Today I turned 27. It is my birth-day. The constant ticking of time always makes me look at the aging process and what it means. I reminded myself today (as well as many other days) that Bill Hicks was 32 when he died. Thirty-two.
I feel almost silly that I have not acknowledged the influence Hicks has had on me. (Before you assume I’m a pissed-off, white, Hicks wannabe who saw him call a woman a cunt for 2 minutes on YouTube and took that as my license to do the same, that’s not the case. Through reading and watching countless stories about him, it’s that Hicks is just one of those people that I “get.”) If not for Hicks, I probably would not do stand-up comedy. He was the first comedian I saw that made me realize, “Oh, you can do that. You don’t have to be afraid. You can literally do anything up there.” He was a supremely gifted comedian and a great writer but I don’t intend to imitate him in his style, his delivery, or even his content. While there might be some similarities, it is the core of him – WHY he did what he did – that resonates with – and inspires – me.
Sure, some of his ideas might be misguided or a few jokes out-of-date, but so much of it holds up, both comedically and spiritually. You may disagree with the particulars of his politics or the scrupulousness of his conspiracy theories or the religiosity of his spiritual beliefs or the abrasiveness of his tone, but his message remains timeless and untainted. His message was not one of character assassination or left vs. right. Such were often the vessels (at first), but his message was much more sweeping; it dug deeper. He was a consistent advocate of the liberation of impulse and the evolution of ideas. The message was “pure freedom through love and understanding.” And, quite insanely, he was often hated for that.
I know that feeling. That desire to manufacture change in such a large, beautiful way, and to be constantly abhorred, disliked, ignored, or labeled pretentious for it. I know what it’s like to feel completely and utterly alone. Despite the reality of the situation in which I do have a small group of people to whom I feel very closely connected, at times, it can feel like the entire world is against you, shooting daggers right at your heart with their judgmental eyes and minds. That feeling is so draining, it hurts. It’s a struggle. Being rejected like this can generate a reactive misanthropy that is so jarring it can completely obfuscate the original message. I understand that duality of truth as well.
In this way, I feel connected to Hicks, even though I have never met him. (I was 8 when he died. Eight.) I understand what it’s like to feel this way, as well as how frustratingly lonely it is to stubbornly hold on to certain dissenting ideas in the name of honesty: they are inherently counter-culture. Society is constantly telling us to reject ourselves and accept the image of ourselves that they’ve created for us. “We are flawed, but [insert product/TV show/stance on issue] will make us perfect!” So when one tries to express a true notion of independence, of autonomy, of freedom, so many adherents to the societal norms will turn their backs on you. They’ll get offended, or scorn you for being “distasteful” or scoff at the perversion of it or merely ignore you. Being the social creatures we are, we all desire not necessarily the approval of our fellow humans, but at the very least their acceptance and acknowledgment. Without that, even the strongest of us can be made to feel alone. When I watch the aforementioned heckler video of Hicks at the Funny Firm in Chicago, I reflect on the oft-overlooked reality of how alone he must have felt. Sure, we can sit back and applaud him from the safety of our desk chairs and “like” it on YouTube or Facebook, but he was utterly alone up there. That feeling of not a single soul understanding how pure of a thing you are trying to do, nobody truly appreciating all of the force you are shoving into life and trying to share it with others, that feeling is one I understand completely. It is that feeling which connects me to him, transcendentally.
There are such grand ideas, such hopes, such optimism, constantly being crushed by the cynical glares of reality. I try to uphold the idea that all of our impulses – our true, honest impulses – in all of their variance throughout the human spectrum, merely are what they are. To label one as “evil” against the others seems arbitrary and violent in itself. It ostracizes human beings because of the way that they are which is the most unfortunate, miserable punishment to levy atop another. The goal has to be to bring all of our impulses to the forefront, let them display their ugly/beautiful/gross/crazy/lovely/HUMAN heads in the collective spiritual atmosphere, and try to better understand them and ourselves with open hearts and minds. There is more there, beneath the surface, past the bloody lake of repression/suppression/oppression, inside our hearts; the energy that makes them beat is all the same. We should not be made to feel ashamed for the culmination of our simple, involuntary beats. I try and search deep within myself to find out my own “ugly” truths and accept them, then love them. I want to do the same with you, with everyone. I want to find the dark spots within everything in order to bring them to light, so that none of us are left scared and alone in the shadows of our own collective fears.
Right or wrong, pretentious poetics aside, that is how I feel on a day-to-day basis. Bill Hicks, simply by existing, has been able to alleviate what I perceive to be the struggle against everything in trying to maintain my sanity in an insane world. Just knowing that Hicks is on my side, in spirit, makes me feel that much less alone. Knowing that someone out there at some point in time understood what I experience is comforting. It’s a strange form of love. For that, I am most grateful. So, it is here, now, in the first day of my 28th year that I, in particularly verbose, Hicksian fashion, truly thank him. If I can have the same effect on even one person on this planet before I, too, succumb to impending death, I will consider that its own form of wild success.
Here are a few of my favorite Bill Hicks clips. Enjoy.
My all-time favorite Hicks rant:
Beelzebozo, from ‘Relentless’:
This is part 1 of the entire set at The Funny Firm from which the infamous heckler video was pulled. You can watch the entire set by following the “related videos” links: