August 13th, 2007


Defending Denis Leary: The Bill Hicks Legacy

Question: Why is Denis Leary a star while Bill Hicks is unknown? Answer: Because there's no cure for cancer.

Here are the details of that joke. 1. Denis Leary and Bill Hicks were both stand up comedians in the late 80s and early 90s. 2. Denis Leary is accused of ripping off Bill Hicks' jokes and passing them off as his own. 3. Bill Hicks died of pancreatic cancer in 1994. 4. "No Cure For Cancer" is the title of Leary's first album of stand-up material - released in 1993 - of which material and perhaps even persona were plagiarized. Ergo, Denis Leary is a star because of "No Cure For Cancer" and because - had there actually been a cure for cancer - Bill Hicks would be the real star while Denis Leary would be chain smoking his way through a VH1 Pop Culture show about Lindsay Lohan.

I'm torn on this subject for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I think it's despicable to steal someone else's art and profit from it to the extent that Leary has. However, I've been a fan of Leary's since those early 90s days when he was showing up in MTV commercials, and as a comedian I find him funnier than Bill Hicks. Of course, that's blasphemy to anyone who's a TRUE fan of stand up comedy, but I likes what I likes. And finally, while there are similarities in style, I've yet to see any concrete proof of theft on Leary's part.

Besides, let's not go splitting hairs here (split a hare ... mmm hmm hmm hmm), the persona of Bill Hicks ain't one of a kind. He's part Sam Kinison (southern with a tendency to get loud), part Andrew Dice Clay (the chain smoking and pussy jokes), part George Carlin (the constant criticism of all the hypocrisy in the world), and part Lenny Bruce (riding that cross as the martyr of Free Speech). You're telling me his views on the legalization of marijuana (guess what: he's for it) vs. the legalization of alcohol (a drug carrying far more dangers in the world, but since it's taxed, gets a pass) isn't directly lifted from any number of George Carlin albums? Bullshit. Bill Hicks ain't no saint. He just caught a tough break and to the Leary went the spoils.

You know that line in What About Bob? Where Bob's saying the reason his marriage didn't work out is because there's "two types of people in this world, those who like Neil Diamond and those who don't." Well, you can divide the world in half another way: Bill Hicks people and Denis Leary people. Some people just can't seem to forgive Leary for a slight they don't even know for sure exists. Well, I got news for you: it's all comedy. Who cares whose mouth it's coming out of; if it makes you laugh, then what else matters?

The hip answer is to say, "Fuck no, Bill Hicks is my guy." Well, fine, you twist in the bitterness that eventually ate him away; I'll be the one enjoying my stinging comedy from the guy who's still living. Because there's no cure for cancer, there's just Denis Leary.
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