude with.

Coming from a Southern Baptist tradition, William Melvin Hicks maintained the air of a manic, sweet preacher who swapped the revival tents of yore for venues around the world, but TV saw his influence spread far beyond just those who saw him live. And it's no exaggeration to say that his reputation as someone who could actually change the way people think, which was growing before his death, has continued to this day.

I can honestly say that the single most memorable night of my entire life, the only time ever I had an epiphany of sorts, was in the Tivoli Theatre in 1992. That was the only show he ever played in this country and I have never, before or since, seen someone so utterly magnetic and compelling that you simply couldn't take your ears off him. I wasn't the only one to feel that someone had just come along ripped their brains open and I've never been in a room where such admiration and hunger swept from the audience towards the man on stage that it was almost unnerving.

That night, my father and I stood at the side of the stage, beside the booming PA, and simply watched in wonder as a lone voice held the room for two hours.

Even an old comedy nerd like my dad, who had grown up gorging on Lenny Bruce and George Carlin stood, dumbfounded and almost worried by how moved he had been.

Old hippies don't like being taught new tricks. But even a man who was convinced that popular culture had been on a downward spiral since Altamont stood enraptured and after an exhausted and emotionally punch-drunk audience left an even more exhausted and emotionally punch-drunk Hicks, he turned and said simply: "I will never, ever forget what I've just seen. We've been in the presence of greatness." Well, that's the way I remember it, there might have been a few astonished expletives thrown in.

Of course, his stuff is still brilliant. The truth always is. But I most often remember his remark about the time he was assaulted by some outraged Christians after a show in the Deep South.

The Christians: "Hey buddy, we're Christians and we don't like what you said."

Hicks smiled. "So forgive me."

20 years.

Jesus.

WELL, THAT SOUNDS LIKE TORTURE TO ME

So, those nasty, brutish Norwegians have once more cemented their status as one of the most barbaric countries in the world.

That's the sad news that comes with with their latest attack on poor old Anders Breivik.

Breivik, who is suffering delusions of adequacy, has tried to portray himself as some sort of persecuted race warrior and says that his prison's refusal to upgrade his games console to a PS3 is 'torture'.

He argues that having a decrepit PS2 breaches his human rights and he needs "a new PS3 where he will get to have more adult games of his choosing."

Well, if nothing else, it proves this – you can hardly blame the latest Grand Theft Auto for his violence

Although I'm sure some of the anti-game lobby will try to give it a go.

WELL, WHO DIDN'T SEE THAT COMING

Not being particularly well versed in the finer points of electronic currency exchanges, Bitcoin always seemed rather bogus to my rather simple self.

Sure, we all know that most money is electronic these days but simply inventing your own seems optimistic to the point of deranged. And now the whole delightful fad is about to collapse after hackers stole 750,000 Bitcoins. Which is presumably worth a whole google of ebites. Or a data spread of nanosprites. Yes, that much.

Officer, come quick, I've been robbed. Look, my imaginary money seems to have disappeared.

Should I just try to turn it off and turn it on again?

Irish Independent

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