February 3, 2009

David Letterman apologizing now for censoring Bill Hicks back in 1993.

Here's a piece about it:
On Friday, Letterman brought in comedian Bill Hicks's mother to apologize to her personally for having, in 1993, cut what would have been Hicks's final appearance (his 12th) on the talk show.

Hicks died several months later of pancreatic cancer....

When Hicks was performing in the early 1990s, freedom of speech, among the pundits and the public, was under constant attack....

Hicks, who knew he was dying of cancer at the time, was heartbroken, as was his family, though he blamed the USA, “The United States of Advertisers.”

So Letterman making up with Mary Hicks now was both poignant and depressing, and this mood was palpably felt: The sketch did not get big laughs....
Here's the video of Letterman explaining what he's going to do, then apologizing to Hicks's mother. And here's the censored performance from 16 years ago — and you really can see why it was censored:



At the end of that, we see Letterman groveling before Hicks's mother. "What was the matter with me?... It says more about me as a guy than it says about me Bill, because there was absolutely nothing wrong with that." Yes, but there was something wrong with it. It encourages the assassination of specific celebrities (particularly Billy Ray Cyrus). There's other material that could be viewed as homophobic and it is hateful toward pro-lifers and mildly blasphemous about Jesus, but I think the real problem was the creepy encouragement of violence (quite aside from whether it might actually have inspired murder).

Is there some reason why Letterman is now making his amends? If the pain he caused Hicks and his mom is something that gnawed at him all these years, why do something about it now? Does Letterman or someone he loves have cancer? Or does Letterman suddenly have a newfound hate for Billy Ray Cyrus?

IN THE COMMENTS: Diamondhead said:
Bill Hicks was "heartbroken" because the full sting of his comedy wasn't felt by his intended targets? That's funnier than anything in his routine.

61 comments:

Bissage said...

David Letterman backed up that apology with cash, right?

Salamandyr said...

I've no idea why Letterman is bringing this up now, but I just had to comment on something else that struck me in this post.

I managed to completely miss the existence of Bill Hicks when he was alive, and only heard about him a couple years ago. He was apparently proud to be called "Noam Chomsky with dick jokes", which said about all I needed to know about him. Supposedly, according to the article, Hicks blamed America for his cancer? What kind of small person, when faced with mortality, decides some concatenation of people and ideas is somehow to blame? What an bitter, little fuck.

Hoosier Daddy said...

When Hicks was performing in the early 1990s, freedom of speech, among the pundits and the public, was under constant attack....

Well color me shocked. I thought free speech only came under attack when Bush outlawed it after 9/11.

AllenS said...

Letterman is not funny. He seems to be bitter, and I wouldn't be surprised if he was happy that certain people from the other side of the political aisle got cancer.

MadisonMan said...

Yes, why bring this up now? Odd.

I admit to chuckling about the bit with Jesus not wanting to return now 'cause everyone is wearing crosses. But the bit about Heather and her Two moms? Saw the punchline coming from a mile away.

John Burgess said...

With the joke about Jesus and the cross being the only thing even marginally funny in the performance, I can understand why it got cut back in 93. It was simply bitter--and unfunny--commentary.

As to why Letterman is apologizing now, who knows? Maybe he wanted to slip a few bills to Hick's mother and this was a way to have the corporation pony up rather than his own bank accounts...

Diamondhead said...

Bill Hicks was "heartbroken" because the full sting of his comedy wasn't felt by his intended targets? That's funnier than anything in his routine.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Irreverent that he was, I always thought Sam Kennison was the funniest comedian at the time.

I never found Letterman to be funny in the least. That was before I found out he was a flaming liberal too. He always came off as an arrogant asshole and he has over time confirmed that perception.

Henry said...

Will Letterman apologize to his audience fifteen years from now for this bit of maudlin theatre?

What was being censored in 1993? I was out of art school by then, so I wasn't in the censorship-groopie loop.

Curtiss said...

Is there some reason why Letterman is now making his amends?

Was this amends? How does one make amends to a dead man?

Or was Letterman just trying to publicly cleanse his soul.

Maybe I'm too harsh.

Christy said...

He has deep regret for censoring a jerk in '93, but still hasn't married his baby's mama? That is what passes for ethics among liberals?

al said...

