Comic Prophet

In the late '70s, at Houston's Stratford High School, a prophecy was set in motion. "We started a band called 'Stress' with Kiss s's, recalls Kevin Booth. "My mom made the s's out of tin foil." Booth's bandmate and best friend of 17 years, Bill Hicks, would eventually become the embodiment of stress, a comedian who, like Lenny Bruce, blurred the line between comedy and social commentary, achieving legendary status.

It's a bittersweet Houston success story. Hicks was branded an "outlaw comic" for his furious critiques of governments and popular culture. He was the comic other comics went to see. He skewered vapid pop stars of the day, like Debbie Gibson and Rick Astley, calling them "ball-less, soulless suckers of Satan's cock," and "demons sent to lower the standards." He fueled his rants by watching television, digesting news and vomiting out the absurdity of it all. "Bill and I were both like CNN junkies," says Booth.

The Branch Davidian saga in Waco was particularly nourishing. Hicks and Booth witnessed the debacle firsthand, shooting a documentary, On the Seventh Day in Waco, in which Hicks indicts the American government as the aggressors just days before Mount Carmel was destroyed. Houston Media Source, in conjunction with Booth's Sacred Cow Productions, will show that video, along with four other Hicks videos, in a series called Bill Hicks and Friends, during August and September. None of the performances has been aired in Houston before.

Bill Hicks on Austin Public Access, recorded on October 24, 1993, is believed to be the final taped interview of Hicks before he died of pancreatic cancer on February 26, 1994.

In a June 8, 2003, New York Times article, Stephen Metcalf wrote, "Hicks never hit it big with an American audience, and his career lurched to-and-fro until it was cut short. Had Hicks lived to see the mid-'90s, narrowcasting might have provided him with the television platform he craved."

Before his death, Hicks was poised to make that big breakthrough. After his final appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman was axed because of Hicks's controversial jokes about Christians and anti-abortion protesters, buzz began circulating among the mainstream. Of course, in Britain, Europe and Australia, Hicks was already a huge star, due in part to his welcome critiques of American culture. "It was like dropping a bomb on those people," says Booth. "They were able to air Bill uncensored. The [American] media never accepted him."

Today, Hicks fans love to fantasize about their dead hero's take on the current administration. Booth has heard both sides. Some fans believe Hicks would have championed the war in Iraq, but Booth knows better. "The Bill Hicks that I knew," he says, "was completely opposed to war." He admits, though, to wishing he knew what Hicks would have made of our current state of affairs. "I'm sorry Bill missed the Internet," he says.

Being from Houston, according to Booth, sculpted Hicks's unique personality. "He really liked Houston," he says, "The whole 'outlaw comic' thing was from Houston, and it had a huge impact on him in a positive way. A lot of people think it was Austin, but Bill considered Houston his home."

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Troy Schulze
Contact: Troy Schulze