In two weeks, Atlanta’s the Tabernacle will be packed for stand-up comedian Bill Burr’s two back-to-back shows. The Boston native is regarded as one of the funniest and most talented stand-up comedians working today, specializing in the all-out rant. After majoring in radio at Emerson College, he began stand-up at the age of 23 and has been doing it ever since. Burr has three filmed special sets, a weekly Monday morning podcast, and has acted in a number of recent shows and films, including Breaking Bad and last week’s episode of New Girl. The topics covered in his routines vary from annoying women, stupid people, unneutered dogs, pedophiles, the horrors of marriage, racism and whatever insane thoughts he’s had within the past week. Burr’s outlook on life is nothing short of psychotic, but he recognizes it and wants to share his thoughts with everyone. The show at the Tabernacle promises an unruly new set of hilarious tirades and rants about what we all think but never have the guts to say. In preparation for this show, the Technique got the chance to ask Burr a few questions about his style and career success so far.
Tell me about your college experience. Is there anything you’d like to share with Tech kids about the show that would relate to them?
You know, I’d love them to come to the show and help me with my science background. I’m so bummed out I never got into science and that type of thing—I bought a house and an old truck, and I’ve been trying to fix both of them as I’m going. There are certain principals you have to know. You have to know how things work, and I got no clue. The other day I was watching a video about the electromagnetic field around an electric wire… I still can’t wrap my head around it because it was like hearing some of the secrets of the universe or something. Now I understand why anybody who is in that field would always look at me when they talk to me like I was a moron. But seriously, why college kids should go—it’s going be really funny, it’s go[ing to] be over the top, and whatever. I can’t make people come to my shows. Watch my YouTube clips, and if you like it, then come on down.
You are going to be on an episode of New Girl coming up. Are you trying to expand into acting now? I know you’ve been on some other TV shows too.
I’m a stand up comedian and I’ll always be a stand up comedian.
Well I love acting, but I’m a stand up comedian and I’ll always be a stand up comedian. If I get an opportunity to audition to be in a movie, I’m always go[ing to] do it. Or if I get to be in a TV show, I’m always go[ing to] do it because it’s so much fun, but I’m not using stand up as a stepping stone. I absolutely love traveling; I love the whole thing; I love the whole experience.
Are there any new things we should expect at this show at the Tabernacle?
If you’ve seen my last stand up special, I’ve written an entirely new hour since then. So if you come out to the show at the Tabernacle it’s going to be all new stuff and it’s go[ing to] be hilarious.
You talk a lot about uncomfortable stuff, and it’s almost as if you’re having a discussion or argument with the audience. How do you make this funny? Are these ridiculous thoughts your own?
I don’t have any writers—I come up with the stuff by myself. You know what it is, all you gotta do is go out and live a life, trying new things. If you try something new you’re gonna feel unsure of yourself, you’re gonna make a fool of yourself, or you’re gonna learn something. Like just looking at that video on the electromagnetic fields, it made me realize how much I don’t know about science. And then it opens the door for self deprecation, making fun of how uninformed you are, or going the other route with saying: “I don’t know why people are going to Las Vegas to look at magicians, because if you really wanna watch magic you watch scientists conducting experiments.” I saw this thing called a gyroscope! When I was a kid it was called a TOP. And I still don’t get how when you pull that string you can put it on its side and it spins around 360 degrees and it doesn’t fall down, like what is even holding it up. I just don’t get it.
How do you remember all of these experiences and things that you come across?
I usually write down something like “magnets.” I don’t write out the actual material, it’s more like I’m just talking about it. If something funny happened to you today and you are meeting up with your friends in a bar and you wanted to tell them a story, you know what happened. So you’re not gonna write it down and rehearse it, you’re just gonna go in and tell the story. And that’s because you’re comfortable with your friends. So what you’re really working towards, for me anyway as a performer, is you’re trying to get to that level of comfort on the stage, where when you go out before the crowd you’re no more nervous that when you were sitting in a bar talking with your friends about the crazy day you had.
You always joke about your Wikipedia/YouTube research. Do you actually have to do any research so some of your facts are accurate, or do you just say what you think?
It’s basically like if I want to make fun of someone, I have to know how to say his name. Or maybe I don’t and that’s the joke that I can’t pronounce his name. If I’m gonna trash a whole town of sports teams, I gotta have my facts straight like when they won last, who plays for them, that sort of thing. So there’s that level of research. But honestly I’m just that loud guy in a bar that makes a little bit of sense, then at some point you figure out that I flunked most subjects in high school, and then you just start laughing at me.
Where did you learn how to do all of your facial expressions? Or is making funny impressions of people a talent you’ve always had?
Yeah that was always something I could do. I grew up with a bunch of funny people—people who are animated and passionate and angry and everything. Where I’m from, you just go off on stuff. That’s just sort of the style of the East Coast up north, I don’t know why, it’s just how people talk. I love southern humor though, when you get a classic guy who’s talking slow and the comedy just sneaks up on you. I’m amazed at their ability to, as far as the southern laid-back style, be able to be talking that relaxed, and still get a gut-busting laugh. Then there’s me, I’m up there screaming in your face, it’s like the crowd is drawn in by your energy. But Ron White is literally standing there smoking a cigar, just murdering the room. I could never do that. If I’m not jumping around like a clown, I can’t get them to the level that he gets them. I’m very animated and crazy—I’m a psycho.
How much of your attitude and outlook on life carries over to your every day life? How much of this do you actually engage in throughout your normal life?
You know what, I let little things bug me in life. Overall, believe it or not, I’m actually a really positive guy. But little things, like people who go to make a left and they’re the first one in line and they don’t pull all the way out into the intersection so that me and the guy behind me can make it too, like that kinda thing literally drives me crazy. That bugs me. But the craziness of being in this business, I just know that all I gotta do is keep being funny so I see it everywhere.
You talk all the time about how you’re at the critical age—in your forties, not married, no kids. Is this part of the act or are you actually as terrified of moving on as you say you are? Do you actually want to go forward with your life?
I definitely want to, without a doubt. But I gotta admit, talking to married guys… there’s just a misery in their voice. Every once in a while you meet like a truly happily married guy. But maybe I just caught him in a really good time in his relationship and I’m catching the others in some bad times. Either way, it’s absolutely terrifying to me. I don’t make stuff up about my life. I have a dog, I am in a relationship, I am terrified of getting married, I am in the conspiracy theory and I do have anger issues. There aren’t a lot of layers to my acts.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
When young people come out to the show, it really helps the comedian.
I really hope we get some kids to come out. When young people come out to the show, it really helps the comedian. It helps you stay current so you don’t have kids sitting there looking at you like “this guy sucks.” I have to do some stuff about that DJ with the big-ass mouse head, I gotta try and stay up on that kind of stuff. It’s a weird game as you get older, you have to stay current with what young people are into, but realize that you’re too old to be into that too. So you can still talk about it and they can relate to it, but what’s funny is that it’s coming from someone in their mid-forties like me. Everyone should come out, it’ll definitely be a good time.