The 1980s were a miserable decade for standup comedy—based on the incredible success of men like Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, and Robin Williams, all of whom had an originating identity as standups, comedy saw a “boom” which really translated into bars across America labeling just about anything a “COMEDY SHOWCASE,” attracting MOR hacks everywhere to divert audiences with their “hilarious” Jack Nicholson impressions or their hackneyed thoughts about the packaging of airline peanuts. It was a decade defined by people such as Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser, talented men but none of them ever likely to, say, question the Reagan administration’s Central America policy.
Which brings us to Bill Hicks, one of the few comedic heroes that the 1980s produced. Hicks was a bumptious standup comedian out of Texas, one of few comedians of that era who could truly be said to owe Lenny Bruce a debt. He talked about the benefits of LSD, marijuana, and psychedelic mushrooms onstage, railed against the implacable conformity of Americans, and once put down a heckler by saying, “Hitler had the right idea; he was just an underachiever!” In a decade in which development execs constantly lusted after some debased version of the “edgy,” Hicks was the real deal. He sadly died of pancreatic cancer in 1994 at the age of 32, a tragic fate that has cemented his status as a countercultural icon ever since.
One of the events that caused Hicks to adopt a rather jaundiced view of Hollywood was his involvement in an idiotic spoof of the CIA called Bulba. A pilot episode of the show was filmed for ABC in 1981, but it was never picked up—for very good reasons. The show centered on the goofy goings-on at the U.S. embassy in Bulba, a fictional island near India, and the show absolutely reeks of the anti-establishment ethos typified by Stripes and M*A*S*H, but sadly it isn’t funny. At all. Hicks plays “Phil,” a bumbling Marine whose identifying trait is that he isn’t wearing pants.
More after the jump…