Letterman Rights the Bill Hicks Wrong
Tonight on Letterman’s Late Show, the long censored permorfance by the late Bill Hicks finally was shown. Though David Letterman certainly may have failed in 1993, he demonstrated a level of class tonight. Simply admitting by his error, sincerely and completely, he’s shown himself to have grown into one of our most authentic and human comic voices. I imagine some will wonder if Letterman is taking the fall for a short-sighted CBS decision. I can’t see that. Letterman’s never been one for the company line, frequently teasing his home network. Perhaps CBS was bothered by the content, but Letterman likely didn’t disagree at the time.
Of course, Letterman didn’t dwell a lot on the whys of the decision to censor Hicks. I wasn’t disappointed by that. Any attempt to point out the sensitive part of the act (likely the “pro-life” material) could have come off as an excuse. Better to just own up completely, and let any rationale proven wrong become an internal guide for how to run your show.
It was wonderful to see Mary Hicks talk about her son. It reminded me a lot of when Johnny Carson would have regular folks on his show. The authenticity of how people respond to a conversation makes for something often memorable, rather than just a celebrity relating a packaged anecdote. Mary’s simple “OK, what else you want to know” was a simple human and very funny moment after a slight bit of tenseness where she let Letterman know simply, how difficult of a time that was. If Jimmy Fallon’s producers were watching, here’s a unique late night tradition that’s been lost in the past decade or so, and would be a welcome return for a new show.
As for the performance by Hicks himself, it’s aged pretty well. It the audience he performed for that hasn’t. Even in today’s world where gay marriage is the front lines of our culture wars, I have a hard time imagining any late night audience so vigorously whooping and applauding a facetious suggestion that a book about a gay couple is disgusting. (Although arguably, Hicks hit the idea awfully hard to set up his preference for the Two Mommies book.) Bill’s comedy may have been before his time, but at least a part of that audience is still there in 1993.
Update: Here’s the Late Show’s video, featuring highlights of Dave’s conversation with Mary Hicks and the full version of Bill Hicks’s act: