The Brits have been loving him for years. The first person to madly champion Bill Hicks’ comedy to me was a British-sailor-turned-wine-merchant in Hong Kong who shoved a VHS and then another into his video player on a green, green island in the South China Sea. The pride of Texas’ concerted, slicing vitriol about hypocrisy and his chain-smoking alike appealed to my friends. The Brit-made “American: The Bill Hicks Story” pulls together performances—there are worthy bits out there already—with a biography trying to understand where such a thinker and talker came from. (Photo-collage animations after the style of “The Kid Stays In The Picture” do yeoman duty.) It’s timeless comedy to break the heart: the late comic Hicks would have been disheartened to see how little has improved since his untimely death of pancreatic cancer in 1994 at the age of 32. (Why couldn’t he have lived to do battle with lung cancer and the equivocations of Obama?) References to “George Bush” and “The Iraq War” could have been minted only yesterday instead of so many yesterdays ago. A greatest-of of Hicks’ concert material, his greatest sermons, the tirades just shy of too-informed paranoia, would pack the punch that this Brit near-hagiography fails to connect to the life. Yet! Bill Hicks. The comedian’s comedian. The legend’s legend. The tragedy—and glory—of a short life lived well. 101m. (Ray Pride)
“American: The Bill Hicks Story” opens Friday at Siskel. The redband trailer below gives a fair taste of Mr. Hicks’ titanic righteousness.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.