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Black and white photo of Bill Hicks smoking

Bill Hicks’ 12 Principles of Comedy


Through cathartic humor, his stuff was the truth. These points are what Bill Hicks considered essential to staging a good comedy act.

My way of joking is to tell the truth.
It’s the funniest joke in the world.
––George Bernard Shaw

Bill Hicks, one of the bravest and most lucid comics in history, made of comedy what Bob Dylan made of pop music: take something discredited and turning it into an effective vehicle for the truth. He adopted the role of the buffoon (or juggler) who, since he is joking, is the only one who can mock the kingdom and rub his finger in the wound – a juggler that seeks to gently kill the king, not with a revolution of the masses, but with a revolution by the individual. By means of his hilarious way of subverting things, he invited people to think for themselves and, unlike other comedians who were his contemporaries, he never underestimated his public’s intellectual capacity.

Through an almost holographic double filter, Hicks was able not only to make us laugh but to understand the thick layers of our existence, to learn how to circumvent control and escape the imposed order of things. His material was cathartic humor in themes such as the media’s programming of awareness, the pathological anti-intellectualism of Americans, the advocacy of smoking, creative evolution and the absurdity of life.

It’s just a ride,” he said, “and we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort. No worry. No job. No savings and money. Just a choice, right now, between fear and love.”

The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your door, buy bigger guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love, instead, see all of us as one.

For a taste of his brilliant methodology in stand-up comedy, which he called “the hardest thing in the world” (and which it probably is), we are sharing this list that could be applied to any type of performance, such as giving a presentation, a concert or a speech.


1. If you can be yourself on stage nobody else can be you and you have the law of supply and demand covered.

2. The act is something you fall back on if you can’t think of anything else to say.

3. Only do what you think is funny, never just what you think they will like, even though it’s not that funny to you.

4. Never ask them is this funny – you tell them this is funny.

5. You are not married to any of this shit – if something happens, taking you off on a tangent, NEVER go back and finish a bit, just move on.

6. NEVER ask the audience “How You Doing?” People who do that can’t think of an opening line. They came to see you to tell them how they’re doing, asking that stupid question up front just digs a hole. This is The Most Common Mistake made by performers. I want to leave as soon as they say that.

7. Write what entertains you. If you can’t be funny be interesting. You haven’t lost the crowd. Have something to say and then do it in a funny way.

8. I close my eyes and walk out there and that’s where I start, Honest.

9. Listen to what you are saying, ask yourself, “Why am I saying it and is it Necessary?” (This will filter all your material and cut the unnecessary words, economy of words)

10. Play to the top of the intelligence of the room. There aren’t any bad crowds, just wrong choices.

11. Remember this is the hardest thing there is to do. If you can do this you can do anything.

12. I love my cracker roots. Get to know your family, be friends with them.

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