Friday, June 20, 2003

THE LATE BILL HICKS may well have been a groundbreaking comic genius. I'm not ruling that out. But "Outlaw Comic: The Censoring of Bill Hicks," a documentary running on Trio, the Canadian cable network, presents a less-than-convincing case.

Narrator Janeane Garofalo, one of my favorite people in the whole wide world when she's not being insufferably self-righteous, elevates the routine standards-and-practices crap that all performers on TV have to put up with to the life-and-death proportions that the title suggests. Bill Hicks died, all right, but he died of pancreatic cancer, not of censorship. (The whole censorship cry is ironic considering that Trio bleeps the F-word throughout the show while displaying an "UNCENSORED COMEDY" bug in the lower right corner of the screen.)

And maybe I've heard the story wrong, but Trio omits (censors?) the punch line to the joke that supposedly got Hicks's last Letterman appearance yanked before it could be aired. Trio shows us the part about how Jesus probably wouldn't be happy to see Christians wearing crosses, but not the part about that being like going up to Jackie Onassis wearing a rifle pin.

Too bad they left that out, because that's pretty darn brilliant. There's some other funny stuff, too, but mostly Trio shows us ordinary stuff. Snorting into the mike! (I don't know whether Hicks beat Tim Allen to it, but either way it's not funny.) The New Kids on the Block are lame! Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker are stupid!

Trio and Janeane want us to believe that Hicks was shunned by polite society because he dared to do televangelist jokes during the Reagan administration. I don't think so. I was around during the Reagan administration. I was born the same week as Bill Hicks. Televangelism is and always has been a joke unto itself. Some comics pointed this out more humorously than others, but none of them were groundbreaking.

Hicks "made us think" by mouthing left-wing platitudes about how Republicans are evil because they support the fascist murderers in Central America (not to be confused with right-wing platitudes about how Democrats are evil because they support the communist murderers in Central America). That's not "thinking"; that's being the "sheep" that Hicks often accused his audiences of being.

Janeane also, amazingly, suggests that Hicks was edgier than thou because he took up drinking and smoking. Well, yeah, maybe if he did it in elementary school.

"Outlaw Comic," no doubt, fails to do justice to Bill Hicks's talent. And I, no doubt, am getting old. I must be, because as I finished watching this thing I was using my mom's favorite sentence:

"I don't get it."

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