Forbidden Facts About Bill Hicks, The Outlaw Comedian

September 28, 2023 | Byron Fast

Forbidden Facts About Bill Hicks, The Outlaw Comedian


Bill Hicks’ stand-up comedy act took American values and hung them out to dry. Funny thing though: Hicks’ own Southern Baptist childhood couldn’t have been more squeaky clean.


1. He Was Too Hot For Late Night

Bill Hicks was the first person they censored at the CBS Ed Sullivan Theater since Elvis. It wasn’t however, his swiveling hips that got him deleted—and it wasn’t Sullivan who axed him. It was David Letterman himself who decided that Hicks’ comedic material was too hot for CBS viewers. What had happened to this Southern Baptist good ole boy that led him to such depravity? These outlaw facts explain his surprising transformation.

Bill Hicks At The Laff Stop In Austin, Texas, 1991Angela Davis, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

2. They Were On Tour

Bill Hicks was born in the state of Georgia on December 16, 1961. His parents and his older brother and sister moved from Georgia to Alabama, then to Florida, then to New Jersey before finally settling on the outskirts of Houston, Texas as their home. This was all before Hicks had turned seven years old. While the quiet streets of Nottingham County sound like a fairy tale location to grow up in, it was actually a nightmare of monotony.

Hicks had to do something to alleviate his boredom—but what?

Screenshot: Bill Hicks as young kid is playing outside - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

3. He Slipped It Under The Door

Hicks started to relieve his boredom by writing jokes. When he was proud of a joke, he wrote it on a slip of paper and shoved it under his older brother’s door. Instead of an older brother that thought his younger sibling was immature and annoying, Steve Hicks told him his jokes were good and encouraged him to keep trying.

Hicks did keep trying and then found a treasure trove of joke-telling material: Late night television.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks ,young is smiling and looking at camera - from American: The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American: The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

4. He Binged

Hicks started to binge-watch comedians on TV. He started with Johnny Carson because he wasn’t on too late. He then discovered that there was more to watch after Carson went to bed. He taped the comedians and then started writing his own jokes using the famous comedians’ style. There were two people that young Hicks found particularly funny: Woody Allen and Richard Pryor.

He borrowed the style from these two and began performing for the students at school. Buy when he told his jokes at school, Hicks did something sneaky.

B&W portrait of Johnny Carson ,looking at side and smiling - 1970NBC Television, Wikimedia Commons

5. He Slipped Them In

When Hicks told his jokes to classmates, he also threw in jokes copied from his famous idols. What made Hicks happy was when his jokes and the borrowed jokes got the same amount of laughter. That’s when he knew that he could really do this comedy thing. This fact convinced young Hicks that it was time for him to stop goofing around and do a real performance.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks is performing live on stage - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009).Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

6. He Giggled

Hicks was still in eighth grade, so he wasn’t quite ready for the clubs just yet. He found a partner in comedy named Dwight Slade and the two became Bill and Dwight. These two performed in front of student audiences, but a videotape that apparently still exists shows their performance to be…well… a lot of giggling at their own jokes. Hicks still had a ways to go.

Hicks may have been laughing it up at school, but home was a completely different story. 

Screenshot: Dwight Slade seating and talking to camera - from American: The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American: The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

7. He Was A Mystery

The dinner table at the Hicks’ home was far from a laugh riot. Hicks' older brother Steve said that Hicks would bring a book to the dinner table and bury his face in it for the whole dinner time. After a wordless meal, Hicks would go to his room, which was a mystery to the family. All they knew about his room was that he had a typewriter in there, and he was typing something that he wouldn’t show anyone.

They didn’t realize that Hicks had a secret plan: He was going to be a famous comedian.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks is performing on stage - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009).Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

8. They Were Under Age

Hicks continued to look for places for Dwight and him to perform. There was nothing in Houston, so the boys had to go to auditions outside the city. They were still under driving age, so the two would get on their bicycles and ride sometimes as much as 28 km (17 miles) to an audition. In addition to the auditions, the boys also sent their demo tape out to anyone who would accept it.

