On February 26, 1994, comedian Bill Hicks died at the age of 32 of pancreatic cancer, right as his career seemed to be taking off.
Hicks, a legend in the comedy world, is far less of a household name to mainstream crowds, most likely due to his premature death.
To those unfamiliar with Hicks, his humor is perhaps comparable to George Carlin.
Both comedians showed almost a contempt for humanity as a whole with a strong anti-authoritarian view.
Yet through their honesty and anger, both managed to garner laughs while seemingly insulting their entire audience.
But where Carlin was bitter about the world, Hicks was incensed at what he viewed as blatant stupidity.
He would often rant about people he perceived as having “fevered egos,” people he believed to be damaging humanity as a whole for their own personal gain.
Hicks felt humanity was content with mediocrity and the petty and ignorant attitudes he perceived in it.
Hicks once bleakly quipped, “I'm tired of this back-slappin' isn't humanity neat bulls***. We're a virus with shoes.”
While that statement may sound just about as nihilistic as one can be, Hicks wasn’t all hopelessness.
Hicks, while very angry and disappointed with the status quo, still had hope in a world where there weren’t these “fevered egos” or backslapping.
At the end of one of his final specials, “Revelations,” (available on Netflix), Hicks stops joking and shouting in favor suddenly delivering a concise message.
He began with asking himself, “There is a point, is there a point to all of this? Let’s find a point.”
After a brief analogy describing the world as a ride in which we choose what is real and what is not, Hicks delivers his final view of hope.
“It's just a ride. And we can change it anytime we want. It's only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings and money. A choice, right now, between fear and love.”
While this may be an idealistic view as old as time itself, that this man could come to this realization describes a view that while people may often rely on base instincts such as fear and anger, we don’t have to and we can change any time we want to make that choice.
Stephen Koellner (senior-mathematics), a member of Penn State’s Second Floor Stand-up club, stated that he always felt Hicks was “a social critic who just happened to be a great stand-up comic.”
Hearing Bill Hicks out of context may make watching an entire show of him sound draining, and he even referred to going to his stand-up as “you’re wrong night” in light of his strong convictions, but it was his comedy and delivery that made him so captivating.
Dan Hofman (junior-computer engineering) another member of Second Floor Stand-up, said “I think he was the first full stand-up set I ever watched because he was the only one who could hold my attention for a full hour.”
“He is just so cynical, but makes it funny so you feel better about things” Hofman said.
Steve Schneible (freshman-English), another member of Second Floor, described him best, praising him for his “lone wolf persona, anti-government and misanthropic yelling and utter lack of care about the audience.”
While some may be turned off by this kind of profile, many find it exceptionally refreshing.
“I never had rock and roll heroes, but I had Bill Hicks,” Schneible said.
For Hicks, however, his life was cut short by cancer.
Shortly before his death, an article in The New Yorker wrote a piece praising him after one of his sets was barred from airing on The Late Show with David Letterman due to him mentioning taboo topics at the time, such as abortion and gay marriage.
This piece on him legitimized Hicks as more than a shock comic and displayed someone that understood the underlying themes in his material.
Tackling topics still controversial even to this day, this set shows just how ahead of his time Hicks was.
Fittingly, more than a decade after his death, Letterman would air the banned set, functioning as a posthumous apology for silencing Hicks vitriolic voice.
Yet today, in a world where many still feel disenfranchised and angry with the status quo, we may need Bill Hicks more than ever.
We need a person that is willing to alienate the way Hicks would alienate, whether it was to speak truth or to get some laughs.
A classic example of Hicks’ bait and switch alienation was a bit of his where he would enthusiastically ask the audience if there were any non-smokers.
After letting the audience cheer for some time about their non-smoking ways, he would nonchalantly say “a bunch of whining little maggots” as he pulled a cigarette out of his pocket.
To keep this alienation going, as he was smoking, he would describe his genuine desire to quit, not wishing to be doing it decades later where he would then imitate performing a stand-up set as though he was using an electrolarynx.
This ongoing cycle of disdain for non-smokers and his own smoking habit was noticed by Koellner.
“I think him dying of pancreatic cancer instead of lung cancer was Hicks’ last punchline,” Koellner said.