Bill Burr talks about his humor style before May 16 show at the Schottenstein Center

0
23

Comedian Bill Burr doesn’t take himself nearly as seriously as some folks do.

The 55-year-old “comic’s comic” has raised a few hackles and offended many delicate sensibilities with observational humor, which can bulldoze into sensitive territory.

But what many fail to see is that while he mocks, he’s not malicious and he’s often the butt of his own jokes. He’s not afraid to admit when he’s missed the mark.

“I’m not serious about anything I’m saying other than the fact that I say what I want to say. Feeling my opinion is undebatable, there’s a level of ignorance to that. I can definitely be swayed,” Burr said.

“There’s been times I’ve been wrong; I’ve made mistakes as a comedian. Everybody has made mistakes at work. Be grateful I’m not a doctor!”

Despite a reputation for being controversial or splenetic, Burr can be quite disarming, interspersing his banter with self-deprecating potshots and bursts of laughter.

His delivery is like that non-PC, but nonetheless, funny blue-collar guy we all know, which tracks since Burr worked in warehouses before trying stand-up at a talent contest in Boston. Burr hit the ground running and looking at his prolific body of work, seemingly hasn’t stopped since.

He has released several stand-up comedy specials, including 2019’s “Paper Tiger,” for which he earned a Grammy Award nomination for best comedy album, as well as “Friends Who Kill” and “Live at Red Rocks,” both in 2022.

Burr also has appeared in a slew of movies, among them “Date Night,” featuring an all-star cast that includes Steve Carrell, Tina Fey, Taraji P. Henson and Mark Wahlberg; “The King of Staten Island” with Pete Davidson and Marisa Tomei; and “Old Dads,” which he co-wrote and directed.

In addition to guest spots on countless comedy shows like “Chappelle’s Show,” “The Jim Gaffigan Show” and “New Girl,” he has shown his acting range with appearances in “The Mandalorian,” “Breaking Bad” and “Barry.”

In between, he somehow made time to co-found the All Things Comedy network and host a podcast with fellow comic Paul Virzi. Plus, he’s a husband and father of two young children.

Even with so many irons in the fire (and more still burning), Burr is currently on a tour that includes a 7:30 p.m. show May 16 at the Schottenstein Center. Tickets start at $52.50, available at ticketmaster.com.

Speaking by phone from his home in L.A., Burr took a few minutes from life as a family man to talk to The Dispatch about his humor, fans and favorite comedians.

Comedian Bill Burr is to perform May 16 at the Schottenstein Center.

Question: You were a shy kid. How did you find your voice, especially such a straightforward, bold voice?

Bill Burr: Not even being a comedian, most people find their voices later in life. Old people say just exactly what they’re thinking and everybody loves it because it’s refreshing to hear someone be honest.

Their age, combined with what they’re saying, is disarming. Like when a kid says something, it’s cute. We picture old people being childlike, but they come in spitting fire. You get to a fork in your life where you say, “Am I gonna continue taking this stuff, or am I gonna push back?”

When you’re in your 20s, you still have that hangover of being a kid, you want to fit in and be accepted. Later in life, you’re like, “What am I trying to fit in with?”

Question: You started out working clean because you didn’t want to offend people. What changed?

Burr: I was afraid to get heckled. I didn’t want to upset the person I was opening for. I wanted to show people I wasn’t going to be a problem. I definitely came out like, hat in hand, genuflecting to the crowd and the people I was opening for. I was just happy to be there.

But you can only hide from who you really are for so long, right? I wanted to prove to myself that I could actually write jokes. When you’re younger, if you work really hard, is it really funny or are they just laughing at the shock of what I’m saying? I’m a guy who grew up in a blue-collar town. I had white-collar parents, but we weren’t good with money. It was just how people talked. By then, I was into George Carlin and Richard Pryor; they used all the language.

Working clean, I found restrictive. It wasn’t just not saying the bad words, it meant I don’t have an opinion that doesn’t upset the crowd. I mean, I could write a clean joke about politics and abortion and still offend.

Question: Some have called your comedy cringeworthy. Do you find comfort in making people uncomfortable?

Burr: “Cringe” is more sophomoric things. I don’t go to offend people, I go to say what I think is funny. I feel like I do it in a silly way. Even if it’s over the top, it’s not enough to make you want to write a letter.

Annoying someone in the crowd can be fun, but once they leave, it’s game over. If someone stormed out, I’d almost be sad; the fun’s over! Watching you take me, who’s an idiot, seriously… there’s something funny about going into a comedy club and having no sense of humor.

Question: Is there anything off-limits when it comes to making jokes?

Burr: I don’t have all the answers to comedy. I would never tell anyone what they can and can’t joke about, as long as you’re not being malicious.

A long time ago, I was headlining a place in Portland, Oregon, and halfway through this guy’s act, I stood there about eight seconds and asked the waitress, “What happened?” He did a joke the crowd thought was kind of racist. I got this spidey sense where I knew whatever happened was over, but I could feel the ripple effect of it because they knew he wasn’t joking or it came across as he wasn’t joking. He didn’t address it; he kind of went into the next joke.

“Getting away with something” is suggesting not only that I mean it in a malicious way, but that the audience is dumb.

Question: What do you have to say to critics who accuse you of punching down with your humor?

Burr: Nothing! When people say stuff like that, I think punching down is hilarious because it’s such a ridiculous thing to do. (Critics) don’t really mean, “Punch up,” and I’m not particularly into censoring stand-up. What I want to hear a comedian do is go onstage and say exactly what he or she wants to say. The people who don’t are some of the most unfunny people you’re ever gonna meet.

Question: In a recent episode of GQ’s “Actually Me,” you went undercover online to reply to fans. What did you learn about your fans?

Burr: What has really amazed me is the level of humor that people have in the comments section.

I was on Instagram yesterday and a guy was making a video of him making a sandwich. He had this giant head and someone in the comments said, “This guy’s dreams are in IMAX!”

That’s the one thing I’ve learned—how educated the average person is when it comes to comedy.

Question: Who are some comedians coming up that you like?

Burr: Robert Powell III is incredible. He came out and did the Patrice O’Neal (Comedy) Benefit and blew everyone away. Also, Nate Craig, Steph Tolev, Fortune Feimster, and Brian Holtzman—they’re all comics.

You have the crowd favorites and you have the comic favorites and they’re usually different things. It’s just a weird thing to be super popular; there’s a mainstream rounding-off of the edges in every art form.

If you look at, say, people who consider themselves foodies but only know celebrity chefs (then there are chefs), then you have to be a chef yourself or really into food to understand. A comic’s comic, most of time, is someone the mainstream isn’t ready for.