It was just a matter of time before their big break arrived.Screenshot: Dwight Slade and Bill Hicks are seating and talking outside - from American: The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

9. There Was A Problem In Houston

In the summer of 1976, Hicks received a call from an agent who had seen their demo tape. The agent wanted Bill and Dwight for the Jerry Lewis Telethon in Houston. This was a big deal as the boys would be on television. It did, however, present some problems. Besides their classmates, the boys had zero experience in front of a real audience. The agent had also said that their slot was 45 minutes long: how were they going to fill that much time?

There was something else wrong with their time slot. It was at 2:00 in the morning.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks is performing on stage looking at side - from Late Night With David Letterman (1982-93).Universal, Late Night With David Letterman (1982-93)

10. He Missed It

With their time slot being in the wee hours, the boys definitely needed parental approval—and a drive to the studio. Hicks and his dad had already locked horns on many issues and this was yet another. Dad and Mom gave Hicks a hard no, and that was that. Hicks' first opportunity to be on TV as a comedian was a miss.

That could have been the end of Hicks’ career—but two years later, a miracle happened.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks is covering his face with hand - from Late Night With David Letterman (1982-93).Universal, Late Night with David Letterman (1982-93)

11. He Didn’t tell Them Anything

In 1978 something opened in Houston that would change Hicks’ life forever: the Comedy Workshop. The first hurdle was getting he and Dwight into the lineup. Once they’d done that, Hicks had to face his parents. Or did he? This time Hicks didn’t tell them anything. He slipped out through a window and climbed down the side of the house. From there a friend who had a car would drive him to the club.

But how would a club of adults feel about a teenager telling jokes?Screenshot: Young Bill Hicks is holding a microphone on stage - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

12. He Didn’t Pander

The fact that—at 17 years of age—the adult world of stand-up comedy accepted Dwight and him amazed Hicks. They did five shows in all, doing a lot of Wood Allen-type gags. Slade later said that the audience sucked up Hicks’ performance. He figures the reason why Hicks was so popular was that he had no intention—even at this young age—of “pandering to the audience”.

Yes, Hicks was a hit. But he still had to make ends meet.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks wearing black shirt is looking up on stage - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

13. He Went Punk

Instead of starting his solo career as a comedian, Hicks started a punk rock group. This was a band called Stress and they had weird song titles like: “I’m Glad I’m Not a Hubcap (Hubcaps Don’t Get Laid)”. Of course, seeing their good Christian son in a punk band worried his parents. Well, Hicks was about to do something that would downright terrify them.Screenshot: Bill Hicks wearing black leather jacket is performing - from Late Night With David Letterman (1982-93).Universal, Late Night With David Letterman (1982-93)

14. He Joined Up

Back then—and even now—most people saw Transcendental Meditation as a kind of cult. Now remember, the Hicks family were Southern Baptists, so you can imagine their reaction to this weird meditation church. When one Thanksgiving, Hicks went to a Transcendental Meditation course, so his parents decided to straighten their son out.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks is performing on stage - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009).Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

15. It Wasn’t His Problem

When Mr and Mrs Hicks got wind of their son’s interest in what they likely considered a cult, they got serious about helping him. What they came up with for their still teenaged boy was something quite extreme: psychotherapy. Hicks begrudgingly went to the appointments, which his parents attended as well.

After the initial appointment, the therapist took Hicks aside and said something shocking. Hicks said that the analyst told him that the problem was not his, it was his parents.Screenshot: Bill Hicks is standing with closed eyes and smiling - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009).Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

16. He Was Home Alone

Hicks and his parents were moving quickly in opposite directions, and things at the house were getting more and more tense. When Hicks was in his last year of high school, the tension got a break. Dad’s company offered him a transfer to Arkansas and he said yes. The plan was for mom and dad to move to Arkansas while Hicks stayed home alone: They even gave him the keys to the family car.

It’s not clear what Mr and Mrs Hicks were thinking. Why would they suddenly trust their son now?

Screenshot: Bill Hicks is looking at side and thinking - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009).Universal, Late Night With David Letterman (1982-93)

17. He Did It Every Night

While his parents were away, Hicks told them he was studying every night. In reality, he was doing anything but. Well, I guess you could say he was studying the art of comedy. While his parents were toiling away in Arkansas, Hicks literally did comedy every night of the week. He always asked for the early slot, because he had to be home in time to catch his parent’s phone calls.

Hicks’ parents had no idea what he was up to—until one fateful day in 1982. 

