Interview Date: 10/18/2010
Run Date: 11/09/2010
When chatting with comedian Bill Burr, be prepared to lose all control over the direction of the conversation. This isn’t intentional on Burr’s part, mind you; he just has a lot on his mind, so a simple question about his (hilarious) new DVD “Let It Go” will make him think of music piracy, which will lead to the hipster movement, and then, somehow, “The Social Network.” We were happy to play along, and occasionally ask him a question or two about going back to Philadelphia, his surefire method to get children to shut up, and lastly we introduce Burr to his long-lost indie pop musician twin.
Bullz-Eye: Where in the world are you?
Bill Burr: Believe it or not, I’m at home. I’m getting ready to do some gigs this week. I’ve got one in Minneapolis, the Pantages Theater, and then I’m at the Vic Theater in Chicago.
BE: I love the Vic. That’s a great venue.
BB: I’ve never been there, but I’m really excited to come up there. I know Bill Hicks did a special up there, and a bunch of guys I was actually hanging out with yesterday watching football. John Caponera is from up that way. So it should be cool.
BE: I love the new DVD.
BB: Oh, thank you! It’s been doing great. It was #1 on iTunes last week as far as comedy stand-up DVDs go, so that’s a huge thrill for me. I’m hoping more people buy it because, obviously, I want to make a little cashish here, but when they showed it on Comedy Central, they edited out two huge chunks of it, because they had to fit in 60 minutes of commercials. With an hour-long special, you miss 25% of it.
BE: Which parts did they cut out?
BB: It’s hilarious what they cut out. They cut out the automated checkout lines and banks microchipping us, but the bit about me committing suicide, apparently that was totally fine. (Laughs) I thought that was kind of funny. “Yeah, we don’t give a shit what you do to yourself. Just don’t mess with our scams and we’re good.
BE: How long does it take to come up with enough material to do a new album or concert video?
BB: That one took me two years. I’m going to wait three years [to do the next one], unless something really big happens in my life. You don’t want to keep doing more of the same, and that’s one of the things I liked about the difference between “Why Do I Do This?” and “Let It Go,” there were major changes in my life. I started living with my girl, I got a dog, I moved out to L.A., I got a little into conspiracy theories…I felt that there was enough newness there that I could put out another album that wasn’t, “He’s still talking about the same stuff.”
BE: The bit about putting the curse word after the race is one of the most insightful observations on speech patterns I’ve ever heard.
BB: I was nervous about that because I thought that would tap into the Asian drivers [stereotype] and people would think it’s kind of hacky, but people seem to really like that one, thank God. You never know how people are gonna take them.
BE: I also serve as one of the main movie critics for our site, and you should know that that your voice is frequently in my head saying, “Stop making this fucking movie.”
BB: Oh, that’s great! What movie has been bugging you lately that they keep making? Is it some sort of awful romantic comedy?
BE: That’s usually it.
BB: How about the one where the couple are both spies but they don’t realize it, and then they have to have the contract to kill each other? They must have made that three times in the last five years. They did it with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Ashton Kutcher kind of did a version of it with somebody else, and I want to say there was one other one.
BE: With regard to the ‘what are you, a fag?’ bit, I have to ask you: do you know the people I went to high school with? Because they’re exactly like that.
BB: (Laughs) It’s a straight across the board…I don’t even want to say blue collar…there’s an unexamined life/unworldly point of view that is really mainstream. And I’m not acting like I’m going to museums or anything, but there is something to be said about even just traveling in and around the States. Occasionally, if you get a chance to go outside of the country, you start examining where you’re from and some of the thought processes, and that was one of the funnier things. When I finally got away from the east coast for a while, and I came back – specifically to Boston – there was just this underlying anger that I never noticed before, because I was born there and just dropped right into it. And who wants to walk around being an angry guy? So I’ve been working on myself. Someone would say, “Take a yoga class, it’s good for relaxation.” And I’d immediately think, “That’s fucking gay. What are you, a fag?” And I thought it was funny at first, like it makes you some sort of tough guy, but then you realize that it’s really stupid after a while. So that was the basis of that bit. It was where I was from, the people I hung out with, and a lot of the thoughts that were in my head that I’m trying to get rid of. And I’m making fun of people who say that as much as I’m making fun of myself. I talk about having a sweet tooth, and how I really don’t like that about myself. You know that whole bit, “You want a cookie?” “What the fuck are you asking me that for?” And the reality was I wanted a cookie. It’s just all that dumb guy stuff.
