Just a regular guy: A conversation with comedian Bill Burr

Nick Blank

Don’t bother letting comedian Bill Burr know that you’re offended. He won’t care. Burr, 47, is at the peak of his career and is at the point where he’s branching out beyond standup performances. His animated comedy series, F is for Family,” premiered last fall on Netflix, and his “Monday Morning” podcast ranked No.70 on the official iTunes chart.

Boston comedian Bill Burr is set to perform May 8th in Jacksonville at the Moran Theater, located in the Times-Union Center for the Performance Arts.
Boston comedian Bill Burr is set to perform May 8 in Jacksonville at the Moran Theater, located in the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts. Photo courtesy Koury Angelo

Burr has also made cameo appearances in AMC’s critically-acclaimed series “Breaking Bad” and the American comedy “Daddy’s Home.” Despite his success, Burr stresses more than anything that he’s a regular guy.

In an interview with Spinnaker, Burr talked about why millennials are going to be all right, his thoughts on people who get offended too easily and Hillary Clinton. Burr is set to perform May 8 in the Moran Theater, located within the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts.

The Boston Globe said that you’re a part of the “standup elite.” How does that phrasing make you feel?

Anytime anybody acknowledges that I’m a comedian it makes me feel good. I hope it’s true. [Laughs] I don’t know.

So you never feel tempted to pull out the “Do you know who I am” card?

No man, I’m a pretty regular guy. I’ll be honest with you. I don’t even think I’m remotely at that level. You got to be at a high f—ing level to go around saying, “Do you know who I am?” There’s no reason I would ever be like that. I can be an asshole, but I don’t go out of my way to be one.

You didn’t get started on your comedy career until you were 24, do you have any advice for college students or millennials in general?

I have a tremendous amount of empathy for college students because of the high amount of money they’re paying for degrees vs. the opportunities that are out there. I’d say don’t be afraid to start your own thing and surround yourself with motivated people. You know those people who are cool with you as long as you’re not succeeding? Don’t hangout with them.

So the world isn’t as bleak as it seems?

No. When I was a kid, there weren’t all these twenty-year-old billionaires that came up with an app. They’re young and they know what they want and they know what young people want. They’re going to do really well. They’re going to define what our economy looks like.

When you say something really controversial, what goes through your mind?

There’s no such thing. There really isn’t. It’s overblown by the media. Just clickbait. There’s a heroin epidemic in this country. That’s what they should be talking about but that requires work. Very few people want to work for a living. Ninety percent of life is just showing up and you just get beat up. And the bottom line is: somebody who truly puts their heart and soul into their job is really rare.

What do you like about performing on the road?

What I do love about the road and the people: most people are adults and they go to a comedy show and they know that they are at a comedy show. You can go to a show and take a joke seriously. But if you take it seriously it doesn’t mean that I suddenly meant it.

Now F is for Family deals with the crudeness of the seventies. Do you feel like we’ve lost something from that era?

The biggest thing I would say is that I got to be a kid. I got to be an innocent kid for a long time. God, some of the things people can be exposed to online. Crazy pornography and literally beheadings. I never saw anything like that. I could go outside and play and there wasn’t the fear that there was a pedophile behind every tree. I got to pick up a stick and pretend it was a gun. Like it was the last Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn stuff I got to do.

What do you think Netflix is doing for comedy at the moment?

They’re kind of like HBO when I was growing up. If you were the real deal as a comedian you got an hour-long special. If you got to do a TV show for HBO, it’s just that level of quality. They were “the guys.” HBO pulled out of that as soon as they got into The Sopranos, which opened the doors for something like Netflix. It’s really cool that they were available when I got to the point where I could do hour-long specials.

I noticed that you take no exception to who or what you criticize (Meryl Streep, Steve Jobs, Christmas). What qualities do you look for before you tear into someone?

I try to stay away from topical material. It’s like the Doritos of comedy. You can say it on a talk show, but I don’t want it in my act and be like “remember that one thing that happened six weeks ago?” It’s stale, but it’s fun. If it has some legs, I’ll run with it like I did with that guy from the Clippers.

Off the top of your head, what is a bit that you’re really proud of?

The Steve Jobs bit right after he died at the Night of Too Many Stars. It’s really topical and I knew I wouldn’t use it in my standup. It was a combination of the joke itself, walking around like I was eating a pear, and I did it in front of a very wealthy crowd. Their reaction to it felt like a lot of them actually knew the guy. So it created a really fun vibe in the crowd and I felt like I had to win them over.

And even if it didn’t go over with the crowd, the people at home would laugh at it because they’re more regular like me. Steve Jobs wasn’t a guy that I hung out with in the Hamptons. Steve Jobs was the guy who made me have to buy a new fucking laptop every year. That’s who he was to me.

How do you react to negative audience feedback? I mean, I saw clips from that show in Philly and I was blown away.

That was a unique situation. It was Philadelphia. It was a perfect storm. But negative feedback is part of being a comedian. I don’t even consider negative feedback negative. I love back and forth. I don’t mind being heckled. I don’t mind if people chime in. They know I don’t read. But if you’re disrupting a show to disrupt it, that gets old fast. The crowd paid money. They don’t want me to tell the same guy to go f— himself fifty times an hour. I love all aspects of the job.

We’re likely going to have a Trump or a Clinton in the White House. How screwed are we?

I don’t think we’ll be that screwed. If you vote for a Democrat or a Republican, you’re not expecting anything to change. If you want change, you’ve got to get outside of that. There’s no difference between Hillary and Donald Trump. I don’t like either one of them. I think Hillary is the devil.

Why?

She’s a shill. She doesn’t give a f—. She’ll say whatever she has to say. Like pulling hot sauce out in front of black people. Even if you like hot sauce, like how much do you have to be out of touch to know that you shouldn’t have done that? How do you not know that’s going to come off as pandering? I like fried chicken and I would never bring that up if I was running for office. Or I like egg rolls [and] I would never bring that up to an Asian person. Who doesn’t fucking like duck sauce? The heroin epidemic is traced back to several pharmaceutical companies but those people put money in pockets of people who become president. That’s what comedians need to start doing, so we wouldn’t get shit for doing Caitlin Jenner jokes.

What would happen if comedians ruled the world?

Total chaos. Anarchy. We’re not qualified to do the job. Like imagine if politicians became standup comedians. Standup comedy would suck. They do their thing and I do mine.

 

 

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