Young Bill – The Early Years
On December 16th 1961, “the world turned upside down and inside out” when William Melvin Hicks was born in Valdosta, Georgia. Throughout his childhood, Bill and his family moved home a number of times as his father continued to be promoted within his employment position as an executive in General Motors. Alongside his father Jim, mother Mary, older brother Steve and older sister Lynn, Bill and his family resided in Florida, Alabama and New Jersey, before taking up residence in the Nottingham Forest district of Houston when he was 7 years old.
Gradually kicking against the strict southern Baptist ideology that underpinned his upbringing, Bill became interested in comedy at a young age and found himself drawn to comedy legends such as Woody Allen and Richard Pryor. Bill often wrote ideas for jokes before slipping them under the bedroom door of his brother Steve for feedback, who in turn would encourage him to keep writing.
He soon began to work on comedy routines with his friend Dwight Slade, often performing impromptu comedy skits together for their classmates at school. His reputation for being funny in high school soon began to proceed him, and his English teacher was eventually forced to give him five minutes performance time in front of the class in the hope that it would get it out of his system before class commenced. Unfortunately for the teacher, it merely fuelled the demand for his performances, and made it near impossible to re-gain control of the class from Bill and his captivated audience of peers.
Bill’s first comedy gig consisted of an appearance at his church camp talent show where he told a Woody Allen joke about a woman breastfeeding using falsies which he later would recall was “a little controversial”. Soon, Bill and Dwight began making up demo tapes and creating head shots to give to agents and began attending auditions, sometimes cycling on their bikes for hours across town to attend them. When eventually their hard work paid off and they were offered a spot on the Jerry Lewis Telethon, viewed by Bill and Dwight as a golden opportunity for exposure, the idea was met with disapproval from their parents, and they were forced to turn the gig down. At the age of 17 years, concerned about their rebellious son’s behaviour, Bill’s parents sent him to see a psychoanalyst. Legend has it that after one session, the therapist remarked “You can keep coming if you want to, but it’s them, not you.”
Before too long, the magnetic pull that comedy had on Bill could be contained no more. At the age of 15, with the help of close friend Kevin Booth, Bill began sneaking out of his bedroom window to go to the newly opened Comedy Workshop in San Felipe in Houston, with the aim of honing his comedic craft. Chauffered there by Booth, who had a hardship driving licence, the Comedy Workshop provided Bill and Dwight with their first exposure to controversial and enigmatic comedians such as Sam Kinnison and their first authentic experience of doing stand up comedy within the context of a comedy club environment. With their first couple of gigs at the workshop having been well received, it also provided them with their first taste of comedic success and furthered their determination to develop their skills as comedians.
Only a few weeks later however, Bill and Dwight’s dream was shattered when their parents realised that they were not in fact studying in their bedrooms, but instead sneaking out to perform comedy down town, and in turn promptly grounded them. Things went from bad to worse when Dwight’s father announced shortly after that he and the rest of the family were soon to move to Oregan. Following Dwight’s departure, Bill found himself without one of his closest friends and confidants, as well as the comedy partner he had carved out so many hopes and dreams with.
Top and bottom Photos: Used with kind permission of the Hicks Family Estate/Rykopress
Middle photo: Used with kind permission of the Hicks Family Estate