A new documentary about the late Bill Hicks, American: The Bill Hicks Story, is making the film festival rounds, and it's more than fair to say that it's going deep into the heart of Hicks country this month when it screens at Austin's SXSW.
Here's a clip from the movie that not only shows the blend of actual footage with animation the filmmakers have chosen, but also includes comedian Dwight Slade talking about he and his childhood friend Hicks had to sneak out of the house on a school night for their first professional stand-up gig in a comedy club. Roll it!
Here's another clip of Slade talking about one of the first "characters" he and Hicks performed when they were teens.
And so you fans who have questions can ask appropriately, if given the chance, do your homework and watch this footage from last month's Glasgow Film Festival with the filmmakers, Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas.
Today is the 15th anniversary of the day stand-up comedian Bill Hicks died. Over in the U.K., comedy club Jongleurs in Camden held a tribute show last night. Tonight, his childhood friend Dwight Slade performs at Cap City Comedy Club in Austin, Texas, with a special screening of the 2007 tribute film, "Squeegee Your Third Eye," and a Q&A session. And as trends go, it's not surprising to see people have a dedicated Twitter hashtag for #billhicksday.
Further background: What happened when Letterman censored Bill Hicks.
Mary Hicks, mother of the late Bill Hicks, is taping an appearance this afternoon on Late Show with David Letterman that will air Friday and include the twelfth and final performance by Hicks that the show had censored back in 1993. Why the change of heart now? We'll find out soon enough. Next month is the 15th anniversary of his early death, with events planned in England (the Brits always loved Hicks) and in Portland, Ore. (where childhood friend/comedian Dwight Slade lives). And later this year, the British-produced documentary American: The Bill Hicks Story should make it to the big screen.
In this segment from an earlier documentary about "Outlaw Comic" Hicks that I recall seeing at the HBO Aspen festival in 2002, Janeane Garofalo says in a voiceover how Mary Hicks received the only existing tape of the set from CBS and the show, but they couldn't use it at the time. Instead, they show part of the final performance ever from Hicks in 1994. Were he alive today, you can imagine how he'd feel about Miley Cyrus...
And in this public access TV appearance, Bill Hicks himself talks at length about his disputed appearance on Letterman:
Related: This is the 1993 New Yorker profile of Bill Hicks that he mentions in the above video.
Tommy Savitt, an L.A.-based stand-up and native of Brooklyn, NY, spent the month in Western Washington clubs, theaters and casinos, telling jokes night after night against dozens of competitors, and won the 2008 Seattle International Stand-Up Comedy Competition for his efforts. Savitt won $5,000, a record contract with Uproar Entertainment, and will stick around for a "victory tour" of gigs Dec. 5-6 at Laughs in Kirkland, Dec. 11-13 at the Comedy Underground in Seattle, and Dec. 31 at the Everett Theatre in Everett.
Savitt previously made the finals in the Seattle contest in 2004, and won the Boston Comedy Festival's contest in 2007 -- which makes for the second guy to make the coast-to-coast double (Dwight Slade won Boston this year, and Seattle in 2001). UPDATED: Make that at least the third guy, as Tom Cotter won Seattle in 1994, then Boston a decade later in 2004! (Thanks, Gabe, Seattle winner 2004, Boston winner...2009?)
Here were your final results from the 2008 Boston Comedy Festival contest, decided last weekend...
1. Dwight Slade ($5,000); 2. Andrew Norelli ($2,500); 3. Myq Kaplan ($1,000); 4. Dave Waite ($300); 5. Baron Vaughn ($300); 6. Joe List ($300); 7. Rob O'Reilly ($300); 8. Mario DiGiorgio ($300)
How did this happen? Well, let's examine the particulars. The Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston didn't have its usual packed audience -- my memory tells me that festival organizer Jim McCue (who hosted the finals) had a sure-fire headliner in past years with Lewis Black (whom McCue sometimes opens for on tour) to fill the seats, and without that (The Smothers Brothers were the biggest name on Saturday night), the venue didn't even open the balcony. So you've got comedians used to smaller, more intimate club stages moving up to a big theater stage, except they're playing to a half-house (essentially). So you're playing to the orchestra level and a mezzanine. How do you translate your jokes to a mezzanine? There's that to consider. Also, they put the judges in the Muppet seats (as judge/honoree Steve Sweeney remarked) above the stage and near the speakers, where the acoustics were, well, terrible.
As for the performances themselves, I'm not surprised in the slightest at the top three -- Slade, Norelli and Kaplan performed at a higher level than the other five finalists. Those three could have finished in any order and not surprised me. That's how close they were. In the end, however, Slade owned the stage in a way the others didn't, and that most likely gave him an edge on the judges' scorecards.