The best apology Letterman could make would be to just quit. Get off tv altogether. Never appear again.

He hasn't been funny in years.

garage mahal said...

Hicks was fucking brilliant -- ranks right up there with Lenny Bruce and George Carlin in my opinion. Brutally honest and seemingly always ahead of the rest pack, but strangely marginalized . His wish that his dying grandmother be used in stunts in a martial arts film was hilarious.

"Do you want your grandmother dying like a little bird in some hospital room, her translucent skin so thin you can see her last heartbeat work its way down her blue veins? Or do you want her to meet Chuck Norris?"

LOL.

SteveR said...

For someone who's quick to do a truncated analysis of the actions of anyone he dislikes for the sake of a laugh, no matter how hurtful or imprecise it might be, its not very significant that he picks this one person (and his mom since he's long gone) to make amends to.

fcai said...

George Carlin was a douche bag.

Bill Hicks was working the vein of comedy ore that was more successfully mined by Sam Kinison. Mr. Hicks was probably more palatable to the mass audience than Sam was, but he definitely mimicked Sam's delivery and subject matter.

Letterman hasn't been funny in over 20 years. He can go away any time now...

Glen said...

Bill Hicks thought he was censored because a Pro Life commercial appeared on the broadcast that night.

Bill Hicks
on the censored Letterman appearance.

As to the question "why now?" God, who knows?

jdeeripper said...

Is there some reason why Letterman is now making his amends?

I think it's a couple of reasons.

First, he's old. He's running low on testosterone. He's turning into an old maid.

Second he's gone from being a gunslinger apolitical/libertarian type comic to being a flaming liberal Democrat establishment wussbag. Possibly to appeal to the Jon Stewart/Keith Olbermann crowd and just about everyone else in Big Media.

It's not much of a risk nowadays to praise a mediocre dead comic who joked about shoving a shotgun into the mouth of a "cracker" and killing him or belittling anti abortion religious types.

The real question is whether he will ever apologize to Harvey Pekar.

Hoosier Daddy said...Irreverent that he was, I always thought Sam Kennison was the funniest comedian at the time.

Here's Sam's debut on Letterman in 1985.

All time debut performance!

Original Mike said...

Letterman lost me years ago (used to like him). With Leno leaving and Conan also in the "not funny" category, I'll be finding something else to do at 10:30, like maybe sleeping.

reader_iam said...

Recall that that was a pretty militant time in the pro-life movement. Remember the "Spring of Life," for example? That was in 1993 ... the same year Dr. David Gunn was killed outside a murder clinic, for another example.

Leland said...

No wonder Letterman is no longer funny. He thinks not airing a boring act is censorship. I'll accept that the performance is out of context with the current times, but there is what two, three people laughing in the audience?

reader_iam said...

I think that even lot of people who were anti-abortion or at least pro-limits were disgusted around that time with the MOVEMENT, if not the cause. And there was a lot of fear in the air. Could Letterman have caught a whiff of that?

William said...

A lot of liberals have a kind of grim, ideological overbite that kills the punchline. My argument, though, is not that they lack talent but how narrow their focus is.....Code Pink (or whatever the1993 equivalent was) begs for mockery. It would never occur to Letterman or Hicks to mock such people. Conservatives and liberals are equally likely to cheat on their wives or adapt a wide stance in the men's room or fudge their income taxes. The liberals will be mocked as individuals, but for the conservatives the humor is directed at their underlying value system.....I only watch Letterman during Leno's commercial breaks. He, Letterman, can be funny but he's just not fair.

garage mahal said...

George Carlin was a douche bag.

I'm sure the feeling is mutual.

fcai said...

He is dead, therefore has no feelings. But thanks for playing.

TitusWantsToRecruitU said...

Why is smoking a tag on this post? He died of pancreatic cancer, what does that have to do with smoking.

I am horny.

Ann Althouse said...

"Why is smoking a tag on this post?"

Why is Easter a tag? Why abortion?

MayBee said...

When Hicks was performing in the early 1990s, freedom of speech, among the pundits and the public, was under constant attack....

It was the very beginning of the Political Correctness craze.

TitusWantsToRecruitU said...

