It is possible to meaningfully compare the work of Bill Hicks to that of Paco Erhard, but only in the way that would permit simultaneous mention of Penfolds’ award-winning Grange and its price-beating Rawson’s Retreat.
Which is to say, both products might achieve the same short-term effect of intoxication, but you’re not going to be boring your children in 20 years with tales of that one time you got to savour the subtlety of an item manufactured in a very limited run.
Personally, I think Hicks, whom I had seen perform during his short life, is valued as unrealistically as the Penfolds’ blend. Yes, he was good but believed so much better thanks to the rarity of what he delivered which was, in the very apolitical ’90s, political comedy. If you were in your twenties then and yet to learn much about organised religion, corporate brutality, state duplicity etc, you could have been excused for thinking this guy was a brilliant thinker.
Erhard, who is almost certainly a Hicks fan, makes the mistake of thinking himself brilliant. And, worse, telling us about it.
There are few “rules” in comedy, and this chaos is part of the reason I remain a fan of the form. But one of its rough guidelines must surely be: don’t be in obvious love with yourself. Almost without exception, the very best comedians all perform a great revulsion for themselves and it is in their discomfort for themselves that we find a means to allow their most outrageous pronouncements.
Erhard, who is not a bad comedian and even a promising one, overlooks this unspoken advice and simply tells us out-and-out that he is very intelligent. Perhaps, if you are 22 and you hadn’t read Marx, or any of the human sciences, at uni, you might think, for a minute, that this is a fair assessment. If you’re a bit older and mildly engaged with the news, he’ll sound like a standard progressive.
This is not to say that Erhard is not, in fact, bright or funny. But, for the most part, both intelligence and its comic delivery require more than a little work. And, at least, the appearance of, if not humility, then at least some healthy self-loathing.
He is, at present, no Bill Hicks—the fact that Bill Hicks never was the Bill Hicks that we choose to remember notwithstanding.