With one of the most well-received comedy specials in the past decade, a short film that was critically acclaimed after being screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, and the Boston Bruins a win away from the Stanley Cup, Bill Burr is on fire.
Originally from the "safe suburbs" of Boston, Burr had a supporting role in the 2010 film Date Night with Tina Fey, and his comedy podcast "Monday Morning Podcast," available for free on Itunes, is a fan favorite. Bill was a producer, co-writer, and star of the short film "Cheat." The film co-stars comedians Bobby Kelly and Joe Derosa. Just for Laughs will be screening the film Friday, June 17th at 6:00 PM at the "Best of Just for Laughs Shorts: Program 2" at the Gene Siskel Film Center. BUY TICKETS
Also in Chicago, Bill joins comedy giants Dave Attell, Jim Norton, and Jim Breuer on the "Anti-Social Network" tour, playing at the Chicago Theatre as part of TBS' Just for Laughs festival Wednesday, June 15th at 7:30 PM. BUY TICKETS
CAC: What's it like for you to be a part of this line up?
BB: It's pretty awesome, man. The 3 guys I'm on tour with are Jim Norton, who came up with the idea, Jim Breuer, and Dave Attell. So in Jim Breuer and Dave Attell, you have 2 guys that I used to watch when I first moved to New York city. I used to stand at the back of the club and watch those guys and wonder how the hell you got that funny. And Jim Norton was a guy, I can't say I started with, we started basically at the same time, he was in Jersey, and I was in Massachusetts, and we both started working New York City at the same time. So I did a ton of hell gigs with Jim Norton. I love that we were like 2 guys who went to Comedy Vietnam together. I kind of get the best of both worlds. I get a friend that I came up with, and then I also get to work with 2 of my favorite comics, who every show I stood at the side of the wall and watched Breuer and Attell. It's been awesome.
CAC: You mentioned that you used to watch Breuer and Attell in the back of the room when you started. Does it freak you out that now comics stand in the back of the roomto watch you?
BB: I've seen comics sometimes standing in the back. It doesn't freak you out, it's kind of the ultimate respect. It also kinds of feeds you to take more chances cuz you don't want to disappoint them because that's the thing about fellow comedians, even if they're not performing at the level you're performing at yet, they're still comedians, and they're still very difficult to make laugh. So if you can make any comedian, regardless of where they're at in their career, laugh, to me that's always bonus points.
CAC: I've heard comedians in Hollywood say you're the guy to stay in the room and watch now. Does that put any additional pressure on you?
BB: No, it's more pressure when you're coming up and you're new, proving yourself. You know what it is, it's like in 3rd grade, if there's a bunch of 5th graders looking at you, that makes you nervous, and you're like, "Oh God. These guys can read way better than I can." It's not pressure, it's very complimentary. Slash, it makes you feel old. Like, "Oh my God, I'm that guy. I'm not still the young buck coming up? Oh wait, I'm 43, that's right I'm not. Sh*t."
CAC: Your last special, Bill Burr: Let it go, got great reviews. Were you able to sit back and enjoy how it was received or were you busy traveling and cranking out new stuff?
BB: Little bit of both. I didn't really get to enjoy people's reactions to the special until it went on Netflix, when people could actually see it completely unedited. And that's when I started getting feedback from people that, how they felt about it, was the way I felt about it. That special is all the second show from the night at the Fillmore. When I got off stage, I remember thinking, "Now that felt like a special." That definitely felt like I got that one. I was really excited about it coming out. When it initially came out, Comedy Central, they had like 2 times when they show it. They show it the earlier time when they have a bunch of commercials and they have to edit it and they take like 20 minutes out. Plus I curse a lot, you know, so... I'm not criticizing them, it is what it is. They have commercials, they gotta do what they gotta do. But what I love about Comedy Central is that they'll show it at like 1:30 at night, unedited. When Comedy Central showed it unedited and now that it's been on Netflix... I can't explain it. It's an unbelievable thrill to have people feel the same way you do about the special. Like, "Wow, that really felt like a great one," then you have people saying, "I thought that special was great." It's really unbelievably satisfying. But when you're enjoying that, there's this pressure of, "Okay, I gotta tuck that one, and I gotta make sure I don't do any jokes from that last one," because I feel that's the kiss of death. If people come to see you live and you did what you already did on TV, I don't think they'll ever come back. They'll be like, "Yep, I saw him. He did what I already saw him do. I confirmed that he is the guy that does that stuff." Chris Rock said something great one time, when he was talking about, "Jokes aren't like your favorite songs." You know, you come see a band and bands can do material that's 40 years old and people love it, they're actually disappointed if people don't do their songs from 30 years ago. Where with jokes, as a comedian, people definitely have their favorite jokes and wish that you did them, but if you do the whole hour like that, not only do people not appreciate you, but become sad. Like, "Oh, that was pathetic! I couldn't believe it!"