Just asking Mary. Don't get all snappy pants on me.

TitusWantsToRecruitU said...

I have a freind I call Snappy Pants. I love that phrase.

You big Snappy Pants.

TitusWantsToRecruitU said...

friend

Original Mike said...

He, Letterman, can be funny but he's just not fair.

Yeah, that's a better rendition of my opinion. He can be funny, but he's too much to take. It ain't worth my time.

MadisonMan said...

Titus, if you listen to the clip, answers will be revealed to you!

Triangle Man said...

Titus,
I don't know why Ann chose to use smoking as a tag, but cigarette smoking has been strongly and consistently linked to pancreatic cancer.

reader_iam said...

Oh, for pete's sake. Smoking is part of Hicks' routine.

What I want to know is: Why no "chocolate" or "bunny" tag? Althouse is affirming one of Hicks' points!! ; )

Kim said...

Okay, why was the censored back then? Did the network censor it? What happened?

I mean, the act is not all that funny. It's offensive, for sure, but offensive can be funny.

IF the guy was censored because it was offensive, then clearly that is wrong.

TitusWantsToRecruitU said...

Sorry I couldn't watch the entire thing. It was too painful.

Everyone's getting all snappy pants on me.

Joe said...

That was funny?

AllenS said...

Something else that isn't funny. This damn cold weather. Man, I'm getting sick of it.

save_the_rustbelt said...

Kinnison was outrageous and funny.

Hicks, boring.

Letterman should stick with famous quarterbacks.

Pogo said...

I'm glad Letterman still has his show.

Otherwise he'd be shooting at the cops coming to rescue his hostages.

Ralph said...

IF the guy was censored because it was offensive, then clearly that is wrong.
Not clear at all. There are plenty of funny jokes which shouldn't be broadcast on TV, and the show should police itself, if a guest won't.

John Stodder said...

It was the very beginning of the Political Correctness craze.

Right. My guess it was the brief, anodyne critique of "Heather Has Two Mommies" that got Hicks bounced, and not the hunting and killing of Billy Ray Cyrus and Michael Bolton.

Unless: In December 1993, the mass murderer Colin Ferguson went on his rampage on the LIRR. Could this performance have come in its immediate aftermath?

Anyway, I join in the general condemnation of David Letterman's recent career. He was funny, very funny, IMO, for a long time, but he fizzled out about 10 years ago. His recent politicization has struck me as pandering in a desperate attempt to hold onto part of his audience, positioning himself as the Liberals' Late-Night Comic of choice as opposed to Leno, who is seemingly apolitical and therefore can be characterized as a right-winger.

former law student said...

The real question is whether he will ever apologize to Harvey Pekar.

Dork vs. Douchebag -- really hard to pick a side here.

His recent politicization has struck me as pandering in a desperate attempt to hold onto part of his audience

It's interesting to contrast Letterman in his 40s and 50s with Letterman today. I guess it's hard to sustain a smirking douchebag persona when you're over sixty.

Why did Letterman do this now? Maybe he's in a 12 step program, and must make amends. Maybe he suddenly remembered it, and it was eating away at his soul for a while. Maybe someone heard that Mary Hicks was still bitter about her dying boy's dumping by Letterman. Perhaps he slowly developed a conscience, or feelings for his fellow man.

garage mahal said...

Letterman was funny before he starting talking like a liberal. Yawn.

Howard said...

Hicks performance is weak and tame. There are some great Hicks shows on Youtube. Never heard about his blaming Amerikka for his cancer. All I know is some of his material sucks and some is so funny you will pert near lose your mud.

Letterman must be going through a 12-step program for corporate whores.

Howard said...

Fmer Law Stud: didn't see ur post, don't sue me for plagiarism, thx

jeff said...

Letterman was funny back when he was working as a weatherman and when he had his brief daytime show. He was fairly funny on his first late night show. He stopped being funny a few years after moving to CBS.

Kennison was off the wall funny. He killed me.

Kim said...

Ralph you said:

Not clear at all. There are plenty of funny jokes which shouldn't be broadcast on TV, and the show should police itself, if a guest won't.
***********************************

Well, why not? Why shouldn't they be broadcast?

BJM said...

