Bill Hicks: remembering a comedian beyond the jokes

REMEMBERED: Bill Hicks   was a US stand-up comedian, satirist and musician whose material encompassed social issues such as religion, politics and philosophy.
REMEMBERED: Bill Hicks was a US stand-up comedian, satirist and musician whose material encompassed social issues such as religion, politics and philosophy. CONTRIBUTED

THREE years in the making, AMERICAN: The Bill Hicks Story brings the tale of one of modern culture's most iconic heroes to the big screen.

At the age of 16, while still in high school, Bill Hicks began performing at the Comedy Workshop in Houston, Texas.

During the 1980s, he toured the United States extensively and made a number of high-profile television appearances; but it was in the UK that he amassed a significant fan base, filling large venues during his 1991 tour.

Hicks died of pancreatic cancer in February, 1994, in Arkansas at the age of 32.

Bill Hicks' timeless comedy tackled the contradictions of America and modern life head on.

His unique gift was to tease apart the essence of religion, the dangers of unbridled government power and the double standards inherent in much of modern society, using nothing but his hilarious ideas and the uncompromising observational style that continues to resonate with successive generations.

Hicks left a large unseen legacy; his collection of video recordings and hundreds of photographs and these became the starting point for the feature-length animated documentary American: The Bill Hicks Story (2009).

The main feature of this doco is it was made as an animation.

Hicks' story is told by the 10 people who knew him best: his family and closest friends who recount the twists and turns of his life with a freshness that hasn't faded in 15 years.

From Kevin Booth, Bill's talented lifelong friend to the Outlaw Comics, to photographer David Johndrow, who perceptively captures some of the most revelatory moments of Bill's life, each speaker is a compelling narrator who still carries a piece of Bill with them and, woven together, they bring a palpable sense of Bill's presence to the screen.

Their story provides the platform for Bill's own voice and for the first time, his 17 years of material are combined in a powerful chronology with his offstage journey.

With each of his routines now bedded in the context of his life, a fascinating insight into the growth and development of an artist is revealed, as Bill's early character work found first a comedic aim and then a truly powerful voice when he beat addiction to enthrall and challenge audiences, often touring 300 nights a year.

Topics:  bill hicks documentary nimbin nimbin bush theatre northern rivers entertainment whatson

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