Comedy has its fair share of rule breakers. Bruce, Carlin, Pryor, Chapelle all come to mind. But the greatest of all, in my opinion, was Bill Hicks. Even describing him as just a standup comic feels wrong. Combining comedy with activism, philosophy and social commentary, his work continues to inspire performers, artists and thinkers alike. Sadly, like many great heroes, he died too soon. But not before performing (and recording) some of the greatest acts of standup comedy you’re likely to see.
One of his most famous bits is from the end of his comedy special “Revelations”, performed at the Dominion Theatre in London, UK in November, 1992. As he gets ready to leave the stage he delivers “the point to all of this” – a profound bit of monologue in which he posits that our lives are “just a ride”.
If by some miracle you have not seen this bit, please enjoy the snippet below (before heading over to Amazon or Netflix to get the full show – you will not be disappointed).
What made Hicks great is that he focused not just on universal human truths, like all great comedians do, but he would voice the uncomfortable thoughts we sometimes have about the world too. Thoughts we can relate to – even now, almost 25 years after his passing. At times he delivered them in radical ways and he most definitely made very many people shift in their seats, but he felt a responsibility to share his thoughts about all of this. To draw attention to things that would otherwise go either unnoticed or not discussed.
And he paid a price for it. In October 1993, Hicks became the first ever comedian to be censored from “The Late Show With David Letterman,” after CBS and the show’s producers cut his set for not being “correct for their audience”.
Thankfully, his segment was later aired and added to the impressive body of work the man left behind. And I say “thankfully” because apart from being hilariously funny, he also had a way of sharing powerful concepts in accessible formats – just like the “it’s just a ride” bit. Statements, ideas and theories that inspire, motivate and challenge us.
Because the implication of a concept like “it’s just a ride” is that it sets us free – a scary thought to most humans.
Free from the conventions that hold us back. Free to try a different approach to life. Free to make mistakes, learn from them and grow as people.
But it also passes on that responsibility that Bill Hicks felt. A responsibility that drove him to continue touring and performing even after he was diagnosed with cancer and had started treatment. A responsibility to be fearless and seek out truths. A responsibility to do more. To try more. To challenge the status quo, question everything and not just be a passenger through this life.
So, as the meme says: Be like Bill. Break More Rules. After all, it’s just a ride.