Letterman + CBS = epic assholery.

fivewheels said...

garage, you scoff at the idea that Letterman pissed away his comic appeal in a cloud of political self-righteousness because you're on that side of things, but I wonder how you would compare the Dennis Miller of the '90s to today's? He's done much the same.

You can't let that stuff overwhelm your real act in show business. Especially when there's a perceptible shift.

Host with the Most said...

A lot of people obviously like comedians who are angry - who "Keep it real".

I don't.

But it says far more about the people that do like angry comedians that they are offended that I don't.

It's amazing the defensiveness you find in people who liked Sam Kinison or Lenny Bruce - something in their make-up needs to feel superior to others by showing how cool they are by laughing at such comedians.

My stance is - Fine, enjoy 'em. But don't get all defensive when you ask me if I "get it" and then tell you I don't care for that kind of humor. Otherwise, I'll tell you fuck yourself and for some reason you won't find that funny.

Revenant said...

I keep hearing that Hicks was a genius, but every comedy routine of his that I've heard has barely been worth a chuckle.

Dave Chapelle, now, he was a genius, at least until he went nuts and burned out.

Palladian said...

Maybe Letterman will spend the rest of his career apologizing to the people (or their survivors) who he's treated like shit over the years.

Should fill his schedule for the next 20 years or so.

As for Hicks, I never understood the attraction. I know some people get excited when performers "keep it real", but I prefer performers who keep it fake.

One can only tolerate a limited amount of "sticking it to the MAN" before one tires and longs for Joey Bishop.

Patm said...

I'd bet someone Letterman loves has cancer and he's trying to change his karma by making amends.

Maybe it will make him less bitter. That would be nice. I stopped watching him because I could not understand why a minimally talented, self-obsessed guy, who hasn't really been funny in a quite a while yet has every material indicator of success in the world could be so damned bitter, all the time.

Could it be that material riches and fame and power don't bring happiness?

Glad he did this, although it's weird, but I still won't watch the guy. He's just too cranky.

PJ said...

He just knew Miley was coming and it was Billy's fault. ;-)

Patm said...

OMG that Kinison video. He killed!

fcai said...

YOU LIVE IN A DESERT! NOTHING GROWS HERE! NOTHING'S EVER GOING TO GROW HERE!!!

Brilliant comedian. His preacher personna, honed from years in the pulpit, his drug addled persona, similarly honed, the bitter divorced guy, all brilliant, and based on his experiences. I had all his albums, tapes, videos from his television appearances, and so on - never grew tired of his humor. But I had to let it go - if you repeat his punchlines in polite company people will look at you funny - and it's not just the plagarism angle, like that mexican who steals his work.

Back in the mud hole, Haji, we're losing daylight...

rcocean said...

I have no idea who Bill Hicks is. Plus Letterman is a boring, bitter, old man.

Whats his 18-30 demo? Its probably pathetic. Soon he'll be appearing in Geritol commercials.

PJ said...

I don't see why it was censored - and I remember that era. The guy comes off as liberal, snide and bitter, but that's not exactly controversial for a comedian.

Kev said...

Bill Hicks and I went to the same high school; we were even in an elective English class together.

The funny thing was, he was a rock guitarist during his junior year, entering the talent show with his band. By the time he was a senior, he had already honed the basics of his comedy act and entered the show that way; I was surprised how much the administration let him get away with that time.

Later on, I would see Hicks as well as Kinison (who were part of a loosely-connected troupe called the Comedy Outlaws) at various clubs around Houston. He was kind of over the top at times, but it was cool to see a local boy make good. Everyone was shocked when he left us so soon.

A little trivia: Evidently, Clint Black's band was in the same talent show with Hicks' band (story here). Clint went to our school too, but I didn't know him and wasn't aware of that fact until much later. At one point, there was a picture of him in the skateboard club, of all things.

Jack said...

Bill Hicks was a very funny comedian and a very intelligent man. It was tragic that we lost him at so young an age. Whatever you thought of his humor, he made it! His carreer was a successful one for a comedian. Reguarding his last Letterman performance I thing he said it best in explanation; "There just jokes." Even today there are many people who refuse to find humor in jokes that contradict or oppose their beliefs. That too, is tragic. Thanks Bill for always speaking your mind !!! -Jack