BE: I grew up in a small town, so I expected that to be a small town thing, but to hear you, growing up in Boston…
BB: Well, I grew up in the suburbs. It wasn’t really a small town, but it’s pretty prevalent. And I think the more you hang out with jocks, not to be stereotypical, but when you get into sports, you get into male competition, and the testosterone gets to the red levels. You know, no pain no gain, don’t be a pussy, there’s no crying in baseball, and you get into that mindset of where you have to stop acknowledging that it’s raining out, and you can’t have an umbrella. (Laughs) If you’re playing a game and pushing through pain, that’s one thing, but if you’re just waiting for a bus and you catch a three-day cold, that doesn’t make you more of a man.
BE: There is a bit in the bonus features of your DVD on “The Biggest Loser” that was really funny: Why didn’t that make the final cut?
BB: Because I had already done [that bit] on the Spike Guy’s Choice Awards, and I have a thing about trying not to repeat jokes. And also, it’s a nice surprise when you get the DVD, like, “Oh, this was worth [buying].” What the kids have to understand is that if they don’t buy the DVD, then the people who give me the money to do the DVD go out of business, and then my next special is going to be [recorded] on a flip camera. This is how I handle the Internet, with all this “free” art out there: I use it as free browsing, like I’m going through a rack of clothes. I pay for all my music. If I can’t get it on iTunes, I go down to Amoeba Records. The same reason I don’t go to automated checkout lines; I’m not trying to put somebody out on the street. Remember with all that Napster stuff, “We’re not stealing the music, we’re sharing it.” With ten years of stealing everyone’s music, look where it’s gotten us. Steven Tyler is on “American Idol,” judging people singing, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or whatever the fuck they’re doing on that show. I think it’s sad. The Internet, it’s like everything, there’s a yin and a yang to it. The great thing is how much I think we’re progressing. Like, I play drums, and the fact that everybody can upload their drum solos and share new licks…the level of musicianship that’s out there is absolutely astounding because of the Internet. So it’s not 100% bad. I’m such a fucking hypocrite. I watch free porn.
BE: I have a three-year-old son, and the next time he starts being bratty, I seriously think I’m going to pour water on his head.
BB: I’m telling you, it works. It was so goddamn funny, and then he told on me. Then my buddy’s wife started yelling at me, and I knew I was wrong, but when I was that kid’s age, I wouldn’t have told on me. I don’t know, new breed. The Time Out Generation.
BE: Have you trademarked the phrase ‘A gun you can pet’ yet? Because you should.
BB: I know, I should put that on T-shirts or something. They love the DVDs, but Jesus Christ, people love T-shirts. But lugging those things from airport to airport if you don’t sell all of them…I think I’ll do it more for my podcasts. I have a ring tone. It’s a cool way for people to donate to my podcasts. It’s only 99 cents, and I realize everybody can make their own ring tone at this point, but it’s a really simple way for my listeners if they want to toss me a buck. And I still don’t make any money off of it, because what I usually end up doing is invest in better recording equipment. I’m dying to get this thing, I can’t remember what it’s called, but you can basically walk around with it, and interview people. When I first did my podcast I used to drive around on the phone – before they had laws about it – and I would be riffing about my week and I’d be shitting on people walking down the street, and people loved that. There are ways to actually make a living via the Internet.
BE: It is interesting that you have smaller artists who have found a way to fund stuff themselves, and they’re making more money than the people on the major labels, because all of their money is going into music videos, photo shoots, etc. They don’t make anything from their records; they make it all on the road. I figured the same is for comedians as well.
