I was rather shocked when browsing through my television blurbs last night that David Letterman, 15 1/2 years later, has revived the Bill Hicks controversy. Since many of you are out there saying “What???”, allow me to give some background.
Bill Hicks was a BRILLIANT comedian from the 1980’s and early 1990’s. His style involved enlightenment with a sledgehammer (figurately of course). He challenged Americans, embroiled in a pointless war in Iraq (the first one) and embracing mindless things like shallow pop culture and religion, to think for themselves. He did so by delivering incredible comedy routines that under no uncertain terms pointed out how ridiculous this society was. I like his personal description of his comedy best though, “Chomsky with dick jokes.”
Nothing was sacred to this man. Religion, politics, sex, drug use, smoking, society, his parents, he said things frankly that made even the most open minded blush. He was also funny as hell. Through his gifts of timing, making very weird noises with the microphone, and introspective material that not only make you laugh but made you think, he was a mastermind of a genre that at the time was dominated by Gallagher and Carrot Top. Needless to say, he didn’t exactly get Radio City Music Hall gigs.
He was a huge celebrity in England and Australia, who opened embraced his forward thinking. In the US, he was often shunned, censored, and even two Vietnam veterans broke his leg once after a gig. Bill Hicks was never pleased with how he couldn’t get through to his own country and the oppression he faced for expressing his beliefs openly.
In 1984, Bill Hicks’ long history with David Letterman started. Hicks made an impression after his first appearance on the show, and Letterman became a fan. He appeared on the Letterman show 12 times (on both NBC and CBS), but his last appearance was the one that created the most controversy. On October 1, 1993, his entire performance was cut from the broadcast. CBS never gave a good reason why, and neither the network nor the show’s producers claimed responsibility. This sent Bill Hicks into a fit, and he wrote a 39 page letter to the New Yorker expressing his outrage over the blatant censorship. Fans were outraged too, but nothing was done to fix the situation.
Sadly, Bill Hicks didn’t live to see this injustice corrected. On Februray 26, 1994, he died after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. David Letterman has always expressed his regret everytime the incident has been brought up, but that original performance still remains unaired today.
Tonight that’s all supposed to change. Mary Hicks, Bill’s mother and often fresh material for his routines, will appear on The Late Show With David Letterman tonight. The promise is at least some of that cut performance will be shared. I’m still skeptical, since why would CBS be doing this now almost 15 years after Bill Hicks’ death, but I’ll be watching and I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it once it’s done.
Who knows, maybe it’ll come with a dick joke.