Outlaw Comic: The Censoring of Bill Hicks

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A biographical documentary on the late great comedian Bill Hicks and his career; in particular the censorship by Letterman that scarred it.

Hosted by Janeane Garofalo, this documentary tells the story of Bill’s transition from a non-drinking, non-smoking, straight laced funny man, to a hard drinking, hard smoking, drug taking angry ranter, to the happy and finally, peaceful and insightful man of much wisdom.

A rare insight into the battle against censorship that the great Bill Hicks waged against corporate America and it’s mainstream media for the better part of 15 years.

After 11 successful appearances on The Tonight Show with David Lettermen, the ‘powers that be’ axed Bill’s final performance from the show. 4 months later, Bill would tragically die from pancreatic cancer at the age of 32.

Outlaw Comic: The Censoring of Bill Hicks, 9.6 out of 10 based on 47 ratings

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  • Kitty

    Okay. So an anti-censorship documentary has bleeped the swearing? Does no one else see the contradiction here?

    • Dogger

      Yes, it means that in the US bullshit’s sacred

  • Nobu

    How ironic is that? A doc about the censorship of Hicks and they bleep out all the curse words LOL! Bill will be laughing in his grave at that one….

  • http://orwellwasright.wordpress.com/ Andy

    Glad others are pointing out the obvious – the producers of the show must be idiots…

    • AJS

      See above comments in regards to your post. Thanks.

  • Andre Bordeleau

    lol cracked me up too , do you think Bill is turning in his grave ? R.I.P buddy here;s a smoke!

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  • Lay

    I love Bill Hicks* His views of the world resonate with all great thinkers. Love~Laughter~Truth
    *and Squz

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  • Lil_Git

    Awesome documentary on the late great Bill Hicks. What’s with the censored swear words though? Uncensored comedy in the bottom right corner????

  • ffffdd

    yeah thats pretty offensive – and moronic. the programme’s called ‘uncensored comedy’. the producer should go kill them selves, along with marketers and avertisers!

  • Psyllo

    It’s just so incredibly tame, the material Letterman censored. It’s really sobering to realize just how constricted free speech is, and to see first hand just how enraging it is to be silenced over things of importance. Lenny Bruce pretty much had the same trajectory to his career—”ranting” and all. Flynt went there too during the height of his first amendment struggles. People sometimes wondered if he had an undiagnosed bi-polar disorder :D. Probably not. More likely such intense emotion is just a human reaction to utter insanity.

  • Psyllo

    Utter insanity= “Shut up, that doesn’t exist! And even if it did, you can’t talk about it. Everything is FINE here, FINE!”

  • AJS

    FYI — I made this film for three reasons; first was to share Bill Hicks comedy with the American audience he longed for, secondly to have his cut segment (which meant so much to him and his family) finally aired (which Letterman at long last did in 2009) and the final reason was to point out the ridiculous double-standard of censorship that Hicks valiantly fought against. The fact that the documentary was censored when it aired was NOT IRONY. It was the central point I was trying to make about mass media: It is always censored, whether from the creator’s own viewpoint (which in and of itself must always be censoring some other view point in order to make their point) or in this case, from the gatekeepers of media itself– who are so removed from the actual audience — that they would even blindly censor themselves. The real irony is that the original version of the doc had to be recut several days before airing due to a cease and desist letter from David Letterman’s company who was going to let us air the lost segment but retracted when a premature press release put out by the network mentioned we were going to air the footage before the deal had been completed. I had to not only cut out all scenes with David Letterman on camera — which was somewhere between 7-10 minutes and was crucial to the doc (It’s original title was “The 12th Show”) but I also had to replace those moments and still have the doc make sense as well as hit the required TV timing length that had already been slotted. There is also an extended uncut version that has never been released.

    • Respect?