BB: If I wanted to be making more money via the Internet, I could. If I wanted to come up with a T-shirt, I could do that. I could do coffee mugs and keychains and all that shit, people love buying that. I could have a bigger merchandise store. I’m not ruling it out. The podcast is something I really enjoy. It’s a lot of fun. And what I could do is what a lot of these guys do: charge for the year. People sign up, and it’s broken into seasons or something like that. You do two seasons a year and you charge three bucks or five bucks for six months. I think that’s the way to do it, because people don’t mind tossing out five bucks to get six months worth of comedy. But the thing is, just charge them one time. That’s what I’ve learned. Because if it’s every single week, just having to sit there and input your stupid information, take out your credit card, all that, it’s a pain in the ass. And if it takes too long for the screen to load, I walk away, so I don’t expect [my fans] not to walk away. I’m gradually gravitating towards doing something like that, but for me to charge, I think I’d have to step up, hire an editor, make it sound like a radio show. Mine’s really raw. I was doing it last night, my girlfriend came walking in, and I always have another mic lying there, and we got into it a little bit about some thrift store items she bought. My podcast has a ‘hanging out’ vibe to it, so if I was going to charge, I think I’d have to make it more professional.
BE: Well, I can see where you wouldn’t want to get too into the merchandising, because all of a sudden you’re Krusty the Klown.
BB: Yeah, but you know what it is? I’ve realized that there is an art to everything, if you’re willing to take the time. So just because you have a T-shirt doesn’t mean it has to have a cheesy picture on it. I’m actually talking to someone about designing a T-shirt, and I want to come up with a T-shirt that’s so fucking cool that people would want it even if they didn’t know what it was. Believe me, it’s not going to involve having my stupid face on it. (Laughs) I don’t know how the hell you sell [my face], unless you were mocking T-shirts. And I think that hipster thing is about ready to go away
BE: God, I hope so.
BB: Yeah, wouldn’t it be nice if someone had something on because they liked it, not because they were mocking it? It’s a very walled off way to be living, not to mention half the stuff they’re making fun of is something I grew up with, so it’s really nostalgic to me. To see an entire generation making fun of my childhood and the TV shows I watched is kind of unsettling.
BE: To me, it’s just weak and lazy. “Look how ironic I’m being.” You don’t know the meaning of the word.
BB: You know, in all honesty, it was funny at first. The first time I saw somebody with a mustache from the ‘70s, I thought it was fucking hilarious. And then when everyone had one, and the fucking beard…everything became ironic, and then it became awkward. I’d like a punch line once in a while, rather than everyone staring out the side of their head, trying to think if they understood what they just said. You know those shows on TV? Talk to the camera, and they’re just saying this bizarre shit? That borderline retarded character they seem to have on every show? (Laughs) That’s why I can’t watch a lot of those shows, because it gets to the point where, “Can someone be aware of what they’re talking about? Can somebody not be awkward and actually have a little game with the females?” I can’t remember the last time there was a character on TV that made me think, “I wanna be that guy.” I grew up on Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, Lee Marvin, all those old movies they used to show. You wanted to be those guys. I don’t know what’s happened. Now, it’s people in their 30s, and they speak like they’re at their first semi-formal. It gets annoying after a while.
BE: This goes back to a bit you do in your recent routine, which is that the geeks are in control. It’s not just on the banking level; it’s on the television level as well.
BB: Nerds run the world, but they’re not awkward. They have that Dick Cheney vibe, where you don’t want to stare them in the eye.
BE: Erase your whole family.
BB: Yeah. I should have worded that differently. Sociopath is what it is. Speaking of awkward, I just saw that movie “The Social Network.” I really liked it.
BE: I loved it. Great movie.
