I first saw the late, great Bill Hicks – once dubbed “the most dangerous comedian in the world” – on The Tube, a late night British programme on Channel 4, in 1992, and I was immediately hooked. His humour was altogether something else: It was clever, made you think, and above all was funnier than anything I’d ever seen in my life. Before Hicks, my favourite comedian had been Dubliner Dave Allen, whom my father and both grandfathers loved; but though Allen was funny, his humour was a bit old-fashioned for me and lacked any of the funky, youthful rebel-rousing nature content that Bill Hicks was famous for. The Arkansas native followed in the footsteps of Lenny Bruce and George Carlin: both these comedians spoke of taboos that very few other comedians would talk about, yet Hicks did. Like Bruce and Carlin before him, Hicks was a comedian’s comedian, a man bent on comedic self-destruction for the sake of his art. The supreme iconoclast of American culture in his day, he died too young at the age of 32 in 1994.
One of the funniest sketches I ever saw him perform was about UFOs. This was off the back of a reported UFO sighting in Fyffe, Alabama in 1989. You can watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1MuT_KSOo4. The piece was off his Relentless album and basically makes fun of Southerners and Alabama. I used this as one of the plot themes in the second volume of my Napoleon Clancy PI books, called Cuyahoga Blues. In the book, Napoleon ‘Nappy’ Clancy and his sidekick Barry Fanning make their way down to Alabama in an attempt to rescue Clancy’s kids from some rough and mean bikers.
On the way to Alabama, Clancy and Fanning have a conversation about comedians:
“What are you laughing at?” I say to Barry as he’s cracking up at something on the internet.
“Jaysus, kiddo, I’m just readin’ on Wiko about this Bill Hicks… Never heard of the fella before.”
“You’ve never heard of Bill Hicks?” I say with amazement.
“He was some comedian.”
“It’s very subjective, though, comedy, yer know wha’ I’m sayin’?”
“How do you mean?”
“It’s just very subjective… Take Monty Python, for example… D’yer like Monty Python, Nappy?”
“They’re all right, yeah.”
“Well I have to say I don’t understand it at all… Now I’m not tryin’ to tell yer I’m a thick shite an’ the jokes just fly passed me, because they don’t – I understand them, it’s just I don’t appreciate them.”
“Why’s that then?”
“I don’t know. It’s unexplainable.”
“So who do you like?”
“Dave Allen. Tommy Tiernan. Jarlath Regan. Dermot Morgan was gas too before the fella went an’ died on us, God rest the poor man’s soul.”
“But they’re all Irish, Baz.”
“What of it?”
“Well, I don’t know – what about the Americans and the British comedians?
“Adam Sandler. Chubby Brown-”
“Chubby fuckin’ Brown’s the biggest perverted shitehawk tha’ ever walked the earth,” Barry gasps, “an’ as for Adam Sandler, no comment.”
“What about Denis Leary – Irish-American, can’t be bad?”
“Okay, but if you were going to rate your top five, who would they be?”
“Allen, Tiernan, Regan, Morgan an’ err, Podge an’ Rodge.”
“But you’re missing my point, Baz… Of all time… And anyway, you chose six.”
“I chose five.”
“Podge and Rodge make it six.”
“Ah, they’re only muppets anny way, so they shouldn’t at all count.”
“Nah, but serious – who’s in the top five. You’ve got to count stand-up, film comedians and all that.”
“Hard question tha’.”
“Well just have a go.”
“I wouldn’t know where to start – an’ yerself?”
“Charlie Chaplin’s got to be on the list somewhere.”
“I don’t think Charlie’d count, kiddo.”
“He wasn’t a comedian.”
“Yeah he was.”
“He was a silent film actor.”
“Still a funny bloke.”
“I’ll tell yer wha’ I’ll do, I’ll put it in Wiko to see wha’ comes up… Grea-test… com-ed-ians… of… all… time,” Barry says as he’s hitting the keyboard. “Ah, here we are. We’ve got: One-hundred greatest stand-ups of all time… The ten best comedians of all time… Ah, I’ll go with tha’ one… Jaysus, I don’t believe it,” Barry then says.
“What is it?”
“Bill Hicks number one. Louis C.K number two. Richard Pryor number three. George Carlin number four. Bill Burr number five… an’ a black fella’s number six called Patrice O’Neill, a Paddy no doubt.”
“But is that for stand-up?”
“No. For sit down.”
“You’re boring, Baz.”
“Well, none of these fellas would be on me list… Well, maybe George Carlin an’ yer man Ricardo Pryor.”
“Pryor was a really funny bloke.”
“Yea’, especially in that film Bulger’s Millions.”
“Brewster’s Million, Baz.”
“Well, whatever the title, gas film all the same.”
“Carlin was a bit hard to understand.”
“Clever fella – made yer think at the same time yer were crackin’ up.”
“Check to see if you can find anything on Bill Hicks and UFOs in Fyffe?”
“All righ’, kiddo… Ah, here’s somethin’ on YouTube… Here… Bill Hicks UFO’s… Listen to this:”
And then I have the funniest three and a half minutes I’ve had in all my time since I’ve been here, listening to Bill Hicks take the piss out of poor Fyffe, Alabama… And I know, I know, I shouldn’t be cracking up and laughing and having a good time at the expense of Fyffe, Alabama, because my kids are in the hands of some loony who wants to sell them off to some paedophiles.
“Fuck me, Baz, that was funny,” I say with tears in my eyes.
“Jaysus, wasn’t it – maybe I’ll have to put Mr Hicks in front of Mr Allen on me list?”
“Yeah, I think you’ll have to, mate…”
Now, if you want to know what happens, you’ll be able to read Cuyahoga Blues very soon, as it will be available at Amazon, Kobo, Nook, and the Apple iStore, though I’d recommend you first grab a copy of Spaghetti Junction here at Amazon.com, here at Amazon.uk, here at the Apple iStore, here at the Barnes & Noble Nook store, and here at Kobo for 99c/77p before you do that, the first volume in a six book series on the pair of private detectives.