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How the British have always appreciated true comedy.
Bill Hicks did not live an extraordinary life. Born into a middle-class suburban home with doting parents and overachieving siblings, the teen found his calling in furnishing extraordinary insights into the ordinary life that he, and most other Americans in the 70s and 80s, led. Getting his start as a teen comic in a local Texan comedy club, he was the young upstart coming at issues from a fresh angle, the ease and confidence with which he delivers his jokes distinguishing him as a special talent.
Dropping out of school and chasing the dream in LA, Hicks struggles with failure and fitting in with what the world expects of his humour. Falling into patterns of drug abuse and alcoholism, his comedy mirrored an outlook on life that was not mainstream. He was cynical, he was rash and he was jarring, and for all those reasons, he was an acquired taste. His anti-American routines particularly did not bode well for his career; in an industry where shock is now the norm, Hicks was ahead of his time, but that was to prove little consolation.
Eventually, ousting himself from the cycle of rejection and abuse, Hicks winds up in New York where he gets himself clean and his magical touch returns. Though he never sacrifices his right to say and joke about whatever he wishes (and highlights from various gigs are used as proof of this), in doing so he pushes back against the mainstream tide that flirts with but never embraces him. Diagnosed with cancer in his early 30s, Hicks never receives the true acceptance of the American audience that he perhaps craved, but he died in the knowledge that he stuck to certain values that never let him compromise what he believed in to merely give audiences what they wanted to hear. Many would argue that, in itself, that is a very American value.
Harlock and Thomas' film joins the growing collection of posthumous albums and features that have attempted to reclaim Hicks' image, to wonderful effect. Whether it is guilt for ignoring him whilst alive, America has finally embraced the humour of a man whose only really fame was an ocean away in the United Kingdom. As only a proud American could care enough to write the jokes about the fatherland that Hicks managed, his emotional emigration to the British Isles is as tragic personally as it was a highlight professionally.
If the documentary has a flaw, it is that Hicks wasn't around to truly finish it. This is a half-finished documentary because it was a half-finished life.
Concluding Thought: As a resident of the UK, the portrayal of Hick's success in the British Isles being down to his anti-Americanism is somewhat simplistic. The UK has a wonderful tradition of supporting comedians regardless of background or content, purely because they make them laugh.
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