Bill Hicks: Slight Return reviews

Chas. Early and Richard Hurst present a new play about legendary stand-up comedian Bill Hicks, who died in 1994. It is directed by Richard Hurst and stars Chas. Early as Bill.

Here are some of the reviews from the Edinburgh Fringe 2005:

Imitation without limitation
For two years I have been pretty negative about this piece. Whether you are going to simply hijack Bill Hicks's pulling power and do some stand-up, or attempt to "be" Hicks in something more drama-based, it will always sound, frankly, a bit dodgy.
Well, now I have seen it and it is unimaginably brilliant. It even addresses the hijacking issue onstage in an unexpectedly honest and hugely clever moment towards the end. There is a small amount of set-up and backstory and it is done nicely. "Hicks" talks about his parents, his time on the David Letterman show, his death and heaven's house band. But it comes across as a killer stand-up set.
It is probably comedic blasphemy to say it, but I enjoyed this more than I enjoyed Bill Hicks himself. Stand-ups must feel distinctly uneasy to see an actor play a comedy blinder like this.
Chas Early is Hicks - and I mean is. He has that wonderful wasted passion, the gloriously base enthusiasm for all things sexual and more charm than the Halliwell Sisters. I hated that the show finished. I wanted more - and I hated that I knew that the great guy I saw onstage isn't there any more. Never has my disbelief been more willingly suspended.
The comedy is heavy-hitting and beautiful bad-boy stuff. The material kicks audience ass so you know there will be bruising tomorrow. There is rage and there is reflection, there is the personal and the political and, of course, there is sex and drugs and rock and roll.
Chas Early owns every f***ing word of it. He co-wrote the piece with his director Richard Hurst, and it is almost painfully good. It is almost painfully Hicks.
Some of the set is very topical. Early's late Hicks attacks Bush, Kerry and Blair, is fabulously foul about Coldplay, Dido and Travis, he is still anti-guns and Denis Leary and pro-abortion and pro-pornography.
Now I have to go and have sex and take some psychotropic drugs. It's in the contract Bill imposed on his entire audience. You've got to love a guy like that. I certainly did.
- Scotsman

World-famous dead comedians are stalking the major venues of Edinburgh. At the Assembly Rooms, Dudley Moore and Peter Cook's turbulent double-act is recreated in a new play called, a little childishly, Come Again. Over at the Pleasance, meanwhile, in Slight Return, America's much-missed motormouth Bill Hicks descends to deliver new-minted swipes about the deteriorating state of the world since his departure in 1994.
The biggest thing Chris Bartlett and Nick Awde's consideration of Pete 'n' Dud has in its favour is a fabulous impersonation of Moore. Kevin Bishop's uncanny likeness is so detailed - down to those restless eyebrows and sly lickings of the lips - you can quite believe you're breathing the same air as the diminutive star, as he muses on his solo career, circa 1982, to a chatshow host. By disappointing contrast, however, Scott Handy gives a curiously muted account of Cook, who drops in on the interview, drunk, waspish, and reeking of decline. This imbalance is as much the product of the play itself as of Handy's performance; the authors clearly hope to make more of Moore than we usually get. But for the most part, Moore's view is restricted to withheld annoyance and repressed relief at having escaped the clutches of his bullying partner, while Cook is reduced to a caricature of cool contempt - limiting to act, I imagine, and frustrating to watch.
Beside such uninspired biographical speculation, you see just how much care and attention has been lavished on Bill Hicks's comeback gig by Richard Hurst and Chas Early - the latter reincarnating Hicks with pouting, squinting aplomb. All the staple targets of Hicks' best-loved routines are here - pop music, corporate America, drugs, porn - but updated to take in September 11, the war in Iraq and the internet age. The routines carry just the right plaintive, told-you-so indignation, and there are one-liners to treasure at every turn: "It's easier to ignore the health warnings on the packets when you've already died of cancer," the revenant comic quips as he lights up.
- Telegraph

Whether you consider the premise of htis show to be brave or suicidal, it certainly went down well last year with sell-out shows in Edinburgh followed by a run at Soho Theatre in London. The premise is simple, if daunting: writer Richard Hurst and writer/performer Chas Early have given Bill Hicks the opportunity to have one last hour of stand-up from beyond the grave, which means he can get his teeth into Bush Junior and Coldplay. Early's impersonation of th e great man is unsettlingly good - all the physical mannerisms and speech rhythms are spookily present and correct - and while not all of the material is quite up to Hicks' standard, you could be forgiven for thinking that, at the very least, his essence is being channelled. While the sections concerning the conflict in the Gulf and the war on terror may sound depressingly familiar to those previously schooled in the great man's rants, the writers show no fear in confonting emotive contemorary events in Hicks' rebarbative style.
- Guardian