BB: Women’s groups…I don’t know what their problem is with that movie. It starts off with the girl breaking up with the guy, and she gives one of the greatest breakup lines ever. “I want you to know, in the future, when you think women don’t want to be with you because you’re a nerd, I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, it’s not because you’re a nerd. It’s because you’re an asshole.” She walks away from him, and later on in the movie when he tries to reconcile with her, she’s totally strong, self-esteem, “I’m with my friends.” He’s trying to get her to go outside, and she’s like, “No. It’s over. You fucked up, and I know I can do better.” And then everybody else was the kind of women that you meet when all of a sudden you make a billion dollars: gold-digging whores. And those women’s groups act like those women don’t exist. Any time a guy in his 40s buys a sports car, they can say, “Oh, it’s because he has a little dick.” It’s like “The View” last week when Bill O’Reilly went on there. They don’t like a guy because he’s intolerant, and they do the exact fucking thing they accuse him of being.
BE: That was the best thing about the “South Park” movie, for me, when someone tells Sheila Broflovski that she’s brought enough intolerance to start the Apocalypse.
BB: For 12 years, “South Park” is, other than “The Chappelle Show,” the best social commentary on television. The way they just level everybody, and you learn something without it being preachy. They’re fucking geniuses. They’ve been killing it for 12 years, but no one really talks about it.
BE: I think it’s because they’ve been so consistent. They haven’t really had a bad season, though I wasn’t crazy about last season.
BB: I really just watch sports, but every once in a while I’ll come across “South Park” and laugh my ass off.
BB: As a comic, did you get a kick out of the Kanye West episode, where he beats Carlos Mencia to death for claiming to have come up with the ‘gay fish’ joke?
BB: Oh, when they did the callback to “Carlito’s Way,” when he’s in the wheelchair saying, [in Mexican accent] “Come on, man. You’ve got everything, I got nothing!” That’s the dude in “Carlito’s Way” when Carlito finds out he’s wearing a wire. “I gotta shit in a bag, man!” And they left all of that in there while they tied it in to stealing jokes. It was fucking brilliant. I loved that episode.
BE: When was the bit on the DVD with the blind guy shot?
BB: That was ninety- wait, not the ‘90s. For some reason, I never latched on to the 2000s. It was 2008 or 2009.
BE: You seem to have more fun riffing than doing your actual routine.
BB: Yeah! Because then I’m just that loud guy in the bar, fucking around, breaking balls, and everybody knows I’m an idiot. People ask me, “What’s your point of view?” And that’s what I say; I’m the loud guy in the bar that kind of makes sense, and then you remember that I flunked everything in high school, so you can laugh at me. I really enjoy going back and forth with the crowd. I don’t like the whole, “You suck,” and I gotta go, “Fuck you.” But I like when I’m talking about something I believe in, and someone doesn’t share my point of view, I like that back-and-forth. And also, I can be swayed, which, I think, dare I say, is refreshing in this day and age with these know-it-all talking head fucking morons on TV. They’re talking about trying to fix this country like they work in the Pentagon, like they actually have connections to these people and they know what’s going on. I do this radio show on the Internet with Joe DeRosa, who’s opening up for me in Minnesota and Chicago. The Olbermanns, the O’Reillys, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, we used to say how…you remember the old-school managers for wrestlers? Like the Grand Wizard and Captain Lou Albano and Freddy Blassie? They’re basically doing their entire routines, except they’re talking about America. (Laughs)
BE: So Ann Coulter’s going to come on TV with a rubber band sticking out of her cheek?
BB: I have never walked through the airport and seen the title of her most recent book, and not burst out laughing. I don’t agree with her points of view, but the comedian in me loves what she’s doing, because it’s along the lines of what I do with my act. People who agree with your point of view, they’re automatically going to listen, but the ones who don’t, to get them to listen is a roundabout way of saying that they’re morons. And that’s what she does. She had something, she was talking about the left, and it said, “Godless.” It was so over the top and ridiculous, it was fucking hilarious. They’re so ridiculous, on one side or the other, that I just can’t take them seriously. I respect their intelligence and the fact that they’re into politics, but…it would be like if someone was in a relationship saying, “My wife is always wrong. Always.” And there’s no, “Well, maybe there are times when you’re wrong, is there any middle ground…” “No.” It’s the weird combination of funny and depressing, because there are people out there who actually watch those shows, on the left and the right, and actually feel like they’re watching news, rather than some over-the-top op-ed piece.
