American: The Bill Hicks Story | Pittsburgh City Paper

American: The Bill Hicks Story

A new doc provides welcome, if bittersweet, time spent with the late comedian

Bill Hicks died in 1994, and in the ensuing decades, fans have frequently wished the acerbic, profane, iconoclastic standup performer were still stalking the stage, yelling at America to wake up. Or that people today could appreciate how transformative his act was then. That's among the goals of Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas' documentary, which tracks the arc of Hicks' career: performing in a Houston comedy club as a high schooler; moving to Los Angeles; then back to Texas; spiraling into substance abuse; cleaning up; finding his voice; making it big overseas; and dying young.

The filmmakers tap a lot of archival video of Hicks performing, but fill in much of the story with spoken reminiscences from friends and family, illustrated with animated photographs. On the one hand, it creates an intimate portrait of Hicks, with as much reflection on the personal as the professional, but I wouldn't have minded some outside voices, too. They might have helped bring some wider context to Hicks' role in comedy, particularly for those who hadn't always followed his career. (A YouTube favorite, Hicks seems more popular now than then.) Nonetheless, fans will find this film a valuable document: It's welcome, if bittersweet, time spent with a no-bullshitter who undoubtedly would have been illuminating to hear from had he lived longer. Starts Mon., May 9. Harris