American Outlaw

The late Bill Hicks was misunderstood, even long after his premature death from pancreatic cancer.

Case in point: In 1993, David Letterman chose not to air a controversial standup segment on The Late Show after caving into pressure from CBS executives unhappy Hicks’ jokes about religion and the handicapped. More than 16 years later, the talk show host finally aired the routine in its entirety, complete with an apology to Hicks’ mother.

That situation was emblematic of Hicks’ paradoxical career. The controversial and caustic comic never gained the mainstream acceptance he craved, but the years since his death in 1994 have seen him canonized by faithful fans and viewed as a prophet and provocateur.

Director Paul Thomas 2009’s documentary American: The Bill Hicks Story attempts to further this notion. Though capturing the complicated truths that defined Hicks -- i.e. the space between the dick jokes and the philosophy –is nearly impossible in 102 minutes, the film combines beautifully visual animation techniques and interviews with those closest to Hicks to try and detail the comedian’s unique world view.

The documentary screens on Saturday, April 30, at MADCAP Theaters, 730 South Mill Avenue in Tempe. Showtimes are 8 p.m. (including Q&A session with the director) and 10 p.m.
Sat., April 30, 8 & 10 p.m., 2011
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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.