American: The Bill Hicks Story–Chronicle of Provocative Comedian

The interesting journey embarked by Bill Hicks, the provocative comedian who died in 1993, is chronicled in documentary feature, aptly titled American: The Bill Hicks Story.

Seventeen years after his death, Bill Hicks remains an intriguing figure in our cultural landscape, recognized by some as one of the significant and is widely recognized as one of the significant American comedians of the modern era.

A renaissance man, Hicks was by turns a philosopher, social satirist, and even preacher.  But ultimately he has left his greatest mark as a performer who, for many, changed what comedy could be.

Among other things, Hicks, like other major comedians, believed that comedy played a vital role in any free and just society, and that the comedian should always remain an eccentric, free-spirited individual, who’s consciously detached from political or corporate agendas.  For him, the comedian’s role was to be provocative, to voice what other citizens wouldn’t, to challenge norms and conventions, by presenting ideas that would stimulate the minds of the audiences.

Hicks had no difficulty making people laugh, but what really mattered to him, what he really wanted to do was to stimulate his spectators, to make them think—and think in fresh ways about unusual topics.

Among targets, Hicks’ comedy savaged the injustices of life in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the post-Reagan America, the era of Bush and when Clinton was president.

Not surprisingly, his rebellious, 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 terminal cancer.  As a result, his life and career were cut short at the age of 32.

Nonetheless, his heritage goes on and his material, some of which still relevant and even timeless, lives on, revered today by both comedians (who frequently cite him as an influence) and fans alike.

Combining revealing new interviews from those who knew him with a photographic animation technique, “American” tries to take the audience inside Hicks’ life story by using archival footage and animated photographs, some of which from Hicks’ personal collection, which had never been seen before.

The result is an uneven film, one that attempts with varying degrees of success to be revelatory, inspirational, and funny at the same time.

Running Time: 105 min