Ryko Disc // 1992 // 210 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // January 24th, 2005
"Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves. Here's Tom with the weather." -- Bill Hicks
A pudgy, mulleted southern boy clad in black, Bill Hicks wasn't the most obvious guy to follow in the comedic footsteps of Jewish New Yorker Lenny Bruce, but that's exactly what he did. Hicks's iconoclastic comedy delved deeply into politics, religion, sexual mores, drugs, and popular culture. For Hicks, nothing was sacred, nothing was off-limits, all of our assumptions were to be hauled into the bright light of day and carefully examined. Human beings weren't meant to sleepwalk through life, and he was determined to sound a wake-up call.
Hicks came up during the stand-up comedy boom of the 1980s and early '90s in which thousands of comics graced our television screens nearly 24 hours a day, most of them spewing inanities about the hassles of commercial airline flights or the most obvious differences between men and women. Not Hicks, though. His comedy was fiercely intelligent, and often confrontational. He didn't fear offending his audiences, and so his rise among the ranks of comics was a slow one, fueled in part by regular appearances on Late Night with David Letterman. Sadly, just as his star was getting white-hot, he was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in February of 1994 at the age of 32.
Ryko's Bill Hicks Live DVD compiles three of the comic's most important shows: his appearance on HBO's half-hour comedy showcase, One Night Stand, in April of 1991; Relentless, his 70-minute set at 1991's Montreal Comedy Festival, the CD release of which greatly increased his visibility on the comedy circuit; and Revelations, a 75-minute set at London's Dominion Theater in 1992. Each program is indexed into chapters and can be played individually, or the viewer can select the "Play All" option and run a three-hour barrage of comedy. There's a bit of overlap as choice bits are repeated from show to show, but each program has plenty of unique content. It's a tribute to Hicks's brilliance that he doesn't wear out his welcome, even when the shows are watched back-to-back-to-back. Despite his sometimes confrontational content, the comedian's delivery is so breezily casual it almost seems like he's riffing off the top of his head as opposed to working written bits. His style stands in stark relief to the canned, phony, and forced deliveries of the masses of backed-by-a-brick-wall comics on TV at the time. Hicks was the real deal, and stand-up comedy has suffered because of his death.
The video quality of the programs is roughly that of television broadcast, but that's not a bad thing considering they come from nearly 15-year-old video sources. Relentless is offered in two forms. The original master no longer exists, and the best possible duplicate is missing a segment. The incomplete dupe can be played as-is, or a complete version of the show can be played, with the missing segment added in from an inferior source. The stereo audio mix is more than sufficient considering the programs consist almost entirely of one man talking.
As a supplement to the main features, Ryko offers the 45-minute documentary It's Just a Ride. Comedians David Letterman, Jay Leno, Brett Butler, and Eddie Izzard all contribute their thoughts about Hicks's importance to stand-up comedy. It's a fitting format for a documentary about Hicks considering he was always revered by his fellow comics (even those more successful), though his career was hampered by battles with television censors and his popularity didn't peak until after his death. It's Just a Ride is nowhere near as good as the Outlaw Comic: The Censoring of Bill Hicks documentary, but it's still an entertaining and informative piece.
If there's a problem with Bill Hicks Live, it's that some of the comedian's pieces are so topical they feel a little dated now. Still, human beings never change and there's plenty here that is as true today as it was 14 years ago. And Hicks is so intelligent, his delivery so winning, you'll find yourself too busy wishing he was still alive to be much bothered or bored by his references to events past.
Review content copyright © 2005 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Ryko Disc
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 210 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* It's Just a Ride Documentary
* IMDb: Bill Hicks: Revelations
* IMDb: HBO's One Night Stand