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Censored Bill Hicks Performance To Finally Air

January 29, 2009

You may not have heard of Bill Hicks, and that’s understandable. The standup comedian never reached the levels of fame his talent deserved, and he died young. But his legend has grown in the years since his death in 1993, which came a few months after he appeared on David Letterman and delivered a routine so scandalous it was censored and never shown.

The routine included references to shooting Billy Ray Cyrus with a shotgun, jokes about Jesus not liking people wearing crosses (“Nice sentiment, but do you think that when Jesus comes back, he’s really going to want to look at a cross? Ow. Maybe that’s why he hasn’t shown up yet …”) and digs at pro-life protesters. It’s pretty tame by today’s standards, but at the time, the network didn’t want it aired, even late at night. So Hicks never got his big break.

That’s about to change. Hicks’s mother is going to be on Letterman Friday night, and the show will finally air that censored routine. It’s another sign that the comedian’s posthumous star is on the rise; a biopic is in the works, and more fans are discovering his work. I recommend his Arizona Bay CD, which is one of my favourites.

Hicks was never a “polite” comedian, and that’s part of his appeal. He was a very, very angry person, and his comedy is dark. It’s probably not for all tastes. But we live in a world where Dane Cook sells millions of comedy albums without any actual ability, so it’s nice to know there’s a smarter alternative out there.

(Of course, if you’ve ever heard a Denis Leary standup routine, you’ve heard a dumbed-down version of Bill Hicks. Leary blatantly lifted a lot of Hicks’s stuff, particularly his bit on smoking and jogging guru Jim Fix.)

I’ll be watching Friday night. I hope you do, too.

(Note: That isn’t the Letterman performance in that video clip, by the way.)

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