ok, now this is a matter that has been bothering for a while now. most of you will disagree, while some others will say that it is way too late to deal with this.
i would agree, if not every now and then you stumble upon said matter in one or the other discussion. online and offline. in a matter that is just naive an unacceptable.
i am a huge fan of standup comedy. not only as entertainment, but as an art form. therefore i am extremely picky, when it comes to spending my time on a full 90 minutes performance. in many cases i try to make it to the end, but just can not take it, because so few acts are able to get a working set together.
let’s face it, many people have such lowered expectations and would not be able to write even the simplest two liner, if their life depended on it. proof? just think about it: everyone of us and i really mean everyone, has at least one friend that uses pseudo-funny terms and on occasion tells you an insanely unfunny joke, both of which weren’t even funny to begin with when they got invented, or let’s better say „discovered“ 50-200 years ago. because of those kind of people, even the most mediocre comedian that is able to cater to a certain mainstream crowd, is able to get rich by doing standup, without even the slightest hint of talent. have you ever seen „last comic standing“? well, then you know what i mean.
the problem with said mainstream crowd appears to be, that they are willing to defend their idol, whoever that might be to the blood, leaving all rationality behind.
anyway, that is just one subject that i will be dealing with here. the second one, since this is hicks related, is joke theft.
different comedians deal with this matter very differently. some go to court, some ignore it, some even physically threaten the potential thief and very few, like Stewart lee, join the matter of mainstream acts stealing from indie acts, into a masterpiece of a routine („90s comedian“).
the comedian, who is most notoriously know for stealing other people’s material, is Carlos Mencia. he has been accused of joke theft more often then some other comics have even performed and at one point, he finally caved in by proudly admitting: „yes, i will steal your joke. i will take your EXACT joke and add mexican to it.“ (he is of latin decent).
i did some digging into the case Mencia and no matter if you like or hate the guy, he has a huge set of balls. i have seen so many videos of Mencia being accused and threatened on stage, it’s completely nuts. the most intense incident happened, when comedian/MMA commentator Joe Rogan threatened him in a super small club, on an almost microscopically small stage. Mencia stuck to his guns, that he hadn’t been stealing the joke that Rogan accused him of „borrowing“. now, lie or not, have you every seen joe Rogan? that dude could punch you into the ground, without even putting an effort into it. anyway, what i am saying is, that this kind of reaction is clearly out of proportion in my humble opinion. Rogan isn’t even in the best position to begin with. ok, let’s say that he just wanted to help the comedian who got „robbed“ and just was to shy to confront Mancia himself. fair enough, that’s a noble intention, but Rogan whom i consider a fantastic commentator and generally likable guy gets away with rather „generic“ material, that easily another comedian could have come up with. i am not saying that Rogan stole anything, but i would not be surprised to hear a bit that Rogan did from someone else, because of it’s simplicity, if you catch my drift.
anyway, some people, like Jimmy Carr for example took things to court, when Jim Davidson used one of his bits, which i think is a bit much as well, but at least somewhat civilized.
personally i like Stewart Lee’s approach the best. in his routine „90s comedian“, he incorporates that matter into something bigger and basically takes it, where it really belongs: the stage. another comedian stole from you? then why not break one of the basic rules of standup and ridicule the living shit out of that comedian.
lee particularly sets his teeth into the case of Joe Pasquali stealing a major part out of Michael Redmond’s stage act. he verbally slaughters Pasquali in this set, showing no mercy whatsoever.
now, if we are on the subject of stealing, one question comes to mind: what is a major part of an act? is it 5% of material? 10%? 50%? stealing the stage persona?
well, according to hardcore bill hicks fans and friends of the deceived comedian, Denis Leary stole Hick’s stage persona, performance and material. now, that’s what i have a problem with, for multiple reasons.
