News & Politics

Happy Birthday, Bill Hicks: Why We Can Still Learn From, And Laugh At, The Great Critic and Comedian

Hicks was one of America's best stand-up comics, but also established himself as an insightful critic of American politics and mainstream culture.

 Bill Hicks died on February 26, 1994. He was only thirty-two, but his emotional, politically-charged acts established his legacy as not only one of the best American stand-up comics ever, but also as one of the most insightful critics of American politics and mainstream culture.  Hicks detested George Bush and Rush Limbaugh, was hilariously irked by fundamentalist Christians, and had a profound passion to seek the truth.  He constantly questioned the John F. Kennedy assassination, the Waco massacre,  the war in Iraq, and war in general, because as he put it, "It's only a war when two armies are fighting."  He criticized the government for arming the enemy (something the  Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) experienced just recently by arming Mexican cartels) and attacking Americans' freedom to choose their own lifestyles, and determine their own futures.   

Hicks fought for, and laughed about the absurdity of, many issues over which we are still fighting today: separation of church and state, abortion, gays in the military, and the drug war. One thing Bill always said, and has taken on an eerie truth in his death,  is that, as humans, we are still evolving: 

Folks, it's time to evolve. That's why we're troubled. You know why our institutions are failing us -- the church, the state, everything's failing? It's because, um, they're no longer relevant. We're supposed to keep evolving. Evolution did not end with us growing opposable thumbs. You do know that, right? There's another 90 percent of our brains that we have to illuminate.

What makes this statement so salient and so important is that, as a society, we have not continued to evolve --  the very institutions Hicks criticized are still failing; his words are still relevant. Hicks died, but his legacy lives, and we can still laugh at, and learn from, his analyses of mainstream America.  But be warned. Hicks had the gift to enlighten, but also to enrage.  He was consistently outraged - not only by the state of our world, but by the people’s lack of anger. In honor of his fiftieth birthday, which would have been Friday, I present to you some of his best quotes.

On religion. Hicks grew up in a Southern Baptist home in Houston, Texas. He was extremely critical of religion, and often poked fun at fundamentalist Christians.

The whole image is that eternal suffering awaits anyone who questions God's infinite love. That's the message we're brought up with, isn't it? Believe or die! Thank you, forgiving Lord, for all those options. 

A lot of Christians wear crosses around their necks. Do you think if Jesus comes back he ever wants to see a fucking cross? It's kind of like going up to Jackie Onassis wearing a sniper rifle pendant. "Hey Jackie, just thinking of John. We loved him."

You ever notice that everyone who believes in creationism looks really unevolved? Eyes real close together, big furry hands and feet. "I believe God created me in one day." Yeah, looks like he rushed it. 

I was over in Australia during Easter, which was really interesting. You know, they celebrate Easter the exact same way we do, commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus by telling our children that a giant bunny rabbit … left chocolate eggs in the night. Now … I wonder why we're fucked up as a race. I've read the Bible. I can't find the word "bunny" or "chocolate" anywhere in the fucking book.

And to Christians who may been offended by what Hicks has to say about religion, he had a quick rebuttal: “Then forgive me.”

On abortion. Abortion is still, as Hicks once joked "dividing America." Abortion access is deteriorating, and so Bill's skits on the great choice issue can still make us laugh, even while seething with anger.

You ever look at their faces? "We're pro-life." Don't they look it? Don't they just exude joie de vivre

I'll tell you how you can solve this abortion thing right now. Those unwanted babies that women leave in alleys and in dumpsters? Leave about twelve of them on the Supreme Court steps. Ha ha ha. This is over -- like that. You guys said we have to have 'em, well then you guys FUCKIN' RAISE 'EM! 

If you're so pro-life, do me a favor: don't block arms and block medical clinics. If you're so pro-life, lock arms and block cemeteries.

On Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Hicks even discussed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which, to what would be his outrage,  was only repealed by Obama earlier his year. Hicks considered the idea that some people should not be allowed to join the military, especially when discussed by the soldiers he called “hired thugs,” absolutely ridiculous.

Anyone dumb enough to want to be in the military should be allowed in. End of fucking story. That should be the only requirement. I don’t care how many push ups you can do. Put on a helmet. Go wait in that fox hole. We’ll tell you when we want you to kill somebody....

When did the fucking military get all these morals? “Is that a village of children? Where’s an A-bomb? I don’t want any gay people hanging around me while I’m killing kids.”

On the drug war. Hicks was fascinated and appalled by the propaganda that went into sustaining the war on drugs. More than ten years after Hicks’ death, we're still living under draconian drug laws, and not much has changed.  Despite promises he made during his campaign, Obama has proven himself to be just another drug warrior. He is assisting the federal attack to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries, thus denying people medicine proven to be effective,  all the while claiming marijuana has no medical benefits. And our prisons are still full of drug users. 

