By David Gavri
The great city of Houston has been home to some of the most successful celebrities. The list includes: Patrick Swayze, Dennis Quaid and Randy Quaid, Matt Stone, Michael Strahan, Anna Nicole Smith, Renee Zellweger, Shannon Elizabeth, and Beyonce Knowles.
Some of the most successful rap artists have come out of the city of Houston. They include: Mike Jones, Pimp-C, Z-Ro, Chamillionaire, Slim Thug, Scarface, Lil’ Flip, Paul Wall, and DJ Screw.
But what about our most successful comedians? Comedy Scene in Houston compiled a list of comedians who came out of the Houston comedy scene. The list has been narrowed down to Houston’s five most successful comedians of all time. And we are finally down to the number one decision.
Although born in Montgomery, Alabama, Brett Butler was born as a comedienne in the city of Houston. The deep-voiced, sharp-talking southern belle made her first TV appearance on The Tonight Show back in 1987. That same year, Butler appeared on Dolly Parton’s series, Dolly, and was a hired as a writer for the show as well.
Butler’s career took off when her television sitcom, Grace Under Fire, premiered in 1993 and stayed on the air until 1998. Drawn to audiences everywhere by its humor and authenticity, the hit series was nominated for an Emmy award in 1994 and then again in 1995.
In 1996 Butler published her memoirs, Knee Deep in Paradise, and had the opportunity to appear on The Howard Stern Show to discuss it.
In 2003 Butler started performing stand up again with her Gravel Throated Harpy Tour. Over the years, Butler made small guest appearances on My Name Is Earl, Vampire Bats, and Mrs. Harris. In 2009 Butler starred in the stand up comedy show called The Southern Belles of Comedy.
Click here to catch a preview of The Southern Belles of Comedy
Hailing from Katy, Texas, Sean Rouse describes himself not only as a stand-up comic, but as an arthritic cripple, a general fuck-up, yet an all-around sweetheart.
Some say he’s morbidly obscene. Others say he’s outrageously offensive. Yet they all say that he’s so nice he’d never hurt a fly. His act is disturbing, repulsive, and downright entertaining. No matter how dark and disgusting he may be, he has been embraced by fans from all over the nation.
Rouse was one of the breakout stars with Greg Giraldo and Dane Cook, who all appeared on Dave Attell’s Insomniac Tour on Comedy Central. He made an appearance in Men in Black II and was also part of HBO’s critically acclaimed Down & Dirty with Jim Norton. Over the course of his comedy career, he has produced three live TV specials as well as three live albums.
Click Here for the Sean Rouse interview with Comedy Scene in Houston
Click Here to see a video of Sean Rouse
Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee and raised in Clarksville, Arkansas, Ralphie May came to Houston after winning a contest that allowed him to open for his comedy idol, Sam Kinison. After Kinison suggested that he move to Houston to further develop his comedy routine, Ralphie did so in a heartbeat, working on his act in the Houston comedy scene while attending the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.
After honing his craft, Ralphie relocated to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment, working as an actor and a writer. In 2003 he was chosen to participate in the first season of Last Comic Standing. His popularity exploded on the national scene when he finished in second place, with Dat Phan winning first place.
After that, Ralphie made all kinds of TV appearances: Tough Crowd with Colin Quin, Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld, and Comics Unleashed with Byron Allen. He also made four appearances on Craig Kilborn’s The Late Late Show and appeared eleven times on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Other TV appearances included The Man Show, The Wayne Brady Show, and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. In fact, he received a standing ovation during his Tonight Show appearance, making him the first comedian in ten years to receive such an honor.
Ralphie has his ebonics and quick wit down pat, which has earned him roles in urban films such as For Da Love Of Money and Gas. He was also the only white comedian to perform on The Big Black Comedy Show, along with Mo’Nique, RodMan, Sexy Marie, and Vince Morris.
In 2004, Ralphie May released his first comedy album, Just Correct. The special went platinum and the CD version debuted on the top ten list of the Billboard comedy charts.
