Comedian Bill Hicks performed his first stand-up comedy routine at a Baptist Bible camp talent show when he was 13, borrowing freely from Woody Allen's self-deprecating, nebbish routine. You know--jokes like being breast-fed from falsies.
But now Bill Hicks is "dangerous."
That's how the alumnus of the so-called Texas Outlaw Comics is being billed these days. It also, not coincidentally, is the title of his debut comedy album released last spring.
And just how "dangerous" is Hicks, who will perform at the Improv in Irvine Monday night? Here's Hicks, roaming the stage, smoking cigarettes and liberally seasoning his observations with obscenities, on:
* His drinking days: "I'd get pulled over by the cops and I'd be so drunk I'd be dancing to their lights, thinking I'd made it to another club: 'Turn the music up! Hey, what is this, a leather bar?' "
* Small Southern towns: "You know in many parts of our troubled world people are yelling, 'Revolution! Revolution!' In Tennessee, they're yelling, 'Evolution! We want our thumbs!' The thing is they see people with thumbs on TV all day. That's gotta drive them hog wild."
* Nonsmokers: "A bunch of whining little maggots. Aren't they? Obnoxious, self-righteous slugs. I'd quit smoking if I didn't think I'd become one of them."
* Drugs: 'Drugs are so bad.' 'Drugs are so bad.' Yeah, yeah. Well how come Keith Richards still walks? Explain that Mr. Surgeon General! You never hear the Surgeon General mention Keith, do ya? Aha! A little hole in the theory there."
As Hicks sees his "dangerous" appellation, it all has to do with "freedom."
"The origin of that title came from a Thomas Jefferson quote," Hicks explained in a phone interview. "His quote was 'No idea is dangerous to society wherein that idea can be openly discussed.' That's why the album is called 'Dangerous,' because I'm discussing drugs and things drugs do."
A former drug user himself, Hicks maintains he is not promoting drugs.
"I'm saying I did have some good times on drugs, so don't say they're all bad like they do on the commercial. . . . Alcohol is the No. 1 offender and there are alcohol ads on TV right after the (anti-drug) drug commercial. Tell me about mixed messages. That's my point. Get off my back."
Hicks added that the "dangerous" label also applies "to fascists and fundamentalists and puritanicals" who undoubtedly "would view my act as dangerous."
Described by one critic as "a firebrand who seems on the verge of self-immolation as he uses his incendiary wit to torch American hypocrisy," Hicks obviously has found his comedy niche.
The New York-based comedian was in Chicago last week to tape his first television comedy special. He expects the show, which will air on HBO in 1991, to give him a big career boost.
"It's real good for me because, first off, you'll get to see the real me on stage, without the network restrictions," said Hicks, who has appeared several times on "Late Night With David Letterman," where he has had to tone down his act.
The Bill Hicks that network television audiences have seen is not the same Bill Hicks comedy club audiences see. "It's like you see Richard Pryor on Carson," he said. "Is that the real Richard Pryor? Well, to a degree."
Hicks, who sneaked out of the house to hang out at a comedy club when he was in high school, moved to Los Angeles to become a comedian in 1980 when he was 18. He began developing his own comedy voice on stage at the Comedy Store.
"I was loosening up a lot and trying to be natural and organic," he recalled. "I'd talk about anything I felt like. I tried to keep it very personal, which I still do."
Hicks moved back to Texas in 1982, where he joined a group of like-minded comedians who performed at the Comedy Workshop, a Houston comedy club that earlier spawned Sam Kinison.
"We formed a group called the Outlaw Comics and did theme shows like 'Outlaw Comics Get Religion,' 'Outlaw Comics Get Political,' " he said.
"We really had a love of comedy and we strove to be original. That was the hallmark--not gigs, not how much we were getting paid. We had no respect for hack sellouts."
Hicks, who has been compared to Lenny Bruce, said he thinks "highly" of the legendary free-speaking comic.
"What I like about him is his spirit of honesty," he said. "He was totally honest about what he was feeling and going through. That's what I endeavor to do: to be honest and real.
"I don't care if you're obscene, filthy, horrendous--as long as you're honest."
Hicks maintains that he doesn't do anything in his act just for shock value. As for the use of four-letter words, he said: "It's the way I talk. I don't think any of the material relies on them. . . . (Profanity) is not the punch line.
"The whole thing," he said, "is I want to open everybody's mind up to how to look at the world. That's all: to show that there are other ways to see things and here are a few of them."
"Keith Richards outlived Jim Fixx, the runner and health-nut dude. . . . The plot thickens. . . . Keith Richards is shooting heroin into his eyeballs and still touring, all right? I'm getting mixed signals. I picture nuclear war and two things surviving: Keith and bugs."
Bill Hicks will appear at 8:30 p.m. Monday at the Improv, 4255 Campus Drive, Irvine. Tickets: $8. Information: (714) 854-5455.