Bill Hicks-Live (1991) (NTSC)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 6-Dec-2004

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Main Menu Audio & Animation
Menu Audio
Featurette-Documentary - It's Just A Ride
Rating ?
Year Of Production 1991
Running Time 164:00 (Case: 175)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (26:18) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Chris Bould
John Fortenberry
Stomp Visual
Starring Bill Hicks
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Bill Hicks
Kevin Booth

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Consistently hilarious, at times scathingly cynical and often disturbing. That's my one-sentence summary of the late Bill Hicks' comedy routine. But who was he, and how did he achieve such notoriety during his short thirty-two years?

    William Melvin Hicks was born December 16th, 1961 in Georgia, U.S.A. The youngest of three children, he was raised in a Christian household and held aspirations to be a comedian from a very young age, worshiping such talents as Johnny Carson and Jerry Lewis. At the ripe age of sixteen he secured a regular slot at the Houston Comedy Workshop as one half of a duo, the other half being his high school friend Dwight Slade. The pair had only given a couple of performances before Slade's family left town, leaving Bill to continue as a solo act. He was soon performing to sell-out crowds and as soon as he finished high school Bill relocated to Los Angeles to seek fame and fortune. In L.A. he spent two years performing, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Andrew Dice Clay, Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno - who back then were virtually unknown. His two years in L.A. were unfruitful, so he began touring the country to gather a following for himself. The hard years of touring took its toll on Bill, leading him into the regular, heavy use of drugs and alcohol.

    In 1984 he secured what would become the first of eleven appearances on The Late Show With David Letterman. This opened many doors for him, and he began to earn great respect for his work. Settling in New York for a time, Bill cleaned himself up and gave the drugs and booze away - only to discover a new outlook on life that would redefine his comedy routine. Rather than preach from the stage about his reformation and the evils of drugs, he would openly confess to having had "some great times on drugs", which developed into an unbelievably honest angle that would pervade his entire routine. His new style of brutal honesty didn't agree with everyone unfortunately, and Bill endured some very real threats to his livelihood. Unperturbed, he continued without so much as a blink.

    1988 saw the release of his first video, Sane Man, which was recorded in Texas. He began rigorous touring once again and by the early 90s he was performing up to three hundred gigs a year. His first album of stand-up material was released in 1990, titled Dangerous. It is at this point in time that this DVD meets Hick's career, with the HBO special One Night Stand which was recorded in 1991. This was followed by stints in Canada and the United Kingdom, where he appeared at the Montreal and Edinburgh comedy festivals to wide critical acclaim. His second album, Relentless, was released in late 1991, followed in 1992 by Revelations which was filmed in London. In 1993 he began work on various potential television and film projects and earned several coveted awards, including his third at the American Comedy Awards. Alternative metal band Tool invited Hicks to open for them during their brief Lalapaloosa trek in the United States. While touring Australia late in 1993 he complained of a pain in his side and was later diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The albums Arizona Bay and Rant In E Minor were recorded thereafter and he underwent weekly chemotherapy. Rather than cut back his workload, he accelerated.

    On October 12th, 1993 Bill recorded what would have been his twelfth and final appearance on Letterman, and his final appearance on television altogether. Despite his routine being approved in advance by the show's executives, to his immense frustration his pre-recorded segment was cut from transmission. It was later revealed that his performance was pulled for fear of upsetting the show's sponsors, adding fuel to Hicks' claim that the United States was being driven by corporate sponsorship and greed. His last gig was in New York City on the 6th of January, 1994. He died on February 26th.

    Three of Bill's career-defining performances are presented in this DVD, all of which were recorded in the early 90s. Because of their close proximity to each other, some material is overlapped in the shows from time to time. It is for this reason that I wouldn't recommend viewing the entire content of the disc in one sitting.

    One Night Stand - from the Old Vic Theatre in Chicago, 1991 (28:19). The HBO network dedicated an entire episode of this series to Hicks, opening with a black and white sequence featuring Bill waiting at an airport. The material here covers Hicks' smoking habit, some of his suggestions for the advertising industry and the age old debate: is rock and roll the devil's music? Of the three performances, this is Bill at his most agile on stage.

    Relentless - Montreal Comedy Festival, 1991 (60:41-extended version).  Bill discusses his distaste for the beach and some of the day jobs he held as a teenager. His stage presence is a little more sombre than the other two presented here, but is no less hilarious. This performance is available in edited or unedited forms, varying about twelve minutes in length. The unedited piece is of lesser quality, probably sourced from a VHS tape. The additional segment deals with what he considers to be the upside of drugs and leads into his opinion of musicians who cash in on their fame for a quick buck, calling them "suckers of Satan's big scaly pecker". So you see, he did manage a couple of d*** jokes.

    Revelations - from the Dominion Theatre in London, 1992 (75:00). Previously only available on video in the U.K., by this time Bill had quit smoking and moved from New York back to Los Angeles. Bill touches on the bizarre L.A. law allowing pedestrians right of way, the L.A. riots, Jackie Onassis and speculates on what influenced God to create Possums.