BE: I always laugh when I see someone get angry with someone like Ann Coulter. If you don’t pay any attention to her, she’ll go away. But they can’t help themselves.
BB: I think it’s the Howard Stern thing, where back in the day, the people who hated him the most listened the most. But the thing about him is he was just doing comedy. He was trying to make you laugh, while these people, what they’re trying to do – on both sides, make sure you put that in there – is scary. They’re both bizarrely, completely intolerant, yet they think that they’re these wonderful human beings. They basically say, “If everybody thought exactly the way I did, the world would be a better place,” which is the exact mindset of every maniac who’s ever tried to take over the world. (Laughs)
BE: And how boring that would be, if we were all the same.
BB: Yeah. I was disappointed that two fellow comedians [Note: he’s back to talking about Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg on “The View”] allowed him to…you had no comeback? You couldn’t break the guy down? You couldn’t see that he was just saying inflammatory things? The easiest thing to do when somebody’s saying [inflammatory] stuff is just laugh at them, and keep saying that they’re ridiculous. And usually what happens is they blow a gasket, and they look like a moron. So hats off to Bill O’Reilly. He got two seasoned stand-up comedians to walk off their own show. I have to say, as a guy, it was hilarious to watch him, four on one, and he machete’d his way through, came out the other side.
BE: Speaking of riffing, have you been back to Philly lately? [Note: this is in reference to a show Burr did in 2006 on the Opie and Anthony Traveling Virus Comedy Tour, where the audience booed the first comic off the stage. When it was Burr’s turn, he spent his entire set ripping the city of Philadelphia to shreds. It’s a thing of beauty.]
BB: Oh, yeah. Philly was never a problem to come back to. Everybody remembered that except for the people in Philly, because they do that all the time. Have you seen some of the stories that have come out of Philly in the last six months? There was a guy, drunk and cursing, and in front of him was an off-duty cop with his daughter, and he said, “Hey, can you watch your language?” And the guy stood up…
BE: …and threw up on her. Disgusting.
BB: Yeah. So what happened to me, that was PG. They don’t even remember. They thought it was funny. They laughed, and then woke up the next day and could barely remember it.
BE: I saw that your brother was up for Ted Kennedy’s senate seat. You tend to avoid politics in your act, but I would love to see you on the senate floor saying, “This is shit, this is a bill of shit!”
BB: (Laughs) I would never survive in that world. The heckling that goes on when you hold public office is nonstop. People on television trashing you, everywhere you go there’s someone trying to throw rotten tomatoes in your face. And you can’t say, “Hey why don’t you go fuck yourself?” or start making fun of somebody’s big head or the stupid shirt they have on. You can’t do that as a politician, so they have to sit there and, regardless of how informed their critic is, or their level of intelligence…for my personality, it would be the toughest job on the planet. But my brother loves it.
BE: Tell me about what IMDb is calling “Untitled Burr and Hart Project.”
BB: I shot a pilot with Kevin Hart, hopefully for a new show on Comedy Central, and the basic premise is he’s black, and I’m white, and together we solve crimes. I’m kidding. We’ve basically exaggerated different parts of our personality, we’re playing comedians trying to make it in L.A. but it has very little to do with our stand-up or our stand-up careers. It mainly has to do with both of us, in our own ways, trying desperately not to be complete pieces of shit. Just trying to become better human beings. That’s basically what it is.
BB: What’s your approach to the whole sitcom thing? You’ve done a little bit of that, but not a tremendous amount, and for some comedians, that’s the dream, the steady paycheck. “Oh, good, I don’t have to travel 300 days a year.” You don’t strike me as that kind of guy.
