Veteran comedian Bill Burr’s sharp wit tackles pop culture, current events
By Ballard LesemannSpecial to The Post and Courier – Wednesday, April 10, 2013
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When it comes to world affairs and pop culture, Bill Burr enjoys speaking his mind with a quick, stinging, oddly giddy tone.
He couldn’t care less about political correctness, popular demand or public opinion. No matter if the issue stems from international politics or the battle between the sexes, Burr probably has a quick quip that’ll cut right through the tangle and mess to the hilarious heart of the matter.
“People sometimes enjoy watching you go off on something they know about, even if they don’t agree with it,” Burr said. “At the end of the day, as long as you’re funny, it works.”
At this point, Burr is a seasoned veteran who has regularly performed stand-up in clubs, theaters and television studios for more than 20 years.
“My routine is pretty much the same now as when I was doing comedy clubs,” he said. “I’m going to come in and give them a show, try to work out new stuff right in the middle. If I’m feeling it right out of the gate, I’m going to come out with it.”
Burr, 44, grew up in Canton, Mass., not far from Boston. After attending Emerson College, where he studied broadcasting and radio, he began doing stand-up comedy at small clubs in Boston and New York before relocating to Los Angles in 1996.
“I was 23 when I started, and it was one of those deals where I signed up for a talent contest,” Burr remembers. “I didn’t win and I didn’t even do that well. But I did it and I felt like, ‘Yep, this is it.’ ”
Burr cites a variety of old-school comedians and comedic actors as his early influences, from television’s early years through the popular acts of the ’80s and ’90s.
“I loved so many comedians and other people who were just simply hilarious,” Burr said. “I mean, like, going back to Dean Martin, Foster Brooks, Tim Conway and ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ folks; Bill Cosby, Lenny Bruce, Joan Rivers, Cheech and Chong, Richard Pryor, George Carlin and all the great ’70s sitcoms. And Sam Kinison. He was a monster. These are the people who literally built the art.”
Burr worked mostly on film and television productions in Los Angeles before moving back to New York in 1999. During the 2000s, he focused on developing his comedic acting and stand-up act.
In 2003, he released his first comedy album, titled “Emotionally Unavailable.” He began appearing regularly on the late-night TV shows hosted by Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien and others.
Burr earned even more exposure in 2004 as an actor in five episodes of Comedy Central’s “Chappelle’s Show” with Dave Chappelle. His red-haired wit and Bostonian snarkiness caught the attention of new fans.
In September 2005, his first HBO “One Night Stand” special earned great reviews.
“I don’t try to analyze it too much because I’m afraid that if I do, I’ll be like, ‘Oh, this is where I’m funny,’ ” Burr said. “I always think about Dave Chappelle. He would so some social commentary and then follow it with a bathroom joke. They’re both equally funny and equally brilliant. What he showed was that funny was funny, and you can’t pigeonhole him.”
In 2007, Burr began hosting his own rant-filled weekly Internet radio show called “Bill’s Monday Morning Podcast.”
In 2008, he released a one-hour Comedy Central special called “Why I Do This” on DVD.
Striking a balance
Burr strikes a peculiar balance between anger and joy in his stand-up material and on-stage performance.
He seems to cheerfully rage against the commonplace, commenting on pop culture and current events as he cuts to the everyday frustrations with adult life and relationship, all while wearing a devilish grin.
“Stand-up isn’t a steppingstone kind of thing for me. It’s what I do, and it’s what I’ll always do,” Burr said. “It’s something that I will do in front of two people or a big crowd ... well, not two; I gotta make a living. Wait, I take it back. If I went out and only two people showed up, I’d still do it as a hobby.”
Burr’s latest (and third) one-hour comedy special, “You People Are All the Same,” was taped in front of a packed house at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington last year.
Fans can expect lots of new material from the comedian at this week’s show at Charleston Music Hall.
“Whenever I do a special where I burn an hour, I then need a new hour, so I’ll tour and play comedy clubs for a year doing like six shows in a club each week or so. When it gets to a level where I feel like people won’t be too disappointed, then I bring it to theaters.
“It’s such a crazy thing now, where you try to get to a certain level where you can sell tickets,” he adds. “You either need to have a crazy hook or you have to have been doing it for 25 years, like me. I’ve had a nice, slow build in my career, and I’m blown away by the amount of people who come to the shows. I’m trying to save my money and not smoke crack now that I’ve finally hit paydirt.”