Why is marijuana against the law? It grows naturally on our planet, serves a thousand different functions, all of them positive. To make marijuana against the law is like saying that God made a mistake. Like on the seventh day God looked down, "There it is. My Creation, perfect and holy in all ways. Now I can rest. [Gives shocked expression] Oh my Me! I left fuckin' pot everywhere. I should never have smoked that joint on the third day. Hehe, that was the day I created the possum. Still gives me a chuckle. But if I leave pot everywhere, that's gonna give people the impression they're supposed to … use it. Now I have to create Republicans." -- " … and God wept", I believe is the next part of that story. 

I know this is not a very popular idea. You don't hear it too often any more, but it's the truth. I have taken drugs before, and I had a real good time. Sorry. Didn't murder anybody, didn't rape anybody, didn't rob anybody, didn't beat anybody, didn't lose – hmm – one fucking job, laughed my ass off, and went about my day. Sorry. Now, where's my commercial? 

I think it's interesting the two drugs that are legal, alcohol and cigarettes, two drugs that do absolutely nothing for you at all; and the drugs that might open your mind up to realize how badly you're being fucked every day of your life? … Those drugs are against the law. He-heh, coincidence?

See, I'm glad mushrooms are against the law, 'cause I took 'em one time, you know what happened to me? I laid in a field of green grass for four hours, going, "My God, I love everything." Yeah, now if that isn't a hazard to our country...How are we gonna justify arms dealing if we know we're all one? 

George Bush says we are losing the war on drugs. Well you know what that implies? There's a war going on, and people on drugs are winning it! Well, what does that tell you about drugs? Some smart, creative mother fuckers on that side. They're winning a war, and they're fucked up.

Hicks also often criticized the media, especially when it came to the mainstream news’ coverage of drugs.

You never see a positive drug story on the news. Isn't that weird? I mean the news is supposed to be objective  -- isn't it supposed to be THE NEWS? Same LSD story every time. We've all heard it. “Young man on acid, thought he could fly, jumped out of a building. What a tragedy.” What a dick. Don't go blaming acid on this fucking guy. Hey, hey, hey --  if he thought he could fly, let him take off from the ground and check it out first. He's an idiot.  He's dead. Good. You don't see ducks lined up to catch elevators to fly north, do you? No, they fly from the fucking ground. This guy is a moron, no tragedy.

Wouldn't you like to see a positive LSD story on the news? To base your decision on information rather than scare tactics and superstition? Perhaps? Wouldn't that be interesting? Just for once? 

"Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration – that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There's no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we're the imagination of ourselves. Here's Tom with the weather."

On advertising. It is no secret that advertising dictates, to some extent, the lives of the American people. We are one of two countries in the world that allows direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription pills, and America is one of the most over-prescribed countries in the world. TV tells us what to look like, what to think, and even who to vote for. Had hicks been alive to see the day corporations became people, I can only imagine the wrathful jokes that would have ensued. The following quote seems even to foreshadow the infamousCitizens United ruling.

See we just had a misunderstanding. I thought we lived in the U.S. of A., the United States of America. But actually we live in the U.S. of A., the United States of Advertising. Freedom of expression is guaranteed -- if you've got the money! 

In another skit, Bill told anybody in marketing or advertising to kill themselves. "There's no rationalization for what you do," he told them, "You are Satan's spawn filling the world with bile and garbage. You are fucked, and you are fucking yourself.” 

He goes on: 

I know what all the marketing people are thinking right now too, "Oh, you know what Bill's doing, he's going for that anti-marketing dollar. That's a good market, he's very smart."

Oh man, I am not doing that. You fucking evil scumbags! 

"Ooh, you know what Bill's doing now, he's going for the righteous indignation dollar. That's a big dollar. A lot of people are feeling that indignation. We've done research - huge market. He's doing a good thing." 

Godammit, I'm not doing that, you scumbags! Quit putting a godamm dollar sign on every fucking thing on this planet! 

"Ooh, the anger dollar. Huge. Huge in times of recession. Giant market, Bill's very bright to do that."

Before he died, Hicks gave a speech that embodied his perspective on American politics and society in general.  “It’s just a ride,” he said, but those who take the time to reflect and acknowledge that life is just a blip in the much grander scheme of things -- well, we shut those people up. I recommend reading or watching it in full (below), but here is an excerpt:

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 yourselves off. The eyes of love, instead, see all of us as one. Here's what you can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money that we spend on weapons and defense each year, and instead spend it feeding, clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space together, both inner and outer, for ever, in peace.

Rest in peace and rage, Bill. Happy birthday.

Kristen Gwynne covers Drugs at AlteNet. She graduated from New York University with a degree in Journalism and Psychology. She is the youngest AlterNet employee.