clip from Let it go (DVD on sale now)
CAC: I watched the special several times and you seemed to have a lot of excitement for and were content with how it was going. I think where that came from is that you established a relationship early on with the audience where the more you gave them, they gave you and it grew exponentially. How did you establish that relationship?
BB: Yeah, it's basically as much as possible, it's blocking out that you are filming a special. And you just treat it like a club set. Don't get hung up on the fact that, "Oh f**k, I missed a tag on that joke." If you really think about it as a comic, when you do an hour, you always do it a little bit different. So what you're really doing is, as much as you're trying to document the material, you're really trying to capture the performance of it. I think the more live and in the moment it is, the more compelling it is when they film it. Because it's really difficult to try to get people who are at home sitting on the couch to get sucked into the TV to feel like they're there. And the way to do that is, it's 2 fold, it's how you do the performance, and then also the way it's shot. That wholistic way where they shot specials, where they shot em like the Bourne Identity and they had like a jib camera, for stand up comedy! A camera that comes swooping in. The f***ing camera is swooping in and you're up there going, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" You're shooting it like an action movie. It isn't. Comedy is small. It's a real small thing, and there's little things that happen that you want to catch. And when you're sitting in the crowd and you're at the show, you're just watching the comic, you're not turning around and watching the audience. And if you were doing that, you wouldn't enjoy the performance. So if you shoot, you just shoot it. Obviously you have to have your edits, but this epileptic kind of experience, shooting it like Natural Born Killers... I saw this Dave Matthews video one time, I play drums as a hobby and I like their drummer, and they were playing that song "Ants Marching," So you know how it begins, it goes "Da... da, da, da... da, da, da..." They were shooting it and it was like "Edit... edit, edit, edit... edit, edit,edit..." It was ridiculous. I'm sitting there as a frustrated drummer, I want to watch the drummer perform, I want to watch the f***ing drummer, and they won't show him for more than .8 seconds. I remember watching it just thinking like, "Why does this not even look real?" But then you watch concert footage from 30 years ago and you're like, "Why does this look so real?" It really is the shooting style. People say, "Music sucks today!" No, it's bullsh*t, it's the way they shoot it. They used to have the camera on the performance and they didn't inhibit it with all these stylistic bullsht. I blame MTV Sports for the last 15 years of capturing performances, if you remember that show. They started this stupid shooting style where you do all these edits. It's a combination of the attitude you have as a comic when you go out onstage and then it's also the way they shoot it. Which is more important than, I swear to God, the performance. The editing and how they shoot it, I can't stress it enough, if the people who shoot and edit your specials suck, they can take a great performance and make it look okay or sh*tty. But if they're great, they can take a good performance and make it look unbelievable. That's my long-winded, Inside the Actor Studio response.
CAC: As a comic, with other TV projects, like pilots, do you feel like you have to battle the powers that be, like producers or other industry people, who don't really know what's funny?
BB: They get a little bit of sh*t on that side. You have to maintain your sanity when you're trying to get a TV show on the air. You have to understand there's millions of dollars at stake. And it's very easy for me to come in there with my wacky ideas, and be like, "Why don't you have the balls to do this?" When for me, if the show doesn't get picked up, I can still travel the country and make a living as a comedian. But with these industry people, if they put something on the air that sh*ts the bed, they can actually get fired and that can affect their ability to pay their mortgage. So they're obviously going to be a lot more concerned, a lot more conservative. And it's like their money. So it's very easy for the artist to walk in there and be like, "Why don't you have the balls to do this with your million dollars!?" I'm not saying that I haven't run into some people on the other end where they gave me some suggestions and I'm not sitting there going, "How the f**k did you get your job?" It's not like I never had that feeling. It's only to keep your sanity, and so you don't become some bitter a**hole, is you have to have some sort of empathy. You have to try to see where other people are coming from. It really helps. Another thing too, is as a comic, we're like these dictators, you know what I mean? Like these monarchs. It's just sort of the way we're living our life. "I'm talking about this tonight." And there's never anybody going, "Well why don't you talk about this? I think that that's too mean. Try it this way." The first 10, 12 years of your career, it's just you doing everything, and then all of a sudden you have to adjust to these people coming in with their ideas. And I got to admit, the first few times it happens, you're borderline offended. Not even out of some ego stuff, it's more like shocking. Because you've never heard it before. You're like, "Wait a minute. Where is this voice coming from that's suggesting something else?" Because you've never heard it, you know.
CAC: Are you originally from Boston?
BB: Yeah, the suburbs. I grew up on the North Shore when I was really young, then the South Shore, as they say out there in Massachusetts. But the safe suburbs. I always say the "safe" suburbs of Boston because ever since Good Will Hunting came out, everybody is like, "Did you grow up in Southie? Did you have a mop? Were you good at Math?" I always look at it like that.
CAC: I know you're a huge hockey fan, you must be a Bruins fan then right?
BB: I am a massive hockey fan, to the point where I finally took up the sport after years. I'm actually playing here in the next hour. You know what's great about it? Is because you're on skates, even when you're as old as me, you can still be fast. Even though people can skate faster than you, you're still moving around and you feel like you're running, even though you're not. I am an unbelievable Bruins fan and I am so excited that they are where they are at right now. Going into a game 7, I'm almost not excited, I'm like stunned. I can't believe that they are 1 win away. This is the closest they have been since I've been watching. I started watching them in the early 80's, Stan Jonathan, Terry O'Reilly, Wayne Cashman's career was winding down. I started then so I missed that game 7, "Too Many Men on the Ice" game. Other than this, the only other times I've seen them in the finals they went up against those great Edmonton teams. The Gretzky-lead team in 87,' then the Messier-lead team in 90.' We lost like 4 games to 1, then we got swept. I can't remember which way it was. But yeah, dude, I can't believe it. I got to admit, I never sort of had any feelings towards the Vancouver Canucks, other than the fact that I liked them, I liked there city, I liked that they went back to the old-style kind of uniforms, but I have to admit, after watching 6 games of watching these guys, and I don't mind the hits or any of that type of stuff, I think they're really talented, but the shameless flopping around, pretending to get tripped, it's embarrassing. I've been going off on them on my podcast about it, I swear to God. The Sedin Twins, I swear to God, wear speedos underneath their equipment. They are f***ing ridiculous. The level of diving is just shameless. They should have like Keystone Kops music playing in the background. After 6 games of it, it doesn't make me angry anymore, I sort of morphed into voyeuristic watching it and went through the confusion of it. Now I am just sort of fascinated that as a man, you can look at yourself in the mirror after doing sh*t like that. And it's completely unnecessary because both of them, the Twins, they're great players, even that guy Burrows, he's a really good player, there's no reason for him to be doing that. That's why I don't understand it. I guess maybe that's what makes it funny. Because they're good enough to beat you that way, but they choose not to. They just kind of flop around on the ice. The Bruins, we just can't win out there, so I think Tim Thomas should come out again and shoot the f***ing puck into Luongo's goal, and we just need to put our foot down so we can win out there. And I really think that if the Bruins are going to win, we have to score that first goal, to use a total sport's cliche. We have to score the first goal, take the crowd out of the game. Look, I'm wondering how long they're going to leave Luongo in. If we score 2 quick ones, I bet he's out. I bet he's out immediately. They signed that guy for 10 years too. I was joking on my podcast how he has those sad, Basset Hound-looking eyes, you know. He does that thing too, where I think he shuts down emotionally cuz when he gets pulled, he's just sitting there like, "Hey, you know, no biggie... I got that 10-year contract, I'm good." Obviously you know he gives a shit. But I'm beyond excited and I can't believe I didn't go to any of the games cuz I've been to a World Series, a Super Bowl, and an NBA Finals, and I went all when Boston teams were in it. I had an opportunity to go to 1 of the Penguins games, I was working in town. And I was like, "No, I'm not going to a Stanley Cup Final unless I'm watching the Bruins in it." They're in it, but because of my touring schedule, I haven't been able to go to any of the games, but there's definitely worse things, you know.
CAC: I'm a big Blackhawks fan, so I hate Vancouver too.
BB: I love how you guys won it. You waited for so long, then the Hockey Gods made you wait an extra 20 seconds. They had to confirm whether it was in. They show that NHL commercial where the Blackhawks are all hugging each other behind their own net, and you see 5 of them still looking down at the other end of the ice like, "It's a goal right? It was in? Can we be happy now?"
CAC: You talked a lot about Boston... I think every time you and Greg Fitzsimmons do a podcast together it's a home run. What do you think makes it easy for you two to riff so well together?
BB: He actually started about 3,4 years in front of me, but he was one of the guys that really helped me navigate. You know, some of those outside rooms in Massachusetts and New Hampshire were a crapshoot whether you'd get paid or not. So he really helped me kind of navigate through that, and making the transition from being in Boston to New York. As far as why we riff so well, Fitzsimmons is 1 of the best comics I have ever seen playing with a crowd, doing crowd work. He's unbelievable at it, and I think when he does a radio show, it's the same thing. But it's not like you have memorized dialogue and you have to riff, but keep a through line of the scene going. It isn't, you're just going off on whatever you want to talk about, so he's kind of like in that mind set. And I also like to play with the crowd. Fitzsimmons, I think he's a genius, man. Some of the shit I've seen him do. I saw him a long time ago, we used to play this place, the Kowloon in Saugus Massachusetts, and these people started heckling him. And Saugus is just South of Revere Beach, which is sort of our version of Jersey Shore. So there's some guys like that in the crowd, and he did this Hannibal Lecter thing where he just looked at the person's shoes and announced to the crowd, "In 3 guesses, I'm going to guess what you're name is." And he did it. "And in 3 guesses I'm going to guess what you do for a living." And he did it. And his friends were like high-fiving each other as he was just destroying this guy. He guessed his name, what he did for a living, and once he had that down, he just started improv-ing about the horror of this guy's life and his relationship with his stupid mother. And I remember just sitting at the back of the club thinking, "The f***ing balls it took to be like, 'I'm gonna guess your name in 3 guesses." You know, you've backed yourself into a corner. And he did it twice and he got out of it, and absolutely destroyed. So I think that's why when we get together, cuz I'm basically riffing with a guy who has an ability to do that. Yeah, I just kind of draft behind him.
CAC: Last time you were on Greg's podcast you had 1 of the funniest lines I've ever heard on a podcast. You were describing how all "alternative" rooms are the same by saying, "You go in there, and they all have their f***ing Buddy Holly glasses..." And I think it perfectly described most of the "alternative" rooms and open mics here.
BB: Those "alternative" rooms, I'm not saying they're all bad, but there is that error, of that these crowds are really intelligent and they're smarter than the crowds in comedy clubs. It's just something about it, like, "You are performing in front of a crowd like you." So I don't see where the challenge is. As much as those guys make fun of like the Blue Collar Tour, it's like 4 southern guys performing in front of a bunch of southerners, you're doing the same thing. You go into those rooms and people will have bits about like reading comic books or Sci-Fi movies that fing destroy. And you're just sitting there like, "Okay, that was funny, but it wasn't that f***ing funny, why is it killing that hard?" Then it's like, "Oh, he's basically doing an I love Texas bit in Texas." I don't know, this is weird. It probably sounds like I'm disrespecting their scene. I'm not. I'm not, because I've seen absolutely brilliant stuff, but I've always maintained that there's no difference, when you really look at both, between a comedy club and an "alternative" room. You look at 10 people, 3 of them are awesome, another like 6 or 7 are trying to get to the level of the 2 best people on the show. And then there's that 1 or 2 when you're like, "Who the f**k ever told you you were funny? Why are you onstage?" But 1 thing I don't like about those "alternative" rooms is I don't like how it's too safe an environment. That's why I don't like them. It's like declawed comedy. Like you're going to go in there, everybody is going to be sober, everybody is going to be paying attention... Which is a great thing, but if that's all you perform to... I don't know, you start packing on the pounds. You get a little lazy I think.
CAC: I think that's the thing with a lot of comics here. They just do those rooms and don't work anywhere else in the city or go on the road at all. So I'm not sure how they think they're going to develop as comics.
BB: Yeah, but then what ends up happening is all of them either seem to end up writing or on the few television shows that are out there. Here's the thing, I gotta tell ya, that's something that I wish I had done more of. I wish I had done more like sketch, and improv and stuff. That's what TV and movies are. TV and movies are not just a guy standing there. It's interacting with a bunch of different actors and that type of stuff. I respect all that type of stuff, but there's been too many articles written about "alternative" rooms where they somehow have to take a swipe at comedy clubs, where I work, you know. "This is just some guy working on 5 minutes of airline material for his next Letterman special." I actually read that one time, like that's what we do in comedy clubs. Like you could get on Letterman doing 5 minutes of bits about airline food. And it's not like, "This is a guy doing yet another bit about the f***ing X-men movie or whatever it is." Not saying that comedy clubs are better either. You have your f***ing hacks and your formula. And those crowds in those rooms are not as f***ing smart as you're giving them credit for. It's just, they're you. I think it's just a real myopic way of looking at sh*t, like, "These people agree with everything I say, God they're intelligent." Alright! There we go. I caused a little controversy for ya. How bout that That's always good for ratings. Yeah, I can have a Biggie / Tupac moment with somebody in an "alt" room.
Bill on Letterman
CAC: (DAVE) Attell said that coming up, all you guys had were those Letterman or network TV spots and that you guys took a lot of pride in them.
BB: Yeah, it's just hard now because there's 9 million channels and the ratings that some of those late night shows get now, back in the day you'd be cancelled. And now, not only are you not cancelled, but it's actually considered a decent number. I was talking the other day with someone, do you know that Archie Bunker at the height of it's popularity used to get like a 30-share. Basically, a third of the TV's that were on in this country were watching that show. And Johnny Carson used to get like a 30-share. Which is obviously an absolutely monster hit. But you can keep a show on the air now with like a 1.7. I know as far as stand up specials airing, like if you get a 1.8, that's considered a hit. That's how splintered it is.
CAC: You mentioned acting before, you were in Date Night, you were an actor on Chappelle's Show, and now in the short film Cheat. What challenges do comics face when going into acting?
BB: It's kind of like a different style of music. That's the only way to describe it. So it's like you're still performing, and you're still acting out bits, but now it's different. Rather than being by yourself, you're interacting with somebody else. So now all of a sudden it's almost like you're on a comedy team if it's a comedy. Doing stand up comedy, I've heard people say, "We're actors, we act onstage every night." But you're not, you're not. It is different and I think acting gets unbelievably disrespected. In that people think that anybody can do it. Anybody can do stand up comedy. Anybody can go onstage and memorize a street joke, "Hey 2 guys walk into a bar..." But to get great at stand up and as an actor... And there's plenty of people who can do a passable job acting. And then people look at them like, "See anybody can f***ing do it." Really? Can you do what Anthony Hopkins can do? Anthony Hopkins career should have been over after Silence of the Lambs. He so should have been typecast as that guy. The next thing I saw him in was like Amistad and he was playing John Adams or something. And he was f***ing John Adams. There wasn't a hint of Hannibal Lecter. He completely disappeared into that guy. Literally, true actors will like, create a walk for a character. I saw something on that. John Travolta was talking about the characters he did, "Well Vinny Barbarino walked like this, and the dude from Get Shorty walked like that." And you're just like, "Jesus Christ." That's f***ing unbelievable. Like Philip Seymour Hoffman, like the stuff that guy does. It's like, "You think that you can do that?" Cuz that to me is like acting at a level of some of my stand up heroes. Like some of the greats of stand up comedy. What's his name? Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic wants to join the Lakers cuz he also wants to do movies. He actually had the balls to think he could become a lead in a movie. That's how disrespected acting is. I have my little wheel house that I could act from, but take Jamie Foxx. What he did with Ray Charles... There was a quick little comedy clip of him doing something else, and he was a different guy. I come from the Tom Cruise school of acting, where you know Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise whether he's a stock car driver or a Shogun Warrior, he's still f**ing Tom Cruise. That's where I come from.