Screenshot: Bill Hicks wearing black jacket aScreenshot: Bill Hicks wearing hat is seating and talking - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)nd hat is seating and talking - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

18. They Wanted To Surprise Him

By 1982, Hicks’ parents had become aware of their son’s performances, and they were finally ready to see one. The plan was for them to visit Hicks’ brother Steve and his family for Thanksgiving in Dallas and then drive to Austin and surprise Hicks at his show. After seeing the show, the Hicks were going to drive back to Steve’s place in Dallas.

Well, things didn’t go quite as planned.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks wearing blue shirt is performing on stage - from Late Night With David Letterman (1982-93)Universal, Late Night With David Letterman (1982-93)

19. They Just Drove

Hicks’ parents did show up at Hicks’ show in Austin, but the plan kind of went off the rails after that. As it turned out, Hicks’ Southern Baptist parents had no idea what kind of material their son was doing, so what they saw and heard horrified them.

After the show, they got into their car and started driving. They forgot all about going back to Steve’s place in Dallas. They just drove.Screenshot: Bill Hicks wearing blue shirt and black jacket is looking at side - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

20. They Didn’t Show Up

The plan was for Hicks’ parents—after seeing their son’s show—to return to Dallas to stay the night with Steve. The drive would have been three hours. Steve was waiting for them to show up, but he fell asleep in the middle of the night. In the morning, Steve’s phone rang. His parents explained that they were so upset by Hicks’ set that they drove straight home on a sort of wordless auto-pilot: This was a nine-hour drive. They later said that they didn’t even remember going through Dallas.

Hicks had taken an extreme turn from his parents’ morality: even more extreme than they knew.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks is performing live and smiling - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009).Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

21. He Experimented

During the 1980s, Hicks did comedy work with a group called the Texas Outlaw Comics, which included controversial comedian Sam Kinison. At this same time, Hicks was experimenting with drug use. On his meager income, this practice was very hard on his finances. As his bank account was nearing zero dollars, Hicks got a break.

In 1987, an invitation came in from a surprising source: the hugely popular comedian Rodney Dangerfield.

Portrait of Sam Kinison wearing brown hat and smiling at camera - circa 1980sThe World Famous Comedy Store, CC BY-SA 2.0 , Wikimedia Commons

22. He Got Respect

The “I don’t get no respect” comedian wanted Hicks on his show. This was Rodney Dangerfield’s Young Comedians Special and it gave Hicks a break and a boost to his ego. With his confidence at an all-time high, Hicks decided to make a big move: to New York City.

Once he hit the tarmac he began performing—a lot. For the five years following his arrival in the Big Apple, Hicks performed 300 times a year. There was, however, something else he did a lot of—something not so good for him.Screenshot: Bill Hicks wearing black shirt is looking at side - from Late Night With David Letterman (1982-93)Universal, Late Night With David Letterman (1982-93)

23. He Got On Board

While performing in New York, Hicks continued with his drug use, which consisted of marijuana, mushrooms, and LSD. Eventually, Hicks would find a reason to quit, and it was because of a disturbing experience. He said that while he was on one of his “trips”, he saw and boarded a UFO. The experience didn’t scare Hicks. He just thought that it would be hard to top it, so he gave up altogether. He did, however, replace it with chain smoking.

Hicks’ act was becoming hugely popular, and it got him something every comedian wants: a professional manager.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks is having a live performance on stage - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

24. He Was More Than A Comedian

Having a manager led to another first for Hicks: his first live album. Even though Hicks had put his drug use days behind him, he still discussed the joys of experimentation on this album. For this reason, he called his album Dangerous.

Hicks was starting to get a reputation: He wasn’t only a comedian, he had, in his own words, a dangerous message for Americans.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks wearing green shirt and black jacket is seating - from Late Night With David Letterman (1982-93)Universal, Late Night With David Letterman (1982-93)

25. He Was Different

At this time, comedians in America had a fairly safe repertoire of jokes. Some of the hackneyed material was about airplane food or jokes about pets. Hicks’ act was nothing like this. Comedian Patton Oswalt said that Hicks fought against “Reagan-era comfort and complacency”. Hicks was different and in some people’s view, different was better.

Hicks was taking a whack at American values, and there’s one group who really liked this: Canadians.