i have tried to get into hick’s material, i really tried, because many people, yes even some of my friends told me that he would have been the best standup comedian that ever lived. i have watched all material that i could get my hands on, including the documentary „american: the bill hicks story“ and to be honest, there is only one positive aspect, that i can see: bill seems to have been a nice guy. that’s about it. when it comes to his stage act … well … meh. the bit of material, that is available of the stage persona that „raging alcoholic hicks“ brought to the table, well yes, that was fantastic. it reminds me of some of my faves (all drunks, btw) like Stanhope, Andrist, Rouse… etc, BUT that’s not the hicks that those people are talking about, when praising him and accuse others of ripping him off. the hicks that those people love is the later „bill hicks: sane man“ guy, that tells pseudo wisdom to his disciples. for example: corporations want money, marketing wants to manipulate, pop music is not rock n roll … and the similar. frankly, any adult over 20 should not need a supposed comedian, to tell him so. one should be able to figure that one out by themselves by then.
anyway, my point being, that hick’s material in question is rather „generic“. it mostly consists of jokes, which many of us could come up with and most likely HAVE come up with, telling our buddies at work, at one point in out lives.
if you talk about widely discussed subject matters, then of course someone will have a similar angle, similar joke, similar bit sooner or later. imagine people would get into fights about who did the first „Michael Jackson’s nose“ joke and who are the 2000 comedians, that supposedly „stole“ that joke. 😉
do you know the „itchy asshole routine incident“?Louis CK and Dane Cook both wrote bits, which revolved around them having an itchy asshole. both bits were very different, except the subject matter. that simple coincidence boiled up to point, where CK fans were going nuts against cook, even though louis himself never even mentioned the slightest hint of him getting his material stolen, by cook. it went so far that CK made it part of his tv series „Louie“, to stop it from further escalating. my point being, that this is not a very specific subject. Stewart Lee once made a bit about entomologists (insect scientists). ok, now if i would see a parts of that bit, coming out of a different comedians‘ mouth, then yeah, i would agree. that’s so unique, that it has to be stolen.
now, with the hicks vs other comedians case, the evidence are a bit different, though not entirely.
friends of hicks have testified, that the friendship between bill hicks and Denis Leary broke and eventually got ended, because Leary performed material on stage, that belonged to hicks. that might be true in full, we don’t know. unless anyone of you was at such a gig, when that happened, we simply don’t know. Leary might have really been doing 70% of a complete hicks routine, copying his stage persona and everything. MIGHT! the matter of fact is, though that when you have seen all officially available Hicks material, looking for the parts that Leary used in his ONLY released routine „no cure for cancer“, you will have to be EXTREMELY generous to the term „stealing“. out of all the material, all we find is this: jim fix, smoking and occasionally inhaling his cigarette loudly. that’s about it.
well, let’s just compare. both comedians used „jim fix“ as well „as „Keith Richards“ in their routines.
„Keith Richards outlived Jim Fixx, the runner and health nut. The plot thickens. You remember Jim Fixx? This human cipher used to write books on jogging. Now, what do you fuckin‘ write about jogging? „Right foot, left foot, faster, faster, oh hell, I dunno, go home, shower.“ Pretty much covers the jogging experience, I do believe. Then this doofus goes out and has a heart attack and dies… while jogging. There is a God. „Right foot, left foot, hemorrhage.“
„Remember Jim Fixx? The big famous jogging guy? Jogged fifteen miles a day. Did a jogging book. Did a jogging video. Dropped dead of a heart attack when? When he was fucking jogging, that’s when! “
„I recently read an interview in Rolling Stone, where he advocated that people should not do drugs, KEITH RICHARDS said that we should not do drugs. Keith, we can’t do anymore drugs, BECAUSE YOU ALREADY FUCKIN‘ DID THEM ALL! There’s none left, we have to wait until you die so we can smoke you’re ashes, alright! “
would i call that THEFT? i don’t think so. are there minor similarities? yes, but both dude hung out together and were on a similar page, so it is not really weird, that they would both come up with jim fix and Keith Richard material. also, those are extremely short bits. there are a couple of more similar 3 liners , but let’s not forget, in both routines in question, each comedian goes on a 90 minutes rant, with in comparison at best 0.5% of similarities in their material.
