In 1994 caustic stand-up comic BILL HICKS was knocking on stardom’s door when he died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 32. Ten years later, those who missed the Houston-bred Hicks on his first go-round get fresh exposure to his scathing and profane social commentary with the simultaneous release of LOVE ALL THE PEOPLE (Soft Skull Press), a compilation of miscellaneous writings and routines, and BILL HICKS LIVE (Rykodisc), a DVD with three complete live shows and a bonus documentary. Hicks has been touted as a cult genius who paved the way for the likes of Dennis Miller, Bill Maher, and Jon Stewart. Detractors counter that he also spawned dreadful angry comics like Andrew “Dice” Clay. The most insightful selections in Love All the People are not the transcribed shows but New Yorker critic John Lahr’s foreword and the interviews and letters that reveal Hicks to be a painfully sincere idealist distraught because America chooses to bomb, not feed, the world. “Love” and “compassion” are irony-free terms for Hicks; there is no sarcasm in the title. But the real measure of Hicks’ singular talent is found viewing Bill Hicks Live, which shows the comedian to be whip-smart, Klaxon-loud, and X-rated—oh, and plenty hilarious. For all his rebel posturing, he’s a pro’s pro, with the timing of a demonic televangelist—all swagger and dramatic pause. But the laughs are just jabs Hicks throws to set you up before he knocks you out with the Big Truth About Thinking for Yourself and Not Being a Mindless Drone for the Man. Bill Hicks never was a laughmeister shucking and jiving for a sitcom role, which is why he matters now as much as he did then.
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