“American: The Bill Hicks Story,” Reviewed

“American: The Bill Hicks Story,” Reviewed (photo)

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A stand-up comedian’s job is to make people laugh. But the more you learn about stand-ups, the more you see how unfunny their own lives often are. Many of the best comedians are forged in the darkest places. Comedian Bill Hicks struggled with substance abuse for years and then just as he got himself clean and his career started to take off, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 31. He was dead by the time he was 32.

Funny as it is, “American: The Bill Hicks Story” is a deeply moving tragedy about the miserable luck of an absolute genius. And I don’t use the word “genius” lightly here. Hicks was like the stand-up comedian version of a five-tool baseball player. He could do it all. He had great timing. He did great impressions. He had amazing physical gifts. His humor came from a distinctive and really unique perspective. And his analysis and critique of American culture rivaled any social commentator of his generation. I own a couple Bill Hicks CDs, but because he died before I was even in high school, I’d never really seen him perform, and watching him in “American” only increased my admiration for his work and and his craft. The way he works a crowd and moves around a stage and handles hecklers and challenges his audiences’ assumptions; he really was one of the greatest.

We’re fortunate that so much good footage exists of Hicks onstage, even from the earliest parts of his career when he started working Houston comedy clubs while he was still in high school and his delivery wasn’t refined but his material was already shockingly good. What doesn’t exist is much in the way of home movies or interviews, so “American” directors Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas construct Hicks’ life offstage through animated montages of still photographs of Hicks set to a running narration provided by his friends and family. Because we almost never see who is talking, this device doesn’t always provide the most clear sense of who besides Hicks is involved in any particular scene. But “American”‘s unorthodox approach weaves a sort of transportive spell that is very much in keeping with its subjects taste for consciousness-expanding psychedelics. In other words: this movie is a trip, man, through Hicks’ maturation as a comedian and a human being, through his attempts at screenwriting and Hollywood success, and finally through his sudden and unexpected stardom in the UK after his appearance at the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival aired on British television.

Obviously, “American” is a sad film at times; any story about a 32-year-old dying of cancer is going to be sad at times. But I found it to be incredibly inspirational too. When Hicks got his cancer diagnosis he didn’t sit around feeling sorry for himself: he pushed himself to do as much as he could with the little time he was given. And it made him an even more fearless comedian onstage because he had nothing left to lose by speaking his mind. If he was provocative before, he was genuinely shocking after. As someone who writes and talks for a living, and who is just a few years younger than Hicks was when he fell ill, that really gave me something to think about. It Bill Hicks’ job to make people laugh. But what he really loved to do was to make them think as well.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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Draught Pick

Sam Adams “Keeps It Brockmire”

All New Brockmire airs Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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From baseball to beer, Jim Brockmire calls ’em like he sees ’em.


It’s no wonder at all, then, that Sam Adams would reach out to Brockmire to be their shockingly-honest (and inevitably short-term) new spokesperson. Unscripted and unrestrained, he’ll talk straight about Sam—and we’ll take his word. Check out this new testimonial for proof:

See more Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC, presented by Samuel Adams. Good f***** beer.

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