      Taking at face value something I have not a shred of proof of is really hard for me. As one of the legion of americans that is and always has been very open minded and questioning, I “got” Bill Hicks the very first time I saw him on TV waay back in the infancy of cable TV on the first comedy channel…Theyd use little clips of stand up to fill time between the comedy movies and the full length comedy specials….since HBO must have only aired his ‘one night stand’ special twice in north poland or something, even tho my family had HBO since like a month after it premiered as a channel back in the 6 foot giant sattelite dish in your yard days, and I am a comedy junkie who saw what I thought was every episode of One Night Stand SEVERAL times, I had never seen or heard of Bill’s HBO special so they must not have aired or advertised it that much… funny cuz far inferior acts like Barry Sobel or that ilk were in nearly CONSTANT play. I digress, so I saw a short clip of Bill in one of their little time fillers, and I remember it clearly to this day. It was the bit about drugs do good things..burn your records etc that culminates in the beatles studio punchline about Ringo on the ceiling wanting to sing about “a yellow tamborine or something” and Bill waving the mic stand to mimic them trying to catch ringo…It was so funny Im not sure but I dont even think I was laughing… So and creative and raw and real, finally…. TRUE! And on the TV! Sure some of the edgier stand up comics shown on TV talked about drugs a little, but it was nearly always negative effects, and to my knowledge, esp in the 80′s and early 90′s, it was ALWAYS couched in terms of “i used to get so high, man” terms like I said, I was a comedy junkie, and even when theyd be showing CHeech and Chong movies, I cant recall hearing any comics before Bill talk openly about using and having fun…and certainly NOTHING like today where some comics walk out and open with “hey how you all doin, so I smoke pot.. how many smoke pot out there?” I re-digress, HA… So after I heard the drugs/ringo bit, I became obsessed with Bill, keeping a close watch for anything to pop up…Not easy pre-internet, so I basically would hear or see nothing for long stretches then more and more of those ‘in between’ clips started featuring bill, the clips got their own show ‘Short Attention Span Theater’, introducing me to Jon Stewart and Marc Maron and many of their hosts would show excitement reverence and obviously much respect when intro-ing one of Bills clips. Literally the only way I ever saw any of his stand up until I heard about the Albums from the early, snail-mail version of the Tool newsletter. Have a huge Bill collection, many boots.. its neat to hear the mat’l evolve and I’ve long resented the MANY people who stole either huge chunks of Bills Act ala Denis Leary, or Stole something and made it a HUGE part of their act (maher & “new rule”) im rambling…I gave what appears to be nearly a life history to testify that I am a fan of bills from the early 90′s… I consider myself an expert on his material, and am VERY skeptical of unproven claims… saw the film here on doc heaven… was about to watch the other night but I saw the comments about the editing and was bummed andn pissed, then saw your comment and wasnt sure wht to think….In a very “bill” mood lately so i watched it tonite…

      in addition to the initials AJS matching the first and last initial of the director… and the apparent inside production knowledge…and the FACT that whomever the author of the post is (I believe the post to be true) THIS FILM IS FUCKING AMAZING! While ‘american’ has the hicks family and kevin booth etc, and is itself a very very good movie,(didnt care for the photo-animation.. static pics would have been better) YOUR film not only contained a few nuggets that id never heard from bills professional days (didnt think there were any left.. THANK YOU!!) it also added something that I didnt know.. bill being banned from letterman previously… again… THANK YOU! YOUR MOVIE WAS AWESOME…a quick question if you see this….the cease and desist letter… is that something you could post or email to me? I love legal jargon, especially the kind they use when they are shafting someone knowingly….and I assume that your production already had permission to use the footage? can you add anything….either way THANK you again… and if youve made it this far for crap’s sake i apologize for this being a freakin novel!

    • Respect?

      Taking at face value something I have not a shred of proof of is really hard for me. As one of the legion of americans that is and always has been very open minded and questioning, I “got” Bill Hicks the very first time I saw him on TV waay back in the infancy of cable TV on the first comedy channel…Theyd use little clips of stand up to fill time between the comedy movies and the full length comedy specials….since HBO must have only aired his ‘one night stand’ special twice in north poland or something, even tho my family had HBO since like a month after it premiered as a channel back in the 6 foot giant sattelite dish in your yard days, and I am a comedy junkie who saw what I thought was every episode of One Night Stand SEVERAL times, I had never seen or heard of Bill’s HBO special so they must not have aired or advertised it that much… funny cuz far inferior acts like Barry Sobel or that ilk were in nearly CONSTANT play. I digress, so I saw a short clip of Bill in one of their little time fillers, and I remember it clearly to this day. It was the bit about drugs do good things..burn your records etc that culminates in the beatles studio punchline about Ringo on the ceiling wanting to sing about “a yellow tamborine or something” and Bill waving the mic stand to mimic them trying to catch ringo…It was so funny Im not sure but I dont even think I was laughing… So and creative and raw and real, finally…. TRUE! And on the TV! Sure some of the edgier stand up comics shown on TV talked about drugs a little, but it was nearly always negative effects, and to my knowledge, esp in the 80′s and early 90′s, it was ALWAYS couched in terms of “i used to get so high, man” terms like I said, I was a comedy junkie, and even when theyd be showing CHeech and Chong movies, I cant recall hearing any comics before Bill talk openly about using and having fun…and certainly NOTHING like today where some comics walk out and open with “hey how you all doin, so I smoke pot.. how many smoke pot out there?” I re-digress, HA… So after I heard the drugs/ringo bit, I became obsessed with Bill, keeping a close watch for anything to pop up…Not easy pre-internet, so I basically would hear or see nothing for long stretches then more and more of those ‘in between’ clips started featuring bill, the clips got their own show ‘Short Attention Span Theater’, introducing me to Jon Stewart and Marc Maron and many of their hosts would show excitement reverence and obviously much respect when intro-ing one of Bills clips. Literally the only way I ever saw any of his stand up until I heard about the Albums from the early, snail-mail version of the Tool newsletter. Have a huge Bill collection, many boots.. its neat to hear the mat’l evolve and I’ve long resented the MANY people who stole either huge chunks of Bills Act ala Denis Leary, or Stole something and made it a HUGE part of their act (maher & “new rule”) im rambling…I gave what appears to be nearly a life history to testify that I am a fan of bills from the early 90′s… I consider myself an expert on his material, and am VERY skeptical of unproven claims… saw the film here on doc heaven… was about to watch the other night but I saw the comments about the editing and was bummed andn pissed, then saw your comment and wasnt sure wht to think….In a very “bill” mood lately so i watched it tonite…

