Following Friday night's airing, 15 years after the fact, of Bill Hicks' 12th appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman, which was originally censored by the host himself that October 1993 night, a touching remembrance of the late, great, politically charged comedian comes from an unlikely source: a Richard Nixon apologist.
OK, to be fair, Frank Gannon is much more than a Nixon apologist. He is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker's "Shouts and Murmurs" and the New York Times Magazine's "The Funny Pages" sections. He's also written very funny books--and funny and serious magazine articles. In his earlier life, Gannon won a White House Fellowship and served in the Nixon White House from 1971 to 1974. The White House Museum photo above shows Gannon, then the special assistant to the president, with Nixon assistant Diane Sawyer and press secretary Ron Ziegler (behind the desk) immediately after Nixon's resignation. Gannon rode Air Force One back to San Clemente with Nixon and later helped research and organize his memoirs.
These days, Gannon is a prolific poster on TheNewNixon.org blog. Created by the funding arm of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda (and not to be confused with TheNewDick.org), the blog presents, "News and commenrary about the President, his times and his legacy." In Bill Hicks' Legendary Letterman Set Aired at Last, Gannon writes about having worked on Letterman's old NBC show, helping comedians hone their acts into five-minute segments acceptable by network standards.
Bill understood the necessary (or as he put it, necessarily evil) function I performed and enjoyed the irony of working with a man whose qualifications for the job of comedy arbiter consisted of studying history in grad school and working for Richard Nixon for seven years. So we hit it off and hung out whenever he was in town working on a set. He was amused when one of the introductions I wrote for Dave described his comedy as "relentless."
Gannon, who left the show shortly before Letterman jumped to CBS, heard from Hicks right after his October '93 appearance was nixed, right after producers assured the comedian he'd be invited back to do another set.
Bill called me, but aside from expressing sympathy there was nothing I could do. . . . What none of us knew was that Bill knew there wouldn't be another time. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he died five months later, fifteen years ago this month, less than two months into his thirty-second year, on 26 February 1994.
During his introduction this past Friday night, Letterman said the excised segment was originally taped on Oct. 1, 1993, although Hicks says in an interview YouTubed at the bottom of this post that it happened on Oct. 9 of that year. At any rate, Hicks was well known to Letterman by that time, having appeared on the host's old NBC show 11 times before his dozen CBS sets.
Bill's mom, Mary Hicks, comes out first to graciously accept Letterman's apologies. Just as the clip below starts to drag somewhat, it gets quite interesting as she informs Letterman, "I had a lot of reasons not to come" and shares the host's Draconian action created for her, "a very hard time." When Letterman says raising his own boy made him come to understand the pain she must have felt, she shoots back, "You have to have a child to know it. Okay, what else do you want to know?" Priceless.
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Before rolling the banned act below, Letterman informs his audience that they might not get all the references as 15 years have passed. But Hicks' opening bit about his hosting a reality show where Billy Ray Cyrus will be hunted down and killed actually makes more sense today. Bonus points for taking out Miley!
The following was not shown on Letterman. It's Hicks after the banned appearance speaking on what appears to be a local cable access show about Texas entertainers, Capsized. (Fitting, no?) Here Hicks takes pride in having received a letter from CBS saying his set was "unsuitable for the viewing public and the Letterman audience." He goes on to say his material "had been approved and re-approved by the Letterman segment producer." Maybe that one used to work for Reagan.