Spoiler alert! Oh, wait. It's an event, results happened, we were there, and if you missed it, you missed it, so there's nothing to spoil, only news to share in the finals of the 2008 Boston Comedy Festival's stand-up comedy competition. And here are your top three finishers, as announced live Saturday night at the Cutler Majestic Theatre.
1) Dwight Slade
2) Andrew Norelli
3) Myq Kaplan
Congrats. Full recap and analysis to come later today!
Lessons learned from last night at the 2008 Boston Comedy Festival: Sometimes a comic plays very well to the back of the room, but not so much to the judges table in the second row; and sometimes, a show is so stacked with talent that it's difficult to pick just two comedians to advance to the finals. It was that kind of night. But you want to know who advanced and why.
Semi #3 winners, advancing to Saturday's Finals at the Cutler Majestic Theatre and a share of $10,000 in prize money: Rob O'Reilly and Mario DiGiorgio!
Wow. Just. Wow. Another comedian turned to me during DiGiorgio's performance and said "a set like this will win the contest." Which sounds like a good omen for him on Saturday. What the comic meant, I believe, is that DiGiorgio structured his set in such a way as to have broad mass appeal, with well-thought out material and a heavily layered closing routine that would earn points from the judges -- and for those of you who haven't been at the contest finals in a while -- those judges often include veteran old-time acts, such as Bill Dana, Norm Crosby, Shelly Berman, and this year, most likely the Smothers Brothers. You might be the cat's meow to all the cool kids these days, but your sense of humor might fly right past some judges. Anyhow. Where was I? Right. You may hear DiGiorgio's lengthy discussion of "the s-word" again on Saturday, so why would I ruin it? He also had a very clever idea about why Star Wars fan geeks might be virgins. O'Reilly went up after both Jessi Campbell and Andy Peters had raised their volume and the audience's to about 11.5, and immediately changed gears, saying: "OK, let's calm it down a bit." With his added time (sets expanded from 5 minutes in the prelim round to 8 minutes in the semis), O'Reilly joked about waking up drunk in Colonial Williamsburg and acting out the story of an early gig following a rowdy guy in an "urban" club. Campbell and Peters had gotten plenty of laughs from the back of the room, and Campbell, in particular, had gotten two separate applause breaks. One comic not in competition whispered, "First woman in the finals...nice." But it was not to be. Some of the judges thought Campbell and Peters were a bit too loud and/or in-your-face and/or inconsistent and/or overcompensating and/or something else they didn't tell me.
Which left only two more spots for the finals...
You've all been waiting for this (sorry about the wait), it's the two final preliminary competitions in the 2008 Boston Comedy Festival contest, so let's get to recapping...
When Bowers took the stage, he joked about being the fourth consecutive black stand-up comic in this round, as well as how Obama is a much better presidential option than the Rev. Al Sharpton. A set routine about his grandmother's fanciful stories managed to take a localized turn into a tale of her stripping at the Boston Tea Party. Another bit, about this summer's salmonella scare, he took as a plot to get rid of Mexicans, and demonstrated it by replacing salmonella with X food to get rid of Y races. Closed with married role-playing and an act-out of the LAPD.
Campbell had "bitten the bullet" by going first, but the Minnesota comic -- who started out a bit too loud -- got some energy in the room with bits about an encounter with a woman in the bathroom that turned steamy, buying a gun and reporting it to the cops during a traffic stop, showering for a ghost, and the dangers in feeding a bear. Unlike many comedians of her size, she never acknowledged or poked fun at her own expense. That probably scored extra points with the judges.
Waite, who attended college in Kentucky, joked about his geography degree makes him a dumb-ass: They already have maps! Cue the many many asides! Shazam! (He never said shazam, but said plenty in between every joke that piled up the style and attitude points) Hasslehoff. Internet porn. Pee-wee football. As he said to the ladies in the audience at one point, "Buckle up, it's creepy time!" He got solid laughs from the audience and comics alike.
Thomas talked about the differences between broke and being "working people broke." His opening premise, about how men and women describe getting married, may have been a little tired. But when he started joking about his money woes, he got some momentum going his way. Closed with a funny but true notion of how critics make Obama seem dangerous. Example: "Did you know he fathered two black children?"
From those who did not advance: Shawn Banks seemed very likable, but the crowd was slow to get on board. Andrea Henry's dry sense of humor suffered with her slot in the lineup. Jay Black had a very solid bit analyzing the importance of America finishing 27th in math, while Bangladesh apparently is tops in that subject.
OK. Moving on...