American: The Bill Hicks Story

American: The Bill Hicks Story

A scene from AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY, a film by Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas. Picture courtesy Variance Films. All rights reserved.

American: The Bill Hicks Story (2009/2011)

Opened: 04/08/2011 Limited

Cinema Village...04/08/2011 - 04/28/201121 days
Hollywood Thea...04/15/2011
Sunset 5/LA04/15/2011 - 04/28/201114 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube

Genre: Biographical Documentary

Rated: Unrated


Seventeen years after his death, Bill Hicks has taken a permanent place in the cultural landscape and is widely recognized as one of the greatest American comedians of the modern era. Described as many things -- philosopher, social satirist, even preacher -- Hicks was ultimately a performer who, for many, changed what comedy could be. He believed that comedy played a vital role in any free and just society, and that the comedian, a free spirit detached from political or corporate agendas, was able to voice what others wouldn't, challenging convention and presenting ideas that would stimulate the minds of the audiences. Hicks had no difficulty making people laugh- but what he really wanted to do was make them think.

His comedy savaged the injustices of life in the late eighties/early nineties hangover that was post-Reagan America. But his uncompromising approach was met with controversy and resistance at home, and he found fame on the international stage instead. In 1993, on the verge of finally breaking through to the elusive mainstream American audience, Hicks was diagnosed with aggressive terminal cancer, and his life and career were cut short at the age of 32. But his timeless material lives on, revered today by both comedians (who frequently cite him as an influence) and fans alike.

Bill Hicks' remarkable journey is brought to life in the documentary feature AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY. Combining revealing new interviews from those who knew him best with a bold new photographic animation technique, AMERICAN eschews "talking heads" and takes the audience inside Hicks' unfolding life story using archival footage and animated photographs, many from Hicks' personal collection and previously unseen. It's a film that innovates, inspires, and outrages- while being funny as hell in the process.

About Bill Hicks(12/16/61 - 2/26/94)

Houston in the 1970s epitomized the realization of the American Dream -- with its leafy suburbs and luxurious homes for the prosperous new families of the rising middle class. For a young Bill Hicks, however, this prescribed conformity lacked substance, and he began to question the ideals he was being raised to fulfil. Entranced by the late-night comedians he saw on his bedroom TV, Bill discovered a world of creative rebellion and a satirical observation on American life that opened a new window on his teenage world. An 'A' student, but born with a strident non-conformist streak that was quickly emerging, Hicks could see the cracks in the dream around him, and realized he had an alternative destiny. He was going to be a comedian.

Luckily, Bill was not alone in his point of view. With the help of his like-minded friends - and much to the annoyance of his Southern Baptist parents - the 15-year-old began sneaking out to perform at the newly opened Comix Annex in Houston, and found himself right in the middle of an exploding comedy scene. Bill was quickly spotted and began to make regular appearances on the nascent David Letterman Show but, although instantly popular, he felt his comedy wasn't evolving quickly enough and he struggled to find a unique voice. Hicks was a fiercely intelligent and revolutionary thinker, but the mission to connect his esoteric ideas with mainstream southern audiences was generally hit and miss- with a lot more misses, at least at first.

Seeking inspiration from the hard-partying, politically aware group of Houston 'outlaw' comics he had fallen in with, Bill began experimenting with drugs and alcohol as a way to expand his creativity and view of the world. In particular, hallucinogenics opened up radical new ways of thinking for Hicks, and his confidence grew- along with a reputation for raising hell.

Bill's comedy began to take on broader themes, and he began battering the pillars of what he saw as society's flaws -- fundamentalist religion, the Reagan administration and Eighties pop culture. His reputation for fierce live performances began to grow, but his choice of material and increasingly drunken, drug-fuelled antics saw him kicked off television shows and banned from clubs. Heading toward a potential overdose, Hicks' friends worried that he was just one party away from death.

For Hicks, it was the fading sight of his comedy dream that finally sparked a change, and he left Houston for New York to begin the lonely struggle of removing alcohol and drug use from his life. One year later, a clean and focused Hicks emerged, along with an explosion in the pace and output of his comedy shows. In addition to returning to television for guest appearances, the newly-sober Hicks undertook a touring schedule that saw him playing 200 nights a year.

Despite his material being very American in nature, it was Bill's breakout performance at the prestigious Just For Laughs comedy festival in Canada that saw him suddenly connect with the mainstream audience he had sought in the US. Following this exposure, sold out tours were booked in the UK, and Bill mesmerized these new crowds as he skewered the US media and his own government's warmongering with a raw honesty that few other comics, American or not, dared to try on stage.

Though still dividing audiences at home, Bill's American following was also starting to reach critical mass, and he was repeatedly nominated as best male comic in America's Annual Comedy Awards. It looked as if Hicks was finally poised to become a major voice in American culture when, in June 1993, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Rather than hang up his gloves and retire, Bill instinctively saw an urgency to drive his comedy to new heights. Telling only his close family about his illness, he continued touring and redoubled his efforts to record new material in a bid to leave a lasting message about the and destiny now lies entirely in our own hands.

In a final twist, Bill's twelfth appearance on Letterman - and his last chance to reach out to the American people -- was censored in its entirety, his material considered too 'dangerous' for mainstream audiences. He died four months later, at only 32 years old.