BB: If this show gets picked up, they shoot the whole season in three months. It’s a Monday-Friday gig, and you have Saturday and Sunday off just like a regular job. Then I’d take a month off and yeah, I’d go out on the road. I would be over the moon if this thing gets picked up, because I would get more exposure and more people would come out to my shows. In the end, my goals are very stand-up oriented. I want to have a body of work by the time I’m done, and in terms of the all-time funniest guys, I want to see how far up that list I can get. With each special, I challenge myself to grow in my personal life, hoping that it will seep into my act. Right now I’m trying to go into the character of my dad, which is something I’ve never done. I’ve been frustrated trying to do it for 15 years, and just the challenge of that is making me excited to go down to the clubs.
But as far as acting, I would love to do it. A sitcom is the greatest acting job on the planet, as far as having a life. It’s just unbelievable how good it is, provided you’re on a good one. If you’re on a horrific one, it’s the worst gig on the planet. But “Seinfeld,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Cheers,” where the writing is that good, and you’re with this ensemble cast and everybody’s having a good time, I don’t think there’s a better gig in this business. I got to do one back in the day. We lasted half a season. It was my first acting gig, so I was so busy focusing on not getting fired that I didn’t realize how unbelievable it was. We’d do two takes of every scene and we were done. Maybe you had a couple of pickups, you shot the thing in two hours. This show I’m doing with Kevin is a two-camera shoot. But it takes four days to shoot a half-hour episode. You know those sitcoms back in the day where, by the third or fourth season, when the actors had their characters down, and the writers had their voices down, and it was this finely oiled machine? I heard stories about casts now showing up until the day of blocking. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, they wouldn’t even show up for a table read. They’d just show up when they blocked the scenes for the cameras, and then Friday they would just do the gig. It was like “The Jetsons,” remember when he’d say, “Ah, these three-day work weeks are murder.” With technology, we’re all working more; the sitcom [actors] are the only ones who got the three-day work week.
BE: You’ve been very generous with your time, and I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. I just have one other thing to ask you: have you ever heard of a musician named David Mead?
BE: You two were separated at birth.
BB: What, does he make music about punching people in the face?
BE: No, he looks just like you. You could be twins.
BB: Oh, I gotta look him up right now. Do you know how many people have come up to me and thought I was Christopher Titus? That just blows my mind. [Back to David Mead] It’s M-E-A-D?
BE: Yes, but I’ll warn you, he has pretty awesome hair.
BB: [Finding picture of Mead] Ahhhhhh, yeah! I used to have hair like that. He looks like the better version of me. He’s got better hair, he looks a little more confident in his pictures here. I like this guy. Maybe if I run into him, I’ll ask him some advice, how I can be a better me. I’ll take that [comparison]. I usually get Ron Howard or Ralph Malph. When I had my head buzzed down, people said Billy Corgan.
BE: “You’re a bald guy, you look like every other bald guy.” Is that it?
BB: Yeah, the bald white guy.
BE: “You look like the singer from Midnight Oil.” “Uh, no, I don’t.”
BB: Yeah, but that’s all right. I’m a white dude, you can do that. But you do that to other people, you have to send a letter of apology, like the people who got offended by “The Social Network.” Which is so ridiculous because if any of them were dating that guy, and all of a sudden he made a zillion dollars and these skanks came around him, that’s exactly what they would call them. They’d call them gold-digging whores. But for some reason, if guys [say that]…I kinda get it; it falls in the lines of “Only I can punch my little brother. You can’t.”
BE: I didn’t think anybody got out of that movie clean. I’m watching Jessie Eisenberg, and I’m thinking, “Zuckerberg looks like he has Asperger syndrome.”
BB: If you really want to be like that, I guess anybody could have been offended. I could have been offended as a guy on some level because I’m either this nerdy guy with a hooded sweatshirt or some date rapist in a row boat. If you want to look at the movie that way, and just try to find ways to get offended, or you could just sit back and think, “I’m watching a movie, and morons are always going to be morons, and this isn’t really going to sway people one way or the other.”
BE: Yeah. What you said.
BB: What I said. Is that a nice button? Isn’t that what people in your business call it?