His second comedy special, Girth of a Nation, was released in 2006. He filmed another Comedy Central special in 2007, Prime Cut, and it received higher ratings than Larry the Cable Guy or Ron White during Comedy Central’s Blue Collar Weekend. Since then, he has done two more Comedy Central specials: Austin-tatious (2008), and Too Big To Ignore (2012).
Ralphie May currently resides in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, a fellow comedienne, Lahna Turner, their daughter April June May, and their two dogs, Pimp and Hoochie Mama.
Click Here for the official website of Ralphie May
Born in Yakima, Washington to a family of Pentecostal preachers, Sam Kinison undoubtedly followed the same path. But being the rebel of the family, his church services were never near the norm. He always found a way to surprise the audience by incorporating humor into his services.
After spending five years in the ministry, Kinison decided that he was more of a comedian than a preacher. So he abandoned the ministry and came straight to Houston to be a comic.
While in Houston, Sam Kinison formed the group “The Outlaw Comics” after being kicked out and banned forever from The Comedy Workshop. Kinison retaliated by staging a mock crucifixion, hanging himself from a sign right across the street. He then later fought with the club owner and ended up breaking his leg. The Houston Outlaw Comics were born.
Kinison formed a fundraiser show that would help him and several other Houston comics take their careers to the next level by ultimately going to Los Angeles. Performed on October 13, 1980 at the Tower Theater in Houston, the show was named “Outlaw Comics on the Lam” which is where the “Outlaw Comics” got their name. The original group consisted of Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks, Riley Barber, Carl LeBove, and Argus Hamilton. The group would change members over time to include Ron Shock, Steve Epstein, John Farnetti, Jimmy Pineapple, and Andy Huggins.
Using his enthusiastically intense “Fire and Brimstone” flair from his preaching, punctuated by his trademark scream, Houston is where Kinison found his comedic voice. Nobody ever heard anything like it. And within two years, he was crowned “The Funniest Man in Texas”. This marked the beginning of his great career in comedy.
After moving to Los Angeles, Rodney Dangerfield gave Kinison his first big break when he appeared on HBO’s Rodney Dangerfield’s Ninth Annual Young Comedians Special in the summer of 1984.
In 1985 Kinison was further introduced to mainstream audiences when he made his first appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. Because of his outrageous demeanor on stage, in Letterman’s introduction of Kinison, he actually warned his audience by saying, “Brace yourselves. I’m not kidding. Please welcome Sam Kinison.”
Kinison branched out into film in 1986 when he played a short-tempered professor in Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School. Heavily influced by rock n’ roll and heavy metal, Kinison later went on to record his own music video version of The Troggs’ hit song, “Wild Thing”. It featured cameos from Rodney Dangerfield, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Ratt, Slash and Steven Adler of Guns N’ Roses, Billy Idol, Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa, Richie Sambora, Jon Bon Jovi, Tommy Lee, and Jessica Hahn. Kinison also later appeared in the music video for the Bon Jovi single, “Bad Medicine”.
Kinison released his first comedy album Louder Than Hell in 1986, and was so popular that he recorded his comedy special Breaking the Rules that following year. His reputation gave him the chance to appear on an episode of Married…with Children, “It’s a Bundyful Life: Part II” in 1989. A spin-off of the classic filmIt’s a Wonderful Life, Kinison played as Al Bundy’s guardian angel, showing Bundy what life would be like if he was never born.
Unforunately for Kinison, his fast rise and hard rockin’ success eventually caused his life to spiral out of control. With his “anything goes” partying attitude, he was perceived as self-destructive, dangerous, and a druggie. His comedy act suffered as the public no longer saw him as insightful and challenging, but merely repulsive and vile. When hosting The International Rock Music Awards in 1990, special guest Elton John suddenly announced, “I’m doing this show under protest. I’d like to congratulate Sam Kinison on being the first pig ever to introduce a rock and roll show.”
Kinison made an honest attempt to clean up his life as well as his act. For the most part, things were looking good for the comedic genius. But as the tragedy goes, on April 10, 1992, while driving in his car, Kinison was struck by a pickup truck driven by a 17-year-old male who had been under the influence of alcohol. Kinison died at the scene. Carved on his grave is the quote, “In another time and place he would have been called prophet.” Comedian George Carlin’s eighth HBO special Jammin In New York was dedicated to the memory of Kinison.