Bill Hicks was probably the most influential American comic of his generation, with his influence over the genre increasing exponentially following his death from cancer in 1994.
On paper, it seems only a fool would write a show of ‘new’ material and then conjure Hicks down from heaven to perform it. But Chas Early and Richard Hurst manage it in this stunningly well-crafted show.Yes, Early’s impersonation is immaculate and yes, he does look a little like Hicks with his bowl haircut and chubby features. But it is the quality of the material that astounds.
Of course, such is the path of history that many of the things Hicks ranted about in the early nineties - the war in Iraq, President Bush - have sadly also been resurrected at the start of the 21st century. But that only gives Early and Hurst an anchor upon which to build their material. They have to come up with the rest - and how they do.
The script consists of angry, powerful polemic, delivered with real passion. It is somewhat ironic that, with few exceptions, none of the actual stand-ups at the festival are delivering material as powerful as this. It is satirical, it is well-researched, it is astonishingly good.
- Stage

“I’m Bill Hicks, and I’m dead now.”
There are so many levels that this show works on. The first is the surface layer where Chas Early is doing a rather impressive cover/tribute of the late Bill Hicks. Going ever so slightly deeper is the idea that Early is channelling the spirit of Hicks back down to let everyone know exactly what he thinks about the world today.
So yes, you can come in and finally see a comedian you never saw when he was alive. As exemplified by the four people in the audience who had seen him pre February 1994. And that there, that little throwaway line at the start of the show, sums up what Early and his writing partner Richard Hurst are actually wanting to talk about. The Cult of Bill.
What is it about Hicks that has made him more popular in death than in life? Why are his words still being read, his CD’s being sold, his act being quoted, and nothing has changed in the world? Are people not listening? And why is Dennis Leary now leeching off the New York Fire Department in the same way that Early/Hicks demonises him in his hour long show?
Throughout the show, which makes no use of existing Hicks material (apart from common Hicksian themes such as guns, politics, rock music and blowjobs saving the world from terrorism), it really does feel that you are watching Hicks. It takes a lot longer to be comfortable with the performance than if you were to see a regular stand-up, but you are going to be there, in the zone, wondering whether you should laugh at jokes about the Columbine Massacre or 9/11 Corporate branding.
And then the last five minutes kicks in. If you’ve not worked out the Cult of Bill undercurrent, then Early (who’s own persona makes a little cameo appearance) pulls the rug out from under you, demanding that you look at yourself and ask why you’re at this tribute to a dead guy that nobody listened to until it was too late.
Or you can go along for the dick jokes.
- Podcast Network

Bill Hicks: Slight Return is brought back to the Edinburgh by Festival Highlights after last year's sell out run. After failing to see the show in 2004 I decided 2005 was my year to see the rants and rage of a comedy master.
Slight Return is the creation of writers Chas Early & Richard Hurst, who have decided to bring down the "mouth from the south comic from heaven" to give his views on the modern world. Now anyone who knows the work of Bill Hicks will also know that those views are strong, insightful and rib-crackingly funny! So Bill, complete with wings, must come down from up above and find a body to take over. He chooses little known Brit actor Cha Early as his human form, which then allows him to give us his fresh and hilarious points of view on the new millennium world.
Chas Early does a wonderful rubber faced job at bringing to life the crazy facial expressions of Hicks. Not to mention a very convincing southern American Hicks accent. He is everything Hicks was; angry, poetic, eye-opening and so funny that if you don't laugh you must be dead!
Both writers have taken current topics and worded them so well that if Hick where alive today I'm pretty sure they would have came from his mind. These guys are two writers to keep an eye on in the future.
Slight Return is as funny as it is poignant! You will laugh, you will think, you will cry, but most of all you will absolutely love Bill Hicks: Slight Return!
- British Theatre Guide

Actor Chas Early and his co-writer Richard Hurst have done something extraordinary with this show - brought the great Bill Hicks back from the grave in a utterly believable way.
Early's performance is nothing short of brilliant and the new Hicks-esque material could have been written by Bill himself from beyond the grave.
The funniest tribute you will ever see.
- Magazine

These are some reviews from the 2005 tour:

Arriving from heaven in a white suit, angel wings still strapped to his back, Early turns in a convincing impersonation of the chain-smoking cynic, jabbing at enemies in all directions
- The Times

Chas Early gives this rollicking reincarnation integrity and wit….as a piece of pastiche, it's terrific
- Metro

It's a strangely moving, but still hilarious, show…delivered with the same twisted pout that was Hicks's trademark and his sharp, acid diction. A very odd but fantastic experience.
- Cumberland News & Star

Chas Early, together with director and co writer, Richard Hurst, has convincingly resurrected the essence of Hicks, as a man possessed who pursued his muse with an almost missionary zeal.
- Liverpool Echo

Early's portrayal is spookily uncanny. The script was at its most potent when discussing 9/11 and its aftermath, and was as gloriously politically incorrect as Hicks was. Somwhere up there, he would have looked down approvingly.
- Manchester Evening News

These are some of the reviews the show received during its debut run in Edinburgh in August 2004:

