Recently, a band that I love and am friends with received a horrible review. When I say horrible, I don’t mean that the reviewer gave them a fair listen and came out of it incredibly underwhelmed, but rather, the reviewer turned out to have a bit of a grudge with a former member of the band, and took the review as an opportunity to exact misguided revenge on the band. In an effort to get our own revenge, I suggested that we start a Facebook group called “(Reviewer’s Name) Has a Pus Bubble On the Tip of His Dick With a Maggot Inside of it”. I was quite proud of that group name, until I realized I outright stole the entire thing from Bill Hicks.
Now that may have been a longwinded and unnecessarily personal way of illustrating my point that Bill Hicks is unquestionably one of the most influential comedic minds of the last half-century, but who can pass up an opportunity to use that kind of dark poetry. It’s the sort of thing Hicks was known for: vitriolic, unerringly rational, brilliantly phrased comedy. Since his death in 1994, plenty of like-minded comedians have picked up his torch and ran with it (David Cross, Patton Oswalt, and Louis C.K. immediately leap to mind), but there was something uniquely Hicks that none of these comics even attempt. Cross nails the righteous anger. Oswalt certainly knows his way around phrasing, and C.K. gets plenty of mileage out of treating his primal instincts as though they are small, persistent perversions. Only Hicks though would dare to balance his justifiable anger against organized religion with a surprising, almost Eastern view of spirituality.
The many shades of Hicks are expertly displayed on The Essential Collection. Yes, there have already been countless posthumous releases celebrating Hicks’ immaculate legacy, and yes, the two comedy discs on this collection are largely comprised of material already available on Rant in E-Minor, Arizona Bay, Dangerous, etc. Just consider those discs a primer for the uninitiated. Besides, it’s still a hell of a lot of fun to hear a bunch of classic bits sequenced with concern for thematic continuity.
And there’s still plenty for longtime Hicks fans to enjoy. Aside from the two audio discs, there are two DVDs loaded with previously unreleased material. The strongest material can be found on the “Austin Bootleg Series”, culled November 1991 through October 1993. This was the period in which Hicks performed most of the material that would end up on his classic albums, and it’s revelatory. In a strictly audio format, Hicks frequently comes off as combative, even vicious. Seeing him perform the same material makes Hicks appear far more gregarious and appreciative towards his crowd. It offers the listener a chance to see a side of Hicks that doesn’t come across on the albums where this same work is featured.
There are plenty of other curiosities available on The Essential Collection. The compilation includes a download card that allows listeners to access a collection of music recorded by Hicks that never saw daylight. Then there’s Ninja Bachelor Party, Hicks’ sole foray into film, which is an intentionally incorrectly dubbed martial arts parody featuring Hicks as Dr. Death. Suffice to say, Ninja Bachelor Party’s reputation as a curiosity is well deserved. And, perhaps most notably, there’s a generous allotment of footage of a fresh-out-of-high-school Hicks performing sharp, if largely inoffensive, material about his parents, dating, and a host of other young men’s concerns. It’s a fascinating look at a persona and perspective forming, one that would irreversibly change the face of modern comedy as we know it. For Hicks fans, this one is unmissable.