    Hick's comedic style was one of uncompromising reality. He wanted the audience to leave his show with a different view of the world, to be challenged and enlightened, and this makes his style difficult for some who are used to a lighter brand of comedy. One could argue that his comedic angle was merely a sweetener to make the social commentary easier to swallow. Either way, there is no doubt that his mark on the world won't be forgotten in a hurry.

    "Go back to bed, America." - Bill Hicks: 16/12/1961 - 26/02/94. Satirist, social critic, stand-up comedian.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    This is an adequate video transfer for a simple one man stage performance. There are no great action sequences or major special effects to speak of, just a man on a stage with a microphone. Many of the issues at play here are related to the source material, not the DVD transfer.

    The video content is presented in an aspect of 1.33:1, full frame. Much of the material presented here was initially intended for broadcast and has been archived on an analogue video master. Since this is an NTSC transfer, in order to play this disc your system will need to be NTSC compatible.

    The condition of the analogue master tapes is good, with virtually no serious videotape artefacts to be seen. As you would expect with an analogue source, resolution is limited and sharpness does suffer. Shadow detail is acceptable for the stage setting, which is good considering the limits of the source. Black levels aren't absolutely jet, but are sufficient enough in depth to give the image a realistic tone. Some low level noise is visible on occasion, most often during large splashes of colour and not likely to be a distraction on smaller displays.

    Relentless in its unedited form contains twelve minutes of footage transferred from what appears to be a VHS source, as this is the only surviving copy of the unedited footage. The transition to this additional segment is obvious and the dip in quality highly noticeable. The inserted portion suffers from distinctly lower resolution and some magnetic tape artefacting, but since this allows us to view the entire performance, who's complaining? Some slightly degraded video is worth putting up with on this occasion.

    Most colours are rich in quality, with no noticeable bleeding or oversaturation.

    I didn't note any MPEG artefacting at all, however there were some examples of film dust and dirt during the introduction to Revelations. Despite being originally shot on film, these sequences were archived on videotape as well. The most annoying artefact for me personally was the occasional instance of cameras falling out of focus, such as at 35:54 in Revelations.

    There are no English subtitle streams provided.

    This disc is dual layered, with the layer transition placed during One Night Stand at 26:18. The transition was completely seamless on my DVD player - I had to use PC software in order to locate it with some certainty.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There is only one soundtrack present, a problem free English Dolby Digital 2.0 stream.

    The dialogue is always easy to understand - I don't recall having any issues understanding the spoken word at all. Ninety-nine percent of the audio here is via a handheld microphone, and Bill's microphone technique is not too bad. On a number of occasions he waves the microphone around, becoming a little too distant from his mouth, while on other occasions the mike is placed in his mouth. Audio sync is accurate throughout and doesn't present any issues at all. The Relentless program does seem to contain a little background hiss when compared to the other soundtracks, but isn't overbearing or so loud that it detracts from the content.

    Although it is a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, there aren't any real examples of stereo panning to speak of. Hicks is panned in the centre of the soundfield and doesn't appear to stray on any occasion.

    There is no surround or subwoofer activity present.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The main menu page lists all of the disc's content, playable individually or via a play all function. The menu pages feature audio excerpts from Bill's performances, and some musical accompaniment. None of the content on this disc is 16x9 enhanced.

It's Just A Ride - The Bill Hicks Documentary (41:08)

    This is a fairly insightful documentary about the man himself, covering most bases and revealing the respect he enjoyed from his peers. Interviewees include Jay Leno, David Letterman, Eddie Izzard and Brett Butler. Bill's parents Mary & Jim appear briefly to discuss his childhood and religious upbringing, lamenting at his use of the "f" word. This is followed by his brother Steve, who relates an anecdote regarding his first experience seeing Bill perform on stage. Various excerpts are shown from his many TV appearances, as well as a few more amusing stories from his friends. Letterman expresses his regret regarding the events surrounding Bill's final performance on his show and appears to have genuine respect for the man's work. This is a great extra, and well worth a look - particularly for fans of Bill's material.


    Not technically a booklet per se, but a single page glossy leaflet with text on both sides, effectively a biography for Hicks.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This region free, NTSC disc appears to be identical across the world. It would pay to shop around for this title.


    Bill Hicks Live is a great cross section of the late comedian's work. Some of the material is repeated in these three performances, so my main recommendation for viewers is to not watch the whole content of the disc in one sitting. Make a weekend of it instead!

    The video transfer is presented in NTSC and sourced from an analogue master tape. These facts certainly don't detract from the comedic value of the performance.

    The audio transfer is an average stereo effort.

    The extra material consists of an insightful documentary about the man himself.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Rob Giles (readen de bio, bork, bork, bork.)
Monday, March 07, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-3910, using DVI output
DisplaySanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-2802 Dolby EX/DTS ES Discrete
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora lll Mains (bi-wired), Rears, Centre Rear. Orpheus Centaurus .5 Front Centre. Mirage 10 inch sub.

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Awesome comic -