Patton Oswalt wearing brown jacket is holding a speech - 2010Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

26. He Got More Than He Bargained For

When the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal wanted him for a gig, Hicks got more than he expected. The woman who booked the show was Colleen McGarr and once they actually met, sparks flew. Before Hicks knew what was happening, he had a new girlfriend, a new manager, and eventually a fiancée. Tragically, the two would never get the chance to marry. Screenshot: Bill Hicks is performing on stage with injured leg - from  American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

27. Chicks Dig Jerks

After a hugely successful tour in the UK, Hicks found time to form a band called Marble Head Johnson with some friends. When he recorded his next live comedy album, Relentlessat The Laff Stop in Austin Texas, he worked in a song. This was “Chicks Dig Jerks” where he famously rhymed, “Women’s little quirks and chicks dig jerks”.

Hicks was now a budding musician and this caught the eye of a famous band.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks wearing red shirt and black jacket is performing on stage - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

28. He Was The Opener

Tool is a Los Angeles progressive rock band and they thought they had found a kindred spirit in Bill Hicks. This led the band to invite Hicks to open some shows for them when they were doing some Lollapalooza concerts in 1993. Tool actually had a selfless goal in mind when they hired Hicks: they wanted to promote their favorite comedian.

Hicks rewarded the band with a very funny—and memorable—moment. 

Tool band on Concert - 2022ManoSolo13241324, CC BY-SA 4.0 ,Wikimedia Commons

29. He Lost It

During his opening act for Tool, Hicks did something that virtually stopped the show. To a huge crowd of thousands of Tool fans, Hicks asked for a favor. He said he’d lost a contact lens and needed help finding it. Fans thought the joke was hilarious, and thousands actually started looking for the lens.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks is performing on stage - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

30. He Made A Move

Next, Hicks decided to go full-on outlaw. He also decided something else: British audiences were more his style. Hicks appeared in Stand Up America, which was a show of 18 comedians that played the West End in London. He also won the Critics’ Award at the Edinburgh Festival.

So what did British audiences have that American ones didn’t?

Screenshot: Bill Hicks is looking upset ,performing on stage - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Universal, Late Night with David Letterman (1982-93)

31. They Didn’t Get Him

When asked why he preferred British audiences, Hicks said that they respected performers, where in the US audiences bark at them. So what were Americans barking about? Hicks, you see, was skewering American culture. While this is all fun and games for a UK audience, Americans were finally saying enough is enough. They didn’t want to be the brunt of Hicks’ humor anymore.

American audiences might have been through with Hicks, but American comedians certainly weren’t.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks wearing white shirt and black jacket is performing on stage - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American: The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

32. He Got Robbed

While Hicks was busy in the UK, another comedian took advantage of his absence. Hicks’ so-called friend Denis Leary released an album in 1993 called No Cure for Cancer. When Hicks heard the album he went ballistic. Hicks was familiar with a little harmless joke theft between comedians, but this was something completely different.

There were huge portions of Hicks’ words taken, and Leary had copied them nearly word for word.

Denis Leary performing at the State Theater - 2010Adam Freese, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

33. It Was Worse Than He Thought

If you’re thinking that this was Hicks simply seeing something similar to his work in Leary’s, you’re wrong. As many as three other comedians also thought that Leary was doing more than just borrowing from Hicks. They even thought that Leary was dressing like Hicks, had an attitude like Hicks, and even smoked like him too. Hicks tried to make light of the situation by saying that it was he who took Leary’s gags. He said he just added punchlines so the audience wouldn’t notice. But the truth quickly became clear: The jokes belonged to Hicks and not Leary.

Leary seemed to be getting off scot-free—until he came face to face with a real Hicks supporter.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks is looking sad on stage - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

34. She Was Backstage

Later, when Hicks’ fiance Colleen McGarr was backstage at a comedy show in Montreal, she couldn’t believe her ears. Leary was on stage and basically—to her ears anyway—doing Hicks’ set. When Leary left the stage, McGarr cornered him and asked him flat out if he knew that what he was doing was Hicks’ material. Leary had no response. He just stared coldly at McGarr and walked away.

Hicks should have earned some sympathy from Americans after this debacle, but he didn’t. They just kept complaining.

