Gone Too Soon?

Every comic has the fear of growing old, going stale, losing their audience and ruining their reputation. But what happens when a comic doesn’t get the right amount of time to grow old and mature their material? What if some material never needed to be matured? Mature, wise as hell, and only thirty two when he passed away, Bill Hicks to this day remains one of comedies most talented icons.

While Bill Hicks is credited as one of the greatest comedians of all time, he never achieved the level of success that he had wanted. In fact, in the coming months before his untimely death in 1993, Bill had gone on Late Night with David Letterman and performed what Hicks claimed was one of his best performances ever. However, Letterman disagreed and thought that audiences and the network would find it too offensive, which is crazy when you see the show yourself.

Hicks’ comedy could be described as…well, not comedy at all. He talked about his feelings behind politics and the world, while merely stating facts, and you know what? It worked. He spoke against politicians and right wing conservatives. He spoke against those opposed to marijuana, abortion, and all other sensitive topics. His famous phrase,

“It’s just a ride” 

is still one of the greatest pieces of life advice I ever heard.

In 1993, Bill was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Understanding that he didn’t have a lot of time, he still continued to work, doing interviews and performances while undergoing extreme pain and weakness. He passed away on February 26, 1994.

The question that comes to mind for me is, what would have happened had Bill still been alive today? For one, he’d have a HELL of a lot to say about this country. However, I can’t help but wonder if he would have gotten better or worse? I can’t imagine him being funnier. He was and still is one of the funniest people to have ever walked this Earth in my opinion. I don’t know if I’d want to witness him being booed off of stages or having to lower ticket prices at shows. Part of me thinks he left at the right time, leaving behind him a plethora of stand up that always leaves me wanting more.

Now, for the people who weren’t aware of Bill’s existence until now: Hi, where the hell have you been? I don’t want Bill’s name to disappear into thin air. I feel he didn’t get the recognition he deserved as a comedian and I want to make sure as many people can know about him as possible. Here’s the link to his website

Share his videos, share his material, but most importantly, share his voice. His voice is one of truth and promise. The last thing I want is for the world to forget about William Melvin Hicks.

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“He Seemed So Happy.”

I was sixteen when Robin Williams killed himself. I had spent the hot summer day in August swimming with my friends, followed by getting food at a friends’ family restaurant. It was there that the waitress, Linda, ran up to our table and asked us,

“Did you guys hear about Robin Williams?? He killed himself!”

I denied it immediately. There was no way that Robin Williams, one of the main faces in comedy for me and so many others, had done this. I looked it up, and low and behold, it was the truth. The time following the news is blurry for me. I fell into a slump, binge watched all of his movies, and bawled my eyes out to them. How could a man that seemed so happy even fathom with having the thought of ending his own life?

This is where many of us learned that happiness can easily be faked.

As his career began to take off, his drug addiction got out of control. In a recent HBO documentary, Come Inside My Mind, he discusses how there are days he would stay up all night, then go to work and he couldn’t remember any of his lines and his anger would increase over time as the bags under his eyes became more prominent.

According to Robin’s widow, he struggled nearly his entire life with drugs, but was clean for at least six years prior to his death. Not only drugs, she says he did struggle with depression for most of his life, but also claimed that depression did not kill him. In her own words, “Depression was one of let’s call it 50 symptoms, and it was a small one.”

Robin was also misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He instead was battling Lewy Body Dementia, which in certain areas can have symptoms more severe than Alzheimer’s. Lewy Body Dementia occurs when protein deposits affect brain chemicals, making things like memory and behavior change over time. He struggled to learn his lines for roles and was extremely paranoid. He felt himself deteriorating before his own eyes.

This was a man that made a gorilla laugh.

The man that sent another man to the ER because he was laughing so hard, he got a hernia.

It wakes you up and forces us to realize that happiness on the outside isn’t happiness on the inside. Robin left behind him a legacy as one of comedy’s brightest and most talented faces. Movie after movie, classic after classic, Robin Williams has had a place in my heart since I would rewatch the VHS tapes of Hook, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Jack as a kid, a place that can never be replaced.

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(Me at sixteen on Halloween night…No one knew who I was.)

Comedy has a way of involving the complicated battles that people can go through every day. Robin was just better at hiding it.

The Hidden Truth

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We all know what comedians do, right? They make us laugh. It’s been a universal gift to be able to get a crowd of people choking on their breath and gasping for air. With a world full of laughter, it brings the question: why are almost all comedians depressed? A path of destruction has awaited numerous comedians, including my favorites. From John Belushi’s fatal speedball to Richard Pryor’s infamous suicide attempt, comedians display a side to them that no one in a comedy club wishes to see.

The answer is plain and simple: comedy stems from tragedy. Why do people want to make others laugh? It gives them a sense of joy and pride. Have you ever had a joke nail at a party around a group of people? Remember the sense of happiness it brought you to see everyone around you laughing at what you said? It’s exactly like that. If you’ve experienced that, you also know that the high doesn’t last forever. That’s the sad truth.

Many comedians come from broken homes and grow up in harsh environments. They’ve experienced extreme measures of sadness, therefore, they want to numb any sadness that audiences are having through their jokes. Take for example, a comedy legend like Richard Pryor. I’m not going to go into the extreme details of his life because that’s for another time, but Pryor’s childhood was filled with events that would traumatize any kid forced to experience them. Therefore, he used jokes to block out the memories of his past. This is a character referred to as, The Sad Clown.

When I was young, I learned very quickly that humor gave me attention and happiness. Growing up with a shy personality, an older brother that got all of the attention in the family, and a later diagnosed case of depression, I knew I had to find something to stand out, and it turned out to be comedy. If I could get everyone at the dinner table to laugh, I knew I’d make a lasting impression. I watched countless hours of SNL and I began staying up late and watching Pryor specials and learning how to talk like a comedian, how to learn the language and onstage presence that mesmerized me. School was my area to test out on not just friends, but teachers as well. I found I was interested more in making the teachers laugh than my friends laugh. Teachers were out of my range, they were older, but I knew the culture that they knew, and I used it to my advantage. It gave me happiness, unlike anything had ever given me. The thing I noticed afterwards was exactly what I described earlier, the high was temporary. So much so that I would spend a day at school making my classmates laugh, then the rest of the night I’d be huddled in my room as soon as I got home.

While I know some readers may not be happy with me sharing my opinion, my say is my say. My opinion will never change, comedy stems from tragedy and you can look at any comic living or dead and find tragedy in their lives. Comedy has a hidden truth to it, and it’s one that I and many others can relate to. Laughter distracts from pain, and as long as we’re making others feel happiness, the truth remains hidden.

 

Picture Credit: http://www.theblackguywhotips.com/2018/01/07/1591-spanking-the-sad-clown/

Article: https://www.cnn.com/2017/03/01/health/sad-clown-standup-comedy-mental-health/index.html