In life or death, Bill Hicks can do no wrong in my eyes, something I feel it's important to declare. I know that people tire of the clichéd comparisons that pit him against other comedians, and of the resurrection of his name at any given opportunity. Indeed, Chas Early, who has revived the iconic American comedian, repudiates this approach in Hicks's name.
Nevertheless, for those people like me - the converted - this is an absolutely must-see show and there are surely enough of us to pack The Pleasance Hut for the Edinburgh run. Before and after seeing the show, I was struck by how ambitious it is, but the love Early has for his subject carries it off. From the point of view of appearance, movement, facial expression, delivery and content, Slight Return is a triumph of mimicry, research and writing.
In the decade since Hicks's death there has been a wealth of material he would have got his teeth into: the Bush "election", the second Gulf War and the War on Terror, Gap kids watching Michael Moore movies and so on... Either by transposing the structure of previous routines on to these subjects or using the essence of Bill, Early conjures up something that doesn't take the name of his hero in vain (though he relies too much, perhaps, on Hicks's pornographic bent).
The full force of his act will never live up to seeing Hicks live, but remember: this is theatre, and the anticipation of the punchline is not the only factor at work here. In this comedy by proxy, there is another layer between the comedian / actor and the audience.
- Independent

And Chas Early (together with director and co-writer Richard Hurst) achieve the impossible by imagining the return of Bill Hicks from the netherworld to perform a 50-minute gig in which Early/Hicks comments on recent events in the world. It's a brave (bordering on foolhardy) idea that shouldn't work. But it does.
- Time Out

Ten years ago the world lost one of its best, and most controversial, commentator - the great Bill Hicks. Since then comedy has been looking for a successor to the crown but with little success. However, for August at least, the search has been called off as Hicks returns for one last act.
The prospect of someone attempting to impersonate a man of Hicks' presence should fill any critic worth his salt with dread but, as it turns out, Chas Early manages to deliver the goods. Besides a passing similarity to the comedian, Early manages to mimic Hicks' many mannerism, expressions and, to some extent, his accent.
This in its own if pretty impressive but Early manages to take the illusion further and actually produce a new set that Hicks himself would find hard to fault, unless Denis Leary was performing it of course.
From the foul, perverted comments of Goatboy to the political ire that made Bill famous, Early captures the true essence of Hicks and all that he stood for. This is an unbelievable opportunity for devotees of Relentless et al but it proves to be as entertaining for the uninitiated as it is for the experts.
Chas Early has managed to pull off a truly amazing feat and while we can only wish him every success it only goes to show how much the world is missing the genius of Bill. If you see nothing else this Fringe please see Early before Bill finally leaves the building.

"I spent 15 years talking to people, trying to make a difference, and what do I find when I get back? Everything is even worse." Bill Hicks is not a happy man. For one thing, he's been pulled down from heaven for an Edinburgh Fringe gig. Worse, he arrives to find Bush in the White House, children shooting each other in schools and everyone listening to Coldplay and Dido.
Tribute shows are ten a penny on the Fringe, but Slight Return is trying to do something a little different. Rather than using Chas Early's uncanny impersonation of the late Bill Hicks to run through the old material, the show imagines what he would have made of the world in 2004. Naturally, he's none too happy about the political situation, and annoyed that he missed all the internet porn.
Chas Early's physical resemblance to the late Bill Hicks is remarkable. He is perhaps more fresh-faced than his subject - not surprisingly, given Hicks' prodigious intake of alcohol, cigarettes and drugs - but he has the mannerisms down. Fans will recognise their idol's peculiar vocal curlicues too; long run-ups at punchlines, asides thrown over his shoulder like beer cans.
Getting a physical approximation of Bill Hicks on stage is one thing; coming up with material he might have written is a tougher proposition. Fortunately, the writing team of Richard Hurst and Chas Early get it right a lot of the time. It's easy to believe, in the routine's more controversial moments, that the man himself has returned to earth especially to vent uniquely phrased and hilarious bile.
Much of the new Bill Hicks material concerns Iraq, George Bush and the war on terror, and as you might expect, it's as blunt as a bullet. A routine about the virgins promised to terrorist pilots is dark, daring and somehow cheeky. Meanwhile, the Columbine high school massacre is re-imagined as a dieting exercise, to shocking effect.
In the quieter sections of the show, there is inevitably a sense that this Hicks is preaching to the choir. The familiar pro-drugs stance, which frequently got the real Hicks into trouble, feels like old hat to the debauched Fringe audience. Nor does his take on George Bush (he's an idiot) take anyone by surprise. There needs no ghost come from the grave to tell us that.
There is no substitute for the real Bill Hicks (a failing which this show frankly acknowledges) and to write him back into history might be considered mercenary at best. But the portrait that emerges from Slight Return, of a troubled, angry and very funny man who should have lived longer, feels heartfelt. What might have been a freak show is in the final judgement, oddly moving.
- Teletext

Bill Hicks was one of the great comedians of the 90s. Since his death any edgy comic worth his salt has been compared to the great man. Chas Early has gone one step further by doing a new routine in the style and manner of Bill himself. The end result is a crafty and comical mixture of sex, drugs and jokes about Dido. Chas has lots of fun rubbing sandpaper in the faces of all the people Bill hated. With terrorism and McDonalds where is Bill when we need him? Well he's back to life and waiting on your visit.
- ForthOne


Chas. Early as Bill

Photo: Ian Cole