Kinison’s star had been eclipsed, but along with Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, he left a blazing trail within the world of comedy. He influenced many performers, and sparked the return of uncompromising comedy in the late 1980’s, the same way Bruce ignited it in the late 1950’s and then Pryror in the late 1960’s. His work is still appreciated in today’s time as it remains powerful, knowledgeable, and insanely challenging.
Click Here to see a video about the life of Sam Kinison
Click Here to watch Kinison’s warned David Letterman appearance
So was it was obvious that Houston’s number one comedian of all time would be none other than Bill Hicks? Of course it was. Hicks made a dent in the world of comedy, and has been a hero and an inspiration for future generations of comics. His legacy lives on. Together, we shall celebrate his life, his achievements, and his legacy.
Hicks graduated from Stratford High School as he grew up in the suburbs of Houston, Texas. To him, the nice little neighborhood where he spent most of his childhood was just too orderly and perfect. He felt there had to be more to just this. Hicks blazed a trail down a path that nobody had ever gone before.
Drawn to comedy at the early age of 14, Hicks studied and emulated Woody Allen and Richard Pryor. He became good friends with high school class mate Dwight Slade, and together they formed a comedy duo. At first, they performed in front of their classmates during school. But in order to put on a professional performance in a real venue, they had to go to the comedy club in town, which at that time was The Comedy Workshop. Their biggest problem as young teenagers was that their strict suburban parents would never let them go out on school nights, especially to a comedy club that catered to adults.
But the teenage rebels didn’t take “No” for an answer. Hicks, Slade, and their good friend Kevin Booth all helped each other sneak out of their houses so that they could perform comedy in the club. Booth would take his parents’ RV and be their get-away driver for their sneaky operation. Things were great for Bill Hicks and Dwight Slade. They were a popular act.
But all good things come to an end, and when Slade’s dad received a job offer out of state, him and his family moved away, leaving Hicks in the dark. This forced him to perform on his own, something he never thought of doing.
But he persevered and became an instant hit within the Houston comedy scene. Nobody was funnier than he was at such a young age. He was a high school kid that made fun of adults in a way that made them love and respect him.
As Hicks’ reputation grew within the comedy scene in Houston, he became part of the Houston Outlaw Comics formed by Sam Kinison. The original group consisted of Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks, Riley Barber, Carl LeBove, and Argus Hamilton. The group would change members over time to include Ron Shock, Steve Epstein, John Farnetti, Jimmy Pineapple, and Andy Huggins.
After spending seven years in the Houston comedy scene, at age 21, Hicks decided that it was time to move to Los Angeles to further his comedy career. In no time, Hicks became a regular at The Comedy Store, and he got his name on the wall alongside comedians such as Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Rodney Dangerfield, and Richard Pryor. But with such a saturated comedy scene, stage time was extremely limited. Hicks felt that he wasn’t growing at a pace that satisfied him. So like a theif in the night, Hicks packed up and headed back to Houston. Overall, the experience made him wiser, stronger, and more mature as a comic.
Hicks was on a mission when he came back to Houston. He knew he hadn’t quite found his true voice, so he decided to to further explore and evolve himself creatively by experimenting with psychedelic mushrooms. This was before he even drank alcohol.
Although later, he began to experiment with alcohol and other drugs. The darkness came out of him as he stretched his boundaries, saying the things he wanted to say, without worrying about the crowd’s reaction. He became bold and fearless. Hicks discovered new things about himself as a comic, but he was damaging his health, which ultimately affected his act and his reputation. His life was spinning out of control.
Without telling anyone, Hicks decided it was best that to pick up and leave for New York. For five years he performed regularly, around 300 times a year. By this time, he had performed on The Late Show with David Letterman, he had performed with Rodney Dangerfield, and he had been on Comedy’s Dirtiest Dozen, as well as MTV’s Half Hour Comedy Hour.
