January 30th, 2009 By mbreen | Arts | Posted In: Comedy

Letterman Makes Amends With Bill Hicks


Jan Leno bores me, I dig Jimmy Kimmel and I think Conan is the king of late night (even before he takes over Leno's show in the very near future). David Letterman is the Jack Benny and Johnny Carson of our times, all rolled into one.

Last night, Letterman showed his class, his legendary status and his sense of history by having Bill Hicks' mother on and then playing the legendary Hicks' appearance he originally censored some 16 years ago. Hicks had a career-making appearance on Letterman's show, and it was "banned," as Letterman said last night, by himself. Hicks, disappointed by what had happened, died soon after the show's non-airing.

The set came just months before Hicks died of cancer. Letterman on his show last night was completely apologetic, taking full blame for Hicks' set being cut.

It was a brilliant piece of TV and comedy, parts of which were released later on one of Hicks' many posthumous CDs; Letterman ran it in full last night. It choked me up; Hicks is one of the greatest comedians of all time. His Letterman set was tame by today's standards. Having Letterman say he was totally wrong by not allowing it to air was truly moving. Has that ever happened? I don't think so.

Hicks was way more controversial in his usual routine and, seeing the Letterman clip last night, it seemed totally benign. It was clear that he "toned it down" for network TV. He said NOTHING that should have got him "banned." And, reading a lot about Hicks after his death, that moment was something that ate him up.

Is it revenge? Salvation? No. Bill obviously never got the apology his mom got last night. But, at very least, it might lead people to see and hear his (far more inflammatory) art. Buy it on the many Rykodisc reissues. If you love cutting comedy that doesn't pussyfoot and comes straight from the heart, there's few better than Bill Hicks. Genius? Fuck yeah.

I miss you, Bill. Dare I say … I love ya. I'll smoke a couple for you tonight. Here's hoping there's a smoking section in heaven. And here's to Letterman — he never had to do that, but he recognized Hicks' genius and gave him his due last night. Thanks, Dave!

Here's Bill, shortly before his death, talking about his Letterman experience:

01.31.2009 at 01:46 Reply
I hadn't really heard of him before and found his act rather lame. (Maybe it has/had to grow on you.) What fifth grader couldn't do a "joke" like "I want to kill Billy Ray Cyrus, Marky Mark, and MC Hammer". Contrary to what you "punk critics" may think, the world could use more craft and less "art" that "comes straight from the heart".


01.31.2009 at 02:06 Reply
I just went back and watched some of the YouTube clip you have attached. And he repeats the "joke" that was aired last night. (Paraphrasing) "If you pro-life people are so pro-life, why don't you block access to cemetaries instead of medical clinics?" What exactly does that even mean? The only thought I can gather from that is 'I dislike and oppose pro-life people'. Which is all well and good but how about crafting that position into something actually funny.


02.01.2009 at 05:50 Reply
Ah, Trey, the professional contrarian. If you don't get Bill Hicks, I don't know what to say. It's like saying John Coltrane was pretty average. Let me guess — a Dane Cook fan?


02.01.2009 at 09:21 Reply
I wouldn't even recognize Mr. Hicks from this clip. He look so different than what I remember and I also don't remember him mugging after punchlines. That must be because there was no audience so he couldn't hear any laughs. But your taste is questioned as soon as you mention you "dig Jimmy Kimmel." Kimmel is more of a Mike Douglas/Merv Griffin/Dinah Shore type host than an actual entertainer who does entertaining stuff that entertains. His main quality seems to be quite often he's not annoying. Letterman changed American comedy.


02.01.2009 at 01:33 Reply
I like Kimmel mostly because his monologue is a good pop cultural wrap-up. Actually, I probably would have liked Merv and Mike and Dinah, too. And anyone that can get Sarah Silverman has to be doing something right :)