American: The Bill Hicks Story

Saturday, 02 October 2010 09:50

“American: The Bill Hicks Story” brings into focus the tragic and moving life of one of the most underground comedians in history. Its theatrical release saw it become one of the top three documentaries of the year. With acclaimed reviews from critics and audience alike, it is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Bill Hicks began performing at the age of 13, and developed a unique and fearless style that tackled issues head on. His outlook challenged the injustices of life, but also pointed his audience to a better understanding of our lives here on Earth, via a very informed spiritual dimension.  Cancer robbed us of him back in 1994, at the tender age of 32. This film is an exhaustive tribute to Hicks, with a forensic level of DVD extras to get a total immersion in his life and motivations.

American: The Bill Hicks Story now available on DVD and Blu-rayI was given the opportunity to get into the world of Bill Hicks back in 2003 by a friend. To say I was feeling immense frustration with the world at that time would have been an understatement. I had several people wanting to help me get out of my malaise, and Hicks was one suggested line of treatment. Unfortunately the CD of one of his sets was left unplayed up until about four years ago.  Sometimes you can’t explain why you don’t follow good advice, and now I wonder why it took me so long to do so!

This documentary follows the development of the unique Hicks style – from something that was media-friendly through to being, in the main, anger-driven. His solutions to global problems were actually so simple, and were deftly integrated into his sets. His targets were wide ranging, from religious righteousness to marketers, from smalltown myopia to disingenuous government.  You may not like everything he says, but his observational humour is as relevant today as it was at the time.

While his uncompromising approach met with a mixture of conflict and apathy in America, it was on the international stage where he found fame. This began in Montreal at the ‘Just for Laughs’ Festival, and from there going on to be revered in the UK and Australia. The irony is that at the time of his death, it looked like he might finally make a breakthrough in his home country.

The target-based humour was just one thrust of his world vision that he brought to the stage. The other aspect is a little short-changed by this documentary, which is probably due to the producers not being able to grasp it and therefore relay it. Bill believed that “the world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when we choose to go on it, we think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are”.

This is explained away as being a result of his drug taking and indulgences with magic mushrooms. It was, in fact, a summary of the most cutting edge theories of quantum physicists – if you’re really interested in this aspect of the Hicks world, you need to check out the book “The Holographic Universe” by Michael Talbot.

Once you realise we are all part of one infinite consciousness, it makes the game of life a lot easier to play.

Hicks anticipated that one day a documentary of his life would be made, and even got his mother to watch some rock star documentaries with him, so that she could see what he would like from such a project!

Indeed, the producers don’t take the easy route of just sticking to live action and stills to tell the story. They use a new animation technique, manipulating 1,000s of photographs to uniquely relate crucial scenes in Bill’s life, all told from the point-of-view of the people who knew him best.

The bulging list of special features, listed below, not only make this release a must-have for any Hicks fan, but also allows the wider audience into the deeper aspects of Bill’s story. There are over three hours of extended interviews with his family and friends which offer up-close-and-personal recollections of who Bill was and what motivated him.

You also get a selection of rare performance clips. The unseen archive material in the film is just the tip of the iceberg, and these extra routines show Bill learning and perfecting the craft of comedy in the stand-up clubs of Austin, New York and Los Angeles.

The featurettes also include fly-on-the-wall specials where we follow the Hicks family as they take in the thrill of a packed 15th anniversary tribute night in London, and tour the Dominion Theatre (the venue where his video “Revelations” was filmed), with his producer Charles Brand and director Chris Bould recounting the inside story of what is considered Bill’s greatest show. They then sit in on the remixing and cleaning up of Bill’s extraordinary melancholy music at Abbey Road Studios, which has also now been released separately from this film.

You can also see how Bill has inspired those around him. We have some uplifting, individually crafted shorts, which show how one man can make a difference to others – Dwight Slade through his own comedy, David Johndrow with his incredible photography, and Kevin Booth with his investigative filmmaking (you simply MUST check out his films “American Drug War – The Last White Hope” and “How Weed Won The West”).

We also get to see this film’s own festival journey, as the family experience the emotional presentation of the documentary to the public for the first time at the London Film Festival World Premiere. They then bring the film back to Bill’s spiritual home in Austin, at the raucous SxSW North American debut.

Overall, this is a real ‘sweet and sour’ movie – the sweetness coming from the force for good that Hicks has become following his death, the sour note being that such a unique personality could be removed from Earth’s chess board so early in his life. But as Bill would no doubt tell you, he’s just changed his frequency, and energy can neither be created or destroyed. We’ll all be able to tune into him again when we take our journey into the light...

Out now on DVD and Blu-ray from 2Entertain, with a ’15’ certificate and a main feature running time of 101 minutes approx, the RRP for the DVD format is £19.99, or £24.99 for the Blu-ray, or get either for less at




  • Extended Interviews (2 parts, one on each disc)
  • Austin Panel at SxSW
  • Dominion Tour
  • Festivals in UK & USA with the Hicks
  • Hicks at Abbey Road Studios - remastering Bill's tracks
  • Kevin shoots his film in LA
  • 15th Anniversary tribute
  • Comedy School
  • David Johndrow's photography
  • Dwight in London
  • Making of Arizona Bay
  • The Ranch



  • Deleted scene – “The older kids”
  • Deleted scene – “Bill calls Dwight”
  • Deleted scene – “Dangerfields”
  • Deleted scene – “Early Bill and Dwight recording”
  • Deleted scene – “Ninja Bachelor Party”
  • Deleted scene – “Stress”
  • Deleted scene – “The goal of comedy”
  • Deleted scene – “Tragic love lives”
  • Early scene – “Houston House”
  • Early scene – “Mary and Jim watch Bill”
  • Early scene – “Flying to New York”
  • Early scene – “Writing jokes”
  • Alternative scene – “Last ranch trip”
  • Alternative scene – “Teenage rebellion”
  • Alternative scene – “Wimberly”



  • Annex – “Girls”
  • Annex – “Eating”
  • Annex – “Scary Movies”
  • Annex – “Mom comes to town”
  • Funny bone – “UFO”
  • Indianapolis 1 – “Dad's a goober”
  • Indianapolis 2 – “Jews killed my lord”
  • “Outlaws get Religion” - Jesus is pissed
  • “Outlaws get Religion” - School rivalry
  • Sacremento – “Housekeeping!”
  • “Sane Man” - Bill you don't fit in
  • “Sane Man” - Non smokers
  • Spellbinders – “In hospital”
  • West Palm Beach – “Childbirth”
  • West Palm Beach – “Did God make a mistake?”
  • Bill & Dwight - Bat & ball
  • Bill at Waco
  • “Ninja Bachelor Party” trailer
  • Audio Journal Clip 1 - Bill lonely in LA, 1981
  • Audio Journal Clip 2 - Bill leaves New York for LA, 1992
  • Audience Reactions Trailer

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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