New Yorker critic John Lahr wrote this Guardian article about comedian Bill Hicks. (Thanks to Greg Connors for the link.)
My New Yorker profile of Bill Hicks, The Goat Boy Rises, sat unpublished at the magazine for nearly four months. Hicks's ban from the David Letterman show and his subsequent 31-page letter to me explaining what had happened provided the impetus to get the profile into print straight away. It appeared on November 1, 1993.
"The phones are ringing off the hook, the offers are pouring in, and all because of you," Hicks wrote to me the following week, signing himself "Willy Hicks"."It's almost as though I've been lifted out of a 10-year rut and placed in a position where the offers finally match my long-held and deeply cherished creative aspirations... Somehow, people are listening in a new light. Somehow the possibilities (creatively) seem limitless."
Rereading Hicks's letter now, 10 years later, the parenthesis in the last sentence hit me like a punch to the heart. Hicks was suddenly, to his amazement, no longer perceived as "a joke blower", the kind of pandering stand-up he hated.
In the two months after publication of the New Yorker piece, seven publishers approached him about writing a book; the Nation asked him to write a column; Robert De Niro met him to discuss the possibility of recording his comedy on his Tribeca label; and Channel 4, with Tiger Aspect, green-lighted Hicks's Counts Of The Netherworld ("Channel 4 wants our first show to somehow tie in with their celebration of the birth of democracy 2,000 years ago," Hicks wrote to me. "Democracy may have been born then, I just can't wait till it starts speaking and walking"). The creative possibilities may have seemed limitless to Hicks but, even as he was writing me letters about "the hoopla" and his newfound calm ("I'm very grateful for it"), he knew that he was dying.
The following is an excerpt from the Hicks bio that appears at billhicks.com.
October 1st 1993 saw Hicks' 12th and final Letterman show, from which his routine was axed as it was felt the material might not go down well with the show's sponsors. His act had attacked pro-lifers: "If you're so pro-life, do me a favour: don't lock arms and block medical clinics. If you're so pro-life, lock arms and block cemeteries." He became the first comedy act to be censored at CBS's Ed Sullivan Theatre. Hick was so incensed he wrote a 39 page letter to The New Yorker's John Lahr. It all became clear that the corporation was behind the censorship when a pro-life commercial appeared during the Letterman Show.