as for Leary stealing the Hicks stage persona, i would like to honestly ask everyone who claims that: „where the hell are you seeing that? do you have some mystical bootleg video, where hicks does something completely different from what is on the DVDs?“.
when i watch any hicks material, then his stage persona is that of a slightly insecure, slightly shy, constantly sweating, constantly smoking, pale guy, that screams the parts that are supposed to be punch lines, while Leary’s act used to be the one of a raging madman, a totally exaggerated advocate for everything overly muscular and alpha male.
have any of you ever seen Leary’s „no cure for cancer“ performance? how the fuck is that even remotely comparable??? that’s the complete opposite. if you wanna accuse him of being inspired by a different stage persona, then that would be lewis black, but even that would be very far fetched.
i would see a point, if in his successful years, hicks would have still been the raging alcoholic on stage. yes, that was somewhat comparable to what Leary did, but in hick’s case, it was not much of an onstage persona, it comes off as his honest opinion, with a bit of exaggeration on top of that. how much is exaggerated, is even a bit questionable.
do you know his infamous „marketing“ routine?
here it is:
„By the way if anyone here is in advertising or marketing… kill yourself.
No, no, no it’s just a little thought. I’m just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day, they’ll take root – I don’t know. You try, you do what you can. Kill yourself.
Seriously though, if you are, do.
Aaah, no really, there’s no rationalisation for what you do and you are Satan’s little helpers. Okay – kill yourself – seriously. You are the ruiner of all things good, seriously. No this is not a joke, you’re going, “there’s going to be a joke coming,” there’s no fucking joke coming. You are Satan’s spawn filling the world with bile and garbage. You are fucked and you are fucking us. Kill yourself. It’s the only way to save your fucking soul, kill yourself.
Planting seeds. I know all the marketing people are going, “he’s doing a joke…” there’s no joke here whatsoever. Suck a tail-pipe, fucking hang yourself, borrow a gun from a Yank friend – I don’t care how you do it. Rid the world of your evil fucking machinations. Machi… Whatever, you know what I mean.
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 scum-bags! 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.”
God, I’m just caught in a fucking web.
“Ooh the trapped dollar, big dollar, huge dollar. Good market – look at our research. We see that many people feel trapped. If we play to that and then separate them into the trapped dollar…”
How do you live like that? And I bet you sleep like fucking babies at night, don’t you?
“What didya do today honey?”
“Oh, we made ah, we made ah arsenic a childhood food now, goodnight.” [snores] “Yeah we just said you know is your baby really too loud? You know?” [snores] “Yeah, you know the mums will love it.” [snores]
Sleep like fucking children, don’t ya, this is your world isn’t it?“
that’s hard to sell as a comedic act, because a) there is not punchline, b) there is no real argument behind it, c) that’s about as creative and adult as saying „hey marketing people, you are shit shit shit shit shit ….“ and keep on going for 10 minutes, d) if it wasn’t for marketing, we would not ever have heard of bill hicks.
now, you COULD just go ahead and take this approach in a way that Diceman’s approach is meant: play a character, that is completely wrong and moronic and exaggerate it to a point, that it becomes hilarious how much of a douchebag that character is, but considering the fact that his fans take bill’s words at face value, adding his public off-stage views to that, paints a different picture.
i have read claims by hicks fans, that wrote almost literally „the hicks, that you have seen on tape, is not the hicks that i know. the real hicks did exactly the stage persona, that Leary later ripped off from him“. hmm, now isn’t that convenient? if that’s true, why did he chose to always chose the persona we know for his recordings, while use the persona YOU claim to know strictly off-tape?
what bothers me even more though is the fact, that people don’t seem to stop there. if you go to youtube, then you will find videos named with „did these people steal from bill hicks?“ or even worse „these comedians stole from bill hicks“, that intend to prove that basically every living creature on the planet stole something from bill hicks, no matter if those people have been doing standup since the stone age. it is hard to swallow, but you will even find claims that George Carlin stole from Bill Hicks, because the found 5 words in a row that both performers used similarity at one point of their career. so, DID Carlin steal from Hicks? of course not! Carlin has been throwing out material ever since 4 years before the baby jesus was born and if he hadn’t died, he would still be putting out a new full 90 minutes routine every year and would eventually perform until they have to drag him on stage in a hospital bed at the age of 135 years. so no, motherfucker. Carlin did not steal shit from anybody.