      in addition to the initials AJS matching the first and last initial of the director… and the apparent inside production knowledge…and the FACT that whomever the author of the post is (I believe the post to be true) THIS FILM IS FUCKING AMAZING! While ‘american’ has the hicks family and kevin booth etc, and is itself a very very good movie,(didnt care for the photo-animation.. static pics would have been better) YOUR film not only contained a few nuggets that id never heard from bills professional days (didnt think there were any left.. THANK YOU!!) it also added something that I didnt know.. bill being banned from letterman previously… again… THANK YOU! YOUR MOVIE WAS AWESOME…a quick question if you see this….the cease and desist letter… is that something you could post or email to me? I love legal jargon, especially the kind they use when they are shafting someone knowingly….and I assume that your production already had permission to use the footage? can you add anything….either way THANK you again… and if youve made it this far for crap’s sake i apologize for this being a freakin novel!

      • AJS

        Thank you for the kind comments. I am humbled by them and appreciate your interest in the film. The cease and desist action occured the day after I shot the wrap around with Janeane Garofalo. My lawyer, who also represents Letterman was about to call to discuss using the footage when he received the call from a Letterman representative. He then called me to tell me the news, so I never actually received the letter. Since the airdate was already set, I had to jump into action in order to recut the film in time for it to make air. Thank you for understanding the difficulty in getting a film to air at all on TV. It is disturbing to read many of the comments on various websites written by people with very little understanding of how the television business actually functions who often blame producers, writers and directors for TV content. This is not meant as a slam against them, just pointing out that getting the facts correct requires a bit of research or knowledge of the field. In most cases, when a company is hired to make a film, in this instance Universal for the now defunct “Trio” network, the producer has very little say in the final outcome of what airs since the network is funding the project. I fought tooth and nail to have the film air uncensored, waging long screaming matches about holding true to Bill’s integrity. In the end, one must compromise if you want the film to air, and after negotiating what scenes needed to be cut and which words needed to be bleeped, I intentially added the “censored black bars” over Bill’s bird flip at the end of the film to make the point of how ridiculuous it was to censor a film about a man who was censored from TV airing during uncensored month. As mentioned earlier, the important thing for me was to share Bill’s story with a wider audience. Living with the censoring was difficult, but in the end, I had a contract to fulfill and having the film air was ultimately more important than just folding. Those that were hip enough to get the great irony and little jabs at the institution itself, did, as for the others, write letters to the networks who cowtow to their advertisers & special interest groups and to the politicians who pass laws making certain words and acts punishable offenses for non-pay TV instead of attacking the producers fighting to get important stories out to as a wide an audience as possible. If you really want to get active, boycott companies like Blockbuster and others that edit the films you pay to watch or write your network and voice your opinion that you feel capable of deciding what you can or cannot watch and want them to defend freedom of speech, not make the decision for you.

  • AJS

    FYI — I made this film for three reasons; first was to share Bill Hicks comedy with the American audience he longed for, secondly to have his cut segment (which meant so much to him and his family) finally aired (which Letterman at long last did in 2009) and the final reason was to point out the ridiculous double-standard of censorship that Hicks valiantly fought against. The fact that the documentary was censored when it aired was NOT IRONY. It was the central point I was trying to make about mass media: It is always censored, whether from the creator’s own viewpoint (which in and of itself must always be censoring some other view point in order to make their point) or in this case, from the gatekeepers of media itself– who are so removed from the actual audience — that they would even blindly censor themselves. The real irony is that the original version of the doc had to be recut several days before airing due to a cease and desist letter from David Letterman’s company who was going to let us air the lost segment but retracted when a premature press release put out by the network mentioned we were going to air the footage before the deal had been completed. I had to not only cut out all scenes with David Letterman on camera — which was somewhere between 7-10 minutes and was crucial to the doc (It’s original title was “The 12th Show”) but I also had to replace those moments and still have the doc make sense as well as hit the required TV timing length that had already been slotted. There is also an extended uncut version that has never been released.

  • Tracy

    Does anyone else suspect that Hicks’ cancer was a death sentence?  There must have been many people who wanted him dead.