Denis Leary at stage - 2013Matt Kleinschmidt, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

35. He Was Offended

Complaints were pouring in about Hicks’ anti-American material, so Hicks went on The Howard Stern Show to address them. He took on all the critics that he had offended over the years—especially the angry letter writers. Hicks said that he was also offended at a lot of things and wondered who he could complain to. He then told the letter writers to grow up and suggested that “reasonable people don’t write letters”.

Hicks seemed to be getting more and more angry. Where would this lead? Well…to a very weird place.

Howard Stern wearing sunglasses is smiling at camera - 2012Bill Norton, CC BY 2.0 , Wikimedia Commons

36. He Went Animal

At some point in his career, Hicks began to refer to himself as “Goat Boy”. Some people suggested that it was a reference to Satan, who often has goat-like qualities in artwork. Hicks, however, was very clear, Goat Boy was not Satan or even evil. He was, in fact, nature. One thing that was clear about Goat Boy, he had a problem with America. Instead of calling it a wonderful country, he called it “just a big pavement”.

Hicks seemed to be a lonely voice in the wilderness—until he made a new friend.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks is performing on stage - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009).Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

37. He Found A Friend

With his adoption of the Goat Boy persona, Hicks was going out on a limb. He wasn’t part of mainstream comedy anymore. He said that there was no “archetype for what I do”. And then he met Fallon Woodland, who seemed to be on a similar path to his. Together, Hicks and Woodland created a talk show called Counts of the Netherworld.

This was going to be a talk show like no other, and it was going to air on the UK’s Channel 4.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks is looking at side and talking on stage - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American: The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

38. He Got Bad News

Hicks and Woodland did make a pilot episode of Counts of the Netherworld—but Hicks was about to get some news that would derail this project. In June of 1993, doctors told Hicks that he had pancreatic cancer and that it had spread to his liver. It was serious and Hicks immediately began getting chemotherapy.

Hicks only told his close friends and family about his condition and somehow continued to tour. By the beginning of the following year, however, Hicks had to quit performing and rest.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks wearing glasses is looking at side - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

39. He Went Home

Hicks had made a small fortune making fun of his parents, but when he was in ill health he turned to them anyway. He went to their home in Little Rock, Arkansas to live out his remaining months. While there, Hicks did some reading. A familiar book he turned to was The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. He also called up old friends to say goodbye. When Hicks knew the end was close, he started writing an essay.

Hicks passed on February 26, 1994, and his family released his essay to the public. In it, Hicks questioned why his cancer had arrived when it did. He also spoke of love and laughter. He had seemed to have come to some sort of peace.Screenshot: Bill Hicks is spending time with family members outside - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

40. He Lost Out

Just a few weeks after Hicks’ burial, he suffered a sad indignity. At the time, Carrot Top was an up-and-coming comedian, and Hicks had taken great pleasure in knocking him down a notch or two. When the American Comedy Awards came around, Hicks was up for the top prize. Sadly it was Carrot Top who took home the honor for Favorite Male Comedian.

It would take about 15 years, but Hicks would eventually receive an apology from the king of late-night TV.Carrot Top, a.k.a. Scott Thompson - 2009.Hoggarazzi Photography, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

41. He Just Wanted Us To Think

A BBC reporter once asked Hicks why he couldn’t just do a show that would make everyone happy. Hicks told the reporter that it was impossible to appeal to everyone. To illustrate this, Hicks told a story about a heckler who complained to him that he didn’t come to a comedy show to think. Hicks’ response was clever and classically Hicks. "Gee, where do you go to think? I'll meet you there!"Screenshot: Bill Hicks is standing outside - from Late Night With David Letterman (1982-93)Universal, Late Night With David Letterman (1982-93)

42. They Approved Him

Around this same time, Hicks got a call to once again do the David Letterman. Letterman was now on CBS and doing his show from the Ed Sullivan Theater. This was Hicks’ 12th time on Letterman and he knew the drill. Before he could do his set on Letterman the producer had to approve the material.

