In the early 90s, I was fortunate enough to see Bill Hicks perform live, not once but twice, in the West End. It is not an overstatement to say that both those nights were life-changing experiences for me. Not a month goes by without me slipping on one of his albums and immersing myself in his words.
He was more than a comedian (although I’m sure he would have disputed that), and his routines remain vital and powerful, due to the timelessness of the material: The War in Iraq, the Bush presidency, the corruption of popular culture, the skewed agenda of news media. And, of course, they were damn funny. The world hasn’t come a long way since the days when Bill Hicks was one of our most perceptive and articulate commentators.
I am grateful every day that I got the opportunity to see him weave his magic over a packed house. When he was on fire, he could hold a room in his grasp for hours, luring you in with dick jokes, before seamlessly moving on to more substantial material, the roaring laughter giving way imperceptibly to a hypnotised silence.
He was 32 when he died. I’m going to be 34 this year. I find it hard to reconcile those two facts sometimes. For some reason I can’t quite nail down, the following segment from one of his shows has been gnawing away at me today, and I wanted to share it with you.
“The world is like a ride at an amusement park. And when you choose to go on it, you think it's real because that's how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round. It has thrills and chills and it's very brightly coloured and it's very loud and it's fun, for a while. Some people have been on the ride for a long time, and they begin to question: Is this real, or is this just a ride? And other people have remembered, and they come back to us, they say, 'Hey – don't worry, don't be afraid ever, because this is just a ride ...' And we ... kill those people. Ha ha, 'Shut him up. We have a lot invested in this ride. Shut him up. Look at my furrows of worry. Look at my big bank account and my family. This just has to be real.' It's just a ride. But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok. But it doesn't matter, because – 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. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one. Here's what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defences each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.”