1989 was a break out year for Hicks, when he released his first comedy specialSane Man, recorded in Austin, Texas. His first album, Dangerous followed in 1990, which he performed on his HBO special One Night Stand, and also at Montreal’s Just For Laughs comedy festival.
Venturing out to Canada opened himself up to appeal to audiences worldwide. Hicks took his comedy and his philosophy overseas and became a huge hit in the United Kingdom and in Ireland, touring there until 1991. That same year, he returned to the Just For Laughs festival and recorded his second special,Relentless.
Things were looking good for Hicks. The progressive metal band Tool invited Hicks to open for a number of their concerts during their Lollapaloozaappearances in 1992. Members of Tool felt that they and Hicks resonated similar concepts, and they intended to spread his comedy and philosophy. Tool dedicated their triple-platinum album Ænima to Hicks in 1996. The album references Hicks’s Arizona Bay album, where he contemplates the idea of Los Angeles falling into the Pacific Ocean. Ænima‘s final track “Third Eye” contains samples from Hicks’s Dangerous and Relentless albums.
After finishing up and recording his Flying Saucer Tour in 1991, Hicks went overseas again for another tour in 1992 where he recorded Shock & Awe, along with a double CD titled Salvation. In 1993 Hicks was voted “Hot Standup Comic” by Rolling Stone magazine.
Just as his career was picking up, on June 16, 1993 Hicks was diagnosed with liver cancer that had spread from his pancreas. This did not stop him from touring as he recorded his album, Arizona Bay, with his good friend Kevin Booth, while being treated for chemotherapy.
Unfortunately for the original, creative mind, Hicks experienced deep betrayal from some of his comedic peers. Good friends with fellow comedian Dennis Leary, Hicks was angered by Leary’s album No Cure for Cancer, which featured lines and subject matter similar to Hicks’s routine. An unfortunate side to comedy is that it is in fact common for jokes to be borrowed, stolen, and even bought from one another. What angered Hicks the most was that Leary had not only stolen pieces of Hicks’s act line for line, but he then recorded it and called it his own. In an interview, when Hicks was asked why he had quit smoking, he answered, “I just wanted to see if Denis would, too.” During the 2003 Comedy Central Roast of Denis Leary, comedian Lenny Clarke said there was a carton of cigarettes backstage from Bill Hicks with the message, “Wish I had gotten these to you sooner.” This joke was cut from the final broadcast.
In another incident on October 1, 1993, Hicks was scheduled to appear on The Late Show with David Letterman. It would be his 12th appearance on Letterman, but his entire performance was removed from the broadcast due to a religious joke Hicks was known for. This was the only occasion where a comedian’s entire routine was cut after taping. Although Letterman later expressed regret at the way Hicks had been handled, Hicks did not appear on the show again. It wasn’t until January 30, 2009, Hicks’s mother appeared on The Late Show, where Letterman played Hicks’s routine in its entirety. Letterman took full responsibility for the censorship and apologized to Mrs. Hicks.
Hicks performed the final show of his career at Caroline’s in New York on January 6, 1994. He moved back to his parents’ house, spending time with family and friends as he began to say goodbye. Former ‘Outlaw’ comic Ron Shock spoke with Hicks on the phone one night before his death. Hicks told Shock that he had a dream where he was joined by the late Sam Kinison, who told Hicks not to be a pussy, and not to be afraid of death. The very next day, on February 26, 1994 Bill Hicks died at the young age of 32.
His last words were “I left in love, in laughter, and in truth. And wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit.” A documentary entitled American: The Bill Hicks Story, based on interviews with his family and friends, premiered on March 12, 2010, at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian’s Comedian, fellow comedians and comedy insiders voted Hicks #13 on their list of “The Top 20 Greatest Comedy Acts Ever”. Likewise, in the 2004 Comedy Central Presents: 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time, Hicks was ranked #19. In March 2007, in The Top 100 Stand-Up Comedians of All Time, Hicks was voted #6. The list was updated in April 2010, placing Hicks at #4. And here he is, in Houston’s All Time Five, ranked as #1.
Click Here for more info on Bill Hicks
Written by: David Gavri