if at all, it would have been the other way around. Carlin has been doing comedy since the late 50s, so even before hicks was even born. if you remember Carlin, especially the late Carlin, he used to open up with a tongue in cheek rant about types of people that deserve to die or at least get some kind of punishment. carlin usually did not spend more than 10 minutes with this kind of warm up routine, while hicks in his programms didn’t do much else.
what i also find surprising is that nobody though sees any similarities with hicks material in regards to other people’s material that has been released earlier. i am saying this, because if i would be THAT nitpicky when it comes to the accusation of thievery, then i bet you that i could prove that hicks ripped off Lanny Bruce, Lewis Black, Carlin, Pryor, Murphy … etc. there is always a similarity.
apart from that i have read statements like „Bill Hicks is the best comedian that ever lived“ and „the things he said are just as true today, as they were back then“ and finally „the things he said, nobody was brave enough to say“.
first of all, NOBODY is the best comedian that ever lived. nobody. you might say, that someone is your FAVORITE comedian, but that’s it. period. why? because while standup is just as much a craft as it is an art, it is also neither sports or science. there is no exact measurement. even more important, different comedians use completely different approaches to comedy. some stick to telling jokes from a familiar specific angle, where the stage persona for the most part is the same as the comedians personality. some people use an exaggeration of that some others might even take on the persona of a completely different type of person, for example to portray an exaggerated version of said type of person and therefore prove the absurdity of their viewpoint. some people even strip their whole soul to the audience in a humorous way. all of that is not comparable. it depends what caters most to your personality.
what you CAN measure though, is if a comedian uses many techniques, has crunchy punch lines, has INNOVATIVE material, has intellectually challenging material, has stage presence ..etc and on that matter, i am sorry to bring it to you, hicks was mediocre at best. he mostly uses repetition, blunt exaggeration and instead of crunchy punch lines, he screams the end of the bit. look, i don’t blame you if that’s your thing, but don’t tell me, that there is any technical brilliance to it. there isn’t. have you seen lewis black’s „red, white and screwed“, Chris Rocks „bigger and blacker“, basically any Louis CK routine, Lewis Black’s „if you prefer a milder comedian..“ ? those are a couple of examples that shine on a technical level, that Hicks never aimed to reach.
and as for „the things he said are just as true today, as they were back then“.
oh, you don’t say?
surprise, there is a limited amount of subject matters that one can talk about and still draw a crowd. yes, you could start talking about the funny details of coin collecting and i am sure that the chance of someone using a similar sub-subject matter as you, will be minimal.
even more important: hicks talked about subject matters, that don’t tend to change. capitalism, media, marketing, manipulation, social matters, drugs. there hasn’t been much change in the basics of those subjects, ever since the romans were around, so it is not surprising that e.g. corporations are greed machines today, as they were in the 90s, as they were in the 20s and ever since the beginning of times. it has always been this way, it will always be this way. what did you expect? „oh look, all the corporations today in 2014, being 100% fair and shit. i just wished hicks could live long enough to witness that that.“ ????????
and finally: „the things he said, nobody was brave enough to say“.
you kidding me? you understand, that people like rock, Mooney, Pryor, Murphy and many more have been in deep trouble, because of what they said, especially in their routines, which in some cases even lead to thread of physical harm. what ruckus did hicks cause? cut out of one Letterman show. wow, i am impressed.
look, hicks fans. you like the guy, that’s totally cool, but please cut the crap. he wasn’t the best, he wasn’t a messiah, yes not even a prophet, he wasn’t betrayed or bestolen. he was simply your favorite comedian. nothing more, nothing left. i would meet you half way, but somehow out of experience i have the feeling that this offer will be refused.