Fringe 2005 Reviews
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
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.
World-famous dead comedians
are stalking the major venues of Edinburgh. At the Pleasance,
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.
You [can] 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.
THE GUARDIAN GUIDE
Whether you consider
the premise of htis show to be brave or suicidal, it certainly went down
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 the 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.
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
at the festival are delivering material as powerful as this. It is
satirical, it is well-researched, it is astonishingly good.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE
Bill Hicks: Slight
Return is brought back to the Edinburgh by Festival Highlights after
run. After failing to see the
show in 2004 I decided 2005 was my year to see the rants and rage of
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,
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
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.
Actor Chas Early and his co-writer
Richard Hurst have done something extraordinary with this show - brought
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.
2006 UK Tour Reviews
This inspired fringe show has been crying out for a West End transfer,
and finally gets one, albeit only for a few weeks. The premise - that
cult stand-up Bill Hicks, who died in 1994, has come back from the grave
to impart fresh observations - looks cheesy on paper, but works brilliantly
in practice. Chas Early faultlessly replicates Hicks' grouchy stage-persona
and the script, co-written with Richard Hurst and taking in September
11, the internet age and celebrity culture, suggests what a field-day
the man himself would have had were he still around.
Chas Early's pitch perfect impression of a much-revered late
comedian is a well-observed piece of theatre but more than that, it's flat-out
Early's performance is uncanny in its accuracy; he captures Hicks' familiar
mannerisms and expressions, without ever turning into a caricature of
2005 UK Tour Reviews
Chas Early gives this rollicking reincarnation integrity
piece of pastiche, it's terrific.
Arriving from heaven in a white suit, angel wings still strapped to his
back, Early turns in a convincing impersonation of the chain-smoking
at enemies in all directions.
It's a strangely moving, but still hilarious,
with the same twisted pout that was Hicks's trademark and his sharp, acid diction.
A very odd
but fantastic experience.
Chas Early, together with director and co writer,
Hurst, has convincingly resurrected the essence of Hicks, as a man possessed
who pursued his muse with
an almost missionary zeal.
MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS
Early's portrayal is spookily uncanny.
its most potent when discussing 9/11 and its aftermath, and was as gloriously
as Hicks was. Somewhere up there, he would have looked down approvingly.
Edinburgh Fringe 2005 Reviews
In life or death, Bill
Hicks can do no wrong in my eyes, something I feel it's important to
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
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.
Chas Early (together with
director and co-writer Richard Hurst) achieve the impossible by imagining
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.
Ten years ago the world lost
one of its best, and most controversial, commentator - the great Bill
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,
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
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
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
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.
Bill Hicks was one of the great
comedians of the 90s. Since his death any edgy comic worth his salt has
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.