A lot of people on the club scene have been high on Bill Hicks for years. A cult figure in London, he was the subject of a recent New Yorker magazine profile not long after he was bumped off the David Letterman show reportedly for being too controversial (which says something about Letterman's putative iconoclasm). He's just concluded a brief Southland run--Tuesday night at the Brea Improv and Wednesday at Igby's.
No comedian likes to dance alone. The Brea club, though functional and capacious, is as sterile as a medical clinic. But the wary inertia Hicks worked against was partly his own creation. At one point the 31-year-old Texan mentioned that stand-up was all he ever wanted to do since he was 15 because it was a venue for truth-telling. You can see how talking out loud is for him a way of working through dilemmas or pointing out the preposterous that the rest of us conveniently overlook.
Consider, he says, watching "Cops" on TV and seeing the same battered wives in the same trailer parks hanging on to loutish husbands and breeding litters of kids destined for dead-end lives ("What is their family tree? A stump?"). There are a lot of religious references (as in "Where does the chocolate Easter bunny show up in the Bible?") and he's not coy about his politics ("Old Clinton turned out to be just what I thought: A whore").
Hicks brings a lot of heat in his act, which often takes off in gorgeous verbal riffs, and he's free of the standard club set-up and punch rhythms and references (though he's infected with the epidemically smarmy Richard Belzer drone).
Outside of his moral outrage, there's no unifying element either. Hicks' passion is stalemated by his take-it-or-leave-it unreason. He could be on to something, for example, in his film clip that shows U.S. government tanks setting fire to the Waco compound--incinerating the Branch Davidians inside as well as the children the government had purportedly set out to save. But there's no explanation of who shot the film or who's narrating it, or the possibility of any other interpretation for what we're seeing. In this and many other charges, Hicks could just as well be a crackpot as prophetic.