Well, this happened—apparently twice. So, Hicks assumed his edgy material was okay to do. He put on a special outfit for the show and went to the theater.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks is performing on stage - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American - The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

43. It Was A Good Set

Hicks had quite a reputation for wearing all-black clothes when performing. For his 12th Letterman appearance, he wore something different: “bright fall colors”. He later said that it was because his attitude was brighter and more cheerful than usual. Hicks did his set and the audience seemed to like it. Later Letterman himself told him, “Good set, Bill!” and added a comment that Hicks should expect some mail from his set, a reference to the fact that Hicks probably had angered a few people at home.

Letterman and Hicks laughed and then Hicks went to his hotel room. The night, however, was far from over. 

Screenshot: Bill Hicks and David Letterman are talking  - from Late Night With David Letterman (1982-93)Universal, Late Night With David Letterman (1982-93)

44. He Was Out

Hicks was in his hotel room—wearing only a towel—when the phone rang. It was Robert Morton, who was the executive producer on the show. Morton had some bad news: He said that some of Hicks’ material was inappropriate for the network. When Hicks asked which material, Morton said it was almost all of it. In fact, they were not going to show any of his set on the show. After a brief argument, where Morton blamed the CBS office of standards and practices, the call ended.

Morton promised to get back to Hicks but didn’t. Hicks would later hear from CBS, but only in the most roundabout way possible.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks is smiling at hotel room - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

45. It Was A Chain of Faxes

Of course Hicks was mad at CBS, and he got the chance to vent on the radio, where he accused CBS of censoring him. One of Hicks’ fans heard the radio show and sat down and wrote CBS a letter. This fan received a letter of explanation from the Office of Standards and Practices at CBS. He faxed the letter to the radio station, and the radio station faxed it to Hicks. This was the only way that Hicks actually heard from CBS.

So, what the heck did this fax say?

Screenshot: Bill Hicks is performing with sad face - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009).Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

46. He Wasn’t Good Enough

In its fax to the fan, CBS denied censoring Hicks at all. The Office of Standards and Practices said that it was the producers who wanted to delete Hicks from the show, so they could replace him with a different comedian. If you read between the lines, the letter seems to say that Hicks wasn't too edgy, he just wasn’t good enough.

Anyone with any sense is now thinking that the Office of Standards and Practices is just trying to get itself out of a tight situation. If you believe that, then what happened next will come as quite a shock.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks is seating and looking sad - from Late Night With David Letterman (1982-93)Universal, Late Night With David Letterman (1982-93)

47. He Came Clean

A New Yorker journalist named John Lahr decided to get to the bottom of this story. He went ahead and called Morton—the one who had originally blamed the office of standards and practices. Lahr pressed hard and Morton eventually came clean. It was the Late Show’s producers’ decision to ax Hicks from the show and theirs alone. The only reason Morton gave was that they have to “deliver a finished product to the network”.

When Hicks found this out, he must have felt even more confused. So, what had he done wrong?

Screenshot: Bill Hicks with beard is performing on stage - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

48. He Got An Answer

The weeks following the Letterman disaster, Hicks must have been racking his brain trying to figure out what had gone wrong. He must have asked himself if was it the remarks about Jesus and bunny rabbits at Easter that did him in? Or maybe it was his jokes criticizing the pro-life movement. A few weeks later he found out the reason. A friend was watching Letterman and saw an ad that shocked her: a commercial for the pro-life movement.

Hicks finally had his answer: the producers had been trying to please the sponsors. This incident changed Hicks permanently—he now considered himself an outlaw.

Screenshot: Bill Hicks is looking surprised at camera - from American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)Jackamo Productions, American- The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

49. He Atoned

In 2009, David Letterman was still feeling bad about how they’d cut Hicks from the show back in 1993. To atone for his sin, Letterman had Hicks’ mother come on his show to introduce the rarely-seen footage of Hicks that they‘d deleted from Letterman’s show.

Letterman also took the blame for censoring Hicks in the first place. Letterman added that he saw nothing wrong with Hicks’ material.

David apologizes to Mary Hicks for his decision to remove Bill's appearance from a 1993 show.Universal, Late show With David Letterman


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Do you question the accuracy of a fact you just read? At Factinate, we’re dedicated to getting things right. Our credibility is the turbo-charged engine of our success. We want our readers to trust us. Our editors are instructed to fact check thoroughly, including finding at least three references for each fact. However, despite our best efforts, we sometimes miss the mark. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at contribute@factinate.com. Thanks for your help!


Warmest regards,



The Factinate team




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