In October of 1993, a stand-up performance by Bill Hicks was controversially pulled from Late Night with David Letterman a few hours prior to broadcast — Letterman later claimed it was due to a potentially upsetting religious joke; Hicks, on the other hand, blamed it on a pro-life commercial to be screened during an ad break that clashed with some of his routine. Much debate ensued.
On November 1st, a piece on Hicks that had been on the back-burner for some time — entitled “The Goat Boy Rises,” written by John Lahr — was finally published in The New Yorker, along with word from Hicks about the Letterman episode. The subsequent positive reaction to the article floored Hicks, and he soon wrote the following letter of thanks to Lahr. In his own words, Hicks had finally been lifted “out of a ten year rut” thanks to the article.
Tragically, Hicks passed away just three months later, aged 32.
Transcript follows. Image courtesy of The New Yorker.
The phones are ringing off the hook, the offers keep pouring in, and all because of you. I’ve read the article three times now, and each time I’m stunned. Being the comedy fan that I am, I’ve ended the article everytime thinking “this guy sounds really interesting. I’ve got to see him perform.” Then it strikes me — “Hey, that’s me!” You’ve done something really cool, John, and I thank you. A friend of mine (JOHN MAGNUSON — the guy who produced the “Lenny Bruce Performance Film”) just sent me the chapter on fame from your “Automatic Vaudeville” book. Great reading! I love how you talk about that “calm that gives rise to greatness in Art.”
John, regardless of any hoopla, I feel that calm. And I’m very thankful for it. It is a greater reward than any fame or notoriety I’ve experienced, and it is my full intention to retain it, explore it, and, hopefully, share it with whomever is interested — via comedy, writing, or music. But the calm comes first. (I will keep your “Thoughts on Fame” handy at all times as a reference and validation of my own feelings on the topic.) I can’t tell you how stunned I am by the mighty reaction your article has inspired in my life. Coming from you, by way of the New Yorker, is beyond my wildest imagining — It’s almost as though I’ve been lifted out of a ten year rut and placed in a position where the offers finally match my long-held and deeply cherished creative aspirations. Somehow, you did this, John. Somehow, people are listening in a new light. Somehow the possibilities (creatively) seem limitless. Everyone was impressed by your piece, except my DAD, who took it personally. He thought my little anecdotes about him made him look like a goober. What can I say? If the lime-green jumpsuit fits…
Anyway, I’ll be heading over there on Thanksgiving day to do pre-production on the Counts of the Netherworld. I’m very excited as is Fallon, my fellow Count. We’re hoping to get Naom Chomsky, Terence McKenna, and John Hiatt as our guests on the one-hour special we’ll be shooting in January. (Channel Four wants our first show to somehow tie in with this celebration of the birth of Democracy two thousand years ago. Democracy may have been born then, I just can’t wait till it starts speaking and walking.) Until then, I hope we can hook up in England for dinner whilst I’m over there November. I’d love to run some ideas by you on the show and have you on as one of our first guests when the show goes to series. Also, Colleen would love to meet you. I’ll be in touch.
(Again, the piece blew me away….is that really me?)