Not sure why this didn’t make a bigger splash, but Friday night, David Letterman owned up to a big mistake and tried to rectify it. Approaching the 15th anniversary of Bill Hicks’ death on Feb. 26, Letterman acknowledged for the first time his own responsibility for censoring the last of the comic’s many appearances on his show, having cut Hicks’ routine in its entirety before the show aired in October 1993. Letterman was brand new to CBS at the time, and material that might have passed muster when the scabrous political comic had appeared on his 12:35 NBC show suddenly spooked the host when he worried how it might play at 11:35 at his new workplace. According to Hicks, Letterman’s producer blamed the CBS censors for the drastic chop, but as Letterman acknowledges (in the clip below from Friday’s show), the decision was really his own.
Letterman did not know at the time that Hicks, 31, was dying of pancreatic cancer, and that there would never be a chance for Dave to make amends. He tried to do so belatedly on Friday, having Hicks’ mother on as a guest and finally airing, for the first time, the entire censored routine, which you can watch after the jump.
It’s worth noting that the overtly political, satirical, and blasphemous material that got Hicks in hot water would probably be impossible to book on a network late-night show even today. (If Letterman didn’t have the clout he has now after 15 years at CBS, this segment might have remained buried in the vault forever.) It’s also worth noting that, aside from a couple of dated celebrity references, the material hasn’t aged poorly at all, and is as trenchant as ever. Hicks managed to create a surprisingly comprehensive and coherent body of material before he died at 32, and given how little has changed in 15 years, he seems more and more like a prophet. Only, you know, funny.
Here’s Dave apologizing to Mary Hicks:
And here is Hicks’ routine: