By Norm Quarrinton
Bill Burr’s been a very busy boy. He’s a perpetually touring comedy performer who has a popular podcast, and a popular Netflix cartoon called F is For Family, which was recently renewed for a second season. Bill also does a bit of acting work on the side. He was in some show called Chappelle’s Show, and also appeared in a show called Breaking Bad, but you probably didn’t see that show because that show was definitely not one of the most popular shows of all time. This Saturday, Bill kicks off a five night run of stand-up shows at The National Theatre.
Brightest Young Things: Hi Bill! Who’s your favorite wrestler?
Bill Burr: Oh man. Can I just give you a bunch of guys?
BYT: Of course.
BB: I liked Jimmy Snuka, Tony Garea, Larry Zbyszko, Bob Backlund, Bruno Sammartino, Chief Strongbow, SD Jones (even though they never let him win), Captain Lou, Ted DiBiase…Uh…I’m forgetting some people…Greg Valentine.
BYT: I’m impressed. Most people just say The Rock.
BB: Well him and Ric Flair are the best. Ric Flair is the king.
BYT: Have you ever met Ric Flair?
BB: Yes I have. He’s the greatest guy ever. He just wants to hang out, have a beer, and tell stories. He’s the coolest. I’ve never met The Rock though.
BYT: Comics can learn a lot from Flair.
BB: I consider him to be one of the great comedic minds. But I never got to see him growing up because that was back when they still had territories. But he was so big I heard about him. I’ve read his autobiography and all that. He’s huge.
BYT: Speaking of huge, did you watch the first debate last night?
BB: I was actually editing a couple of episodes of my show F is For Family so I recorded it, but I haven’t seen it yet though.
BYT: Editing is probably more fun to be honest.
BB: Oh there are no winners in this election. I paid attention to it for about two months and then it just started to depress me. At least Hillary’s a politician, but the fact that you’ve got a guy from a reality TV show! I have to say, out of everything I’ve ever watched in sports–the greatest comebacks ever–watching him get the nomination for the Republican Party is the most astounding thing I’ve ever seen. I cannot believe that he’s actually in the debates. And I’m also disappointed in the Democrats that Hillary was the best they could get–It just keeps going back to Bush’s and Clinton’s–I’m sick of ‘em! Even Jeb was hanging in there for a minute.
BYT: Would you vote for Obama if was allowed to run again?
BB: Against these two I would, but I never voted for him. I always voted third party–the ones who say their gonna jail the bankers. And I don’t feel like it’s a wasted vote because I think it encourages more people like that to run. I vote for the candidates that aren’t bought and paid for like the Clintons. And Donald Trump? That man literally has people shouting the n word at his rallies and he doesn’t address it, which is astounding to me. He’s a terrible person.
BYT: Let’s go back to your Netflix show, F is For Family. How hands on are you with the show’s production?
BB: Michael Price is the showrunner so nobody works harder than him. But I am there for all of the edits.
BYT: How difficult is it to quantify the success of a show that’s on a streaming service?
BB: You can tell how it’s going by the Tweets you get. If you’re on social media as a performer you can tell. If you don’t get any Tweets you know it’s bombed. I can pretty much gauge how it’s doing by comparing the reception to shows I’ve done that have actual ratings. I’ve had nothing but great reviews and people asking when season 2’s coming out. But it’s a whole new world as far as getting a show on the air. There’s good things and bad things.
BYT: And does Netflix give you the figures? Do they let you know how many people are watching?
BB: No. Which is brilliant on their end because you can negotiate. [laughs maniacally]
BYT: Do you think in a few years all television will just be streamed?
BB: I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I mean you’re not chasing syndication any more. It used to be a big thing. “Let’s make 100 episodes and we’ll get paid for life”. You know? And what does the sheer amount of content that’s being made do to syndication after a while? It just seems like there’s more content than there is hours for everyone to watch it. But it’s some of the best content that’s ever been created. Like that robot show, whatever it’s called–the one that won the Emmys–everybody’s telling me it’s unbelievable but I didn’t find out about it until it got nominated for its second season. So it’s already been on for two seasons, and it’s supposed to be one of the best shows on television, but I only just heard about it–and I’m in the business! That’s how many shows are out there.
BYT: You did the Edinburgh Festival for the first time this year. Is there any particular reason why you’d never done it before?
BB: Yeah, I never wanted to spend a month away from my life. One time I was out on the road for three weeks in a row and I when I came back someone had broken into my apartment and the water had evaporated from the toilet. If you’re away from your house for a month, by the time you come back there’s someone else living in it. My career has been a slow burn, so waiting to do the festival was a smart move. If I’d spent a month there 10-15 years ago, there’s no way anyone was gonna remember me. I wasn’t the good looking guy, I wasn’t the hot chick, I wasn’t the fat guy, I didn’t have a catchphrase, I didn’t wear a silly hat. I was just trying to improve as a comedian.
BYT: You’re at the point now where you’re able to sell out venues all over the world. Do you mind all the traveling?
BB: No, I don’t mind it. I just space it out. Every other week I go out. I used to get some time to myself but I’ve been pretty busy lately. But I’ve had it the other way, where I’m staring at the phone waiting for it to ring, so this is definitely better.
BYT: Do you ever have to tailor your material for overseas audiences?
BB: I have to make small adjustments, but I can’t change too much. If I’m worrying about that stuff too much then the show isn’t as funny. It’s better to just plough ahead. And if I say something they don’t get, I just make fun of myself for assuming that everybody knows everything about where I live.
BYT: What’s your favorite country to perform in?
BB: Oh man–I don’t have an answer to that but I can tell you why I like different countries. Ireland–some of the funniest heckles I’ve ever gotten. And the last time I did England I did Bristol, Manchester, and then London. The whole country is just amazing to drive through. I loved the countryside. I went to John Bonham’s grave. As a big music fan, England is an amazing place to go. Manchester was legendary to me because I read a book about football hooligans called Among the Thugs, so I was like “I gotta make sure I’m on my game because these guys are gonna heckle me then beat the shit out of me”. The whole city just a real rock music vibe. It reminded me a lot of where I’m from. It’s a blue-collar city that’s transitioning into a white collar place and people are getting priced out. London was like that too. It was that time of year when all the rich kids with the oil money have their cars shipped over. Some of the most beautiful cars I’ve ever seen–with the worst paint jobs! It was just this hilarious, disgusting display of wealth. The shamelessness of it. To be that shameless about your money when you’re a guest in a country was astounding to me. But I saw the humor in it.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89ZFCeWuAio
BYT: I’ll just accept England as an answer to the previous question.
BB: Haha! Well probably the coolest show of that whole tour was in Germany. I had a chunk of material on Hitler, and I was worried about how they’d react, but they loved it. I couldn’t trash Hitler enough. Poor bastards, they make all these contributions to the automotive industry, aeronautics, space–but you pick one wrong guy and it’s all out the window. They’re never gonna live that one down.
BYT: Yeah, the British were doing that shit for centuries.
BB: Think about the amount of crap the US has done! Between slavery and the genocide of the Native Americans–if any of that had been filmed like Hitler, we’d never live it down. They copied stuff from us for their “final solution” but we get to walk around like we’re the good guys.
BYT: Are you looking forward to performing in D.C.?
BB: It’s a really weird town to do stand-up in. It’s oddly conservative, even though it’s a liberal town.
BYT: Why do you think that is?
BB: So many people there are in politics that they’re overly cautious about laughing at stuff. They’re so damned concerned about what everyone else is thinking. What are they worried about? Nobody ever walked into a show as a bleeding heart liberal and had a comedian undo 30 years of life experience. There’s a big thing right now with people using stand-up as a scapegoat. People think comedians have the power to change someone in an hour. If we had that ability, the art would not be legal. It would too dangerous.
BYT: What do you think of the D.C. comedy scene?
BB: D.C.’s always had a great scene. Chappelle’s from there. And when I was coming up the DC Improv was considered the best Improv out there. It’s always been high quality stuff coming out of there.
BYT: Do you still enjoy doing dive-bar open-mics?
BB: I do enjoy them. I get to meet the next generation of comics and help them out. Big comics doing small shows was something that used to happen a lot more back in the day. I wish there was more of that.
BYT: Did you ever get bumped for a bigger comic?
BB: Oh, of course. I’ve been bumped, I’ve had to go up after them, I’ve had stuff thrown at me, I’ve been booed. I’ve had people steal from me and lie to me. I was a feature one time and they gave me host money. When I called to complain the guy goes “no you didn’t feature, you co-hosted”. He literally invented a term so he didn’t have to pay me. And obviously that check bounced!
BYT: I’m going to read out some of the entries from the trivia section of your IMDB page, can you tell me if they’re accurate?
BYT: It says you were the first stand-up comedian to perform on The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien in 2009.
BYT: Your father was a dentist and you worked as a dental hygienist for some time.
BB: Uh, that part’s true. My dad was a dentist but I wasn’t a hygienist. I assisted my dad. I don’t think people know what hygienist means. I was certified to take x-rays, but you can’t just show up and start cleaning people’s teeth.
BYT: Your brother, Robert, was briefly a candidate to fill Massachusetts’ vacant seat in the United States Senate, after Ted Kennedy’s death in 2009.
BYT: You graduated from Emerson College.
BYT: You are of Irish and German descent.
BB: Yeah, more German than Irish.
BYT: That’s it. You only have five entries.
BB: I think that’s probably a good thing.
BYT: Finally–any advice for up-and-coming comics?
BB: Surround yourself with positive people. Also, be a positive person. Root for people. Somebody else’s success is not your failure. People should be happy to see you when you show up to a club because you’re a good person. And stop caring about what the industry is “looking for”. Just say what you think is funny. Turn inward and say to yourself “I’m just gonna do it”. That mindset got me to where I am now. I look at the industry like it’s a giant mall, and I have a little store–this is what I’m selling: I do stand-up, I’ve got a podcast, and occasionally I act. You walk into my store and if you like something, you buy it, and if you don’t, you leave. But I don’t walk around the mall going “oh those people are selling shirts, I need to be selling shirts! Oh those guys are doing that, I should do that!” That’s when you become completely outside yourself and you end up with a big mismatch of shit that’s not you.
BYT: Thanks Bill!
BB: Thank you for promoting my show!