Truth Unveiled: The Brilliance of Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks
In elementary school, I wonder how many of us thought; when I grow up I want to be a spiritual teacher, however being a spiritual teacher is like any other calling. All kinds of people with unlikely backgrounds and talents find themselves occupying that role. Two of my favorite spiritual teachers are best known for their day jobs, actually their night jobs, or should I say their nightclub work. Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks both knew they were serving a greater purpose than merely transforming stand-up comedy into a revolutionary commentary and new way of perceiving reality. They knew they were spiritual teachers, and they were both forthcoming about stating that fact. Lenny and Bill both firmly took their stand among the ranks of those who dared to speak the Truth in the face of popular opinion and in direct opposition to a mob mentality of ignorance.
Like all good Spiritual teachers, Lenny got right up in our faces, forcing us to look at our own self-created bad faith and self-imposed limitations. Eastern Spiritual traditions encourage us to look at the charges that we have created with our own minds, with our own perceptions. Then they urge us to end the bondage that we alone have put into motion. We created the charges; only we can resolve these charges. Lenny is the greatest American Spiritual teacher of this tradition. He exposed the charges that we have projected onto words and then, with humor and wit, implored us to end that tyranny.
Bill Hicks loved to tread on everything “sacred” in our society. Like Lenny Bruce, he found a voice inviting us to examine life and the world from a broader perspective and a more honest filter. Bill did not shy away from unpopular points of view, no matter how socially counter-culture the point might be. He could not understand why the media’s perspective on drug stories was always negative.
“How about a positive LSD story. Wouldn’t that be newsworthy just once to base your story on information rather than scare tactics and superstitions and lies? Just once, I think it would be news worthy. ‘Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration; that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There is no such thing as death. Life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves . . . here’s Tom with the weather’. . . .” – Bill Hicks
Bill Hicks, the Spiritual teacher, offers us the opportunity to examine consciousness itself and the nature of ultimate reality. Not exactly your standard stand-up comic fare. He understood that laughter is a therapeutic method of addressing “what is” from a less self-defensive vantage point. Bill’s value system was that of a classic Spiritual teacher as well. Sharing his ideas on the purpose of life he commented, “As long as one person lives in darkness then it seems to be a responsibility to tell other people. And if I can take part in it by transforming my own consciousness, then someone else’s, I’m happy to do it.”
The great Eastern Spiritual philosophies talk about life on Earth as an “illusion.” This is a notion that is very difficult for most Western minds to fully understand, because we have a tendency to think of “illusion” as meaning a trick, sleight of hand, or smoke and mirrors. This is not what these philosophies meant. A better way to interpret the use of this word would be to understand that life here on Earth is not what we think and believe it is. More than that, what we think and believe is actually a detriment, a distraction that prohibits deeper more profound states of self-realization. What we think and believe about ourselves, our true nature, our relationships, is an illness we have come here to grow beyond. Bill understood this sage inner wisdom. He expressed that knowledge brilliantly in a piece he would introduce as the entire point of his act:
“The world is like a ride at an amusement park and when you choose to go on it, you think it’s real, because that is how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down, and round and round, and it has thrills and chills, and it is very brightly colored, and it is very loud. And it is fun for a while. Some people have been on it for a very long time, and they begin to question, ‘Is this real, or is it just a ride?’ And other people have remembered, and they have come back to us, and they say, ‘Hey, don’t worry, don’t be afraid, ever . . . because this is just a ride’ . . . and we kill those people. ‘Shut him, up! We have a lot invested in this ride; shut him up! Look at my furrow of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family . . . this just has to be real.’
It’s just a ride. But we always try to kill those good guys who try to tell us that. You ever notice that? And let the demons run amok. But it does not matter, because it’s just a ride, and we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money, a choice right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your door, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as One. Here’s what we can do to change the world right now to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defense each year and instead spend it on feeding, clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would many times over, not one human excluded. And we could explore space together both inner and outer forever in peace.” – Bill Hicks
Maybe we didn’t agree with what they said or the way they said it, but Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks made us question our paradigm. They challenged the current belief system of our culture, making us doubt our own perspective on issues and situations in an in-your-face, irreverent, and sometimes offensive style. They made all of us look a little deeper, and that is a good thing. But that shouldn’t come as surprise. After all, they were really Spiritual teachers masquerading through life as comics.