Bill Burr Interview
Bill Burr, one of the most lauded comedic voices of his generation, is coming to Pittsburgh’s Benedum Center on April 6. Featured in shows like Chappelle’s Show and Breaking Bad, the comedian boasts a large screen presence in addition to his stand-up specials.
The Tartan sat down with Burr to discuss his upcoming performance. In the interview, writers Rohit Harlalka and Natalie Schmidt are “R” and “N,” respectively, and Bill Burr is “B.”
R: I’m looking forward to seeing you live on Friday in Pittsburgh. I’ve been following you, since I was a teenager, so I’m really excited!
B: Oh, that’s awesome! I’m ready to go! I’ve written a whole new 90 minutes, and it’s been a minute since I’ve been in Pittsburgh. I’m flying in a day early, 'cause Randy Baumann from WDVE has been putting me on since 2006 or 2007, and he’s one of the major reasons that I was able to finally start selling some tickets in Pittsburgh. I love those guys.
R: I love your “City Tour” videos. Do you think you’ll have time to do one here?
B: I should do one! Since I’ve had my daughter, traveling’s been a little different than the way I used to do it. I don’t want to miss her being a little girl, so I just fly in the day of. I don’t have much time in cities the way I used to, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make because she’s awesome.
N: Has it gotten any easier balancing touring since the start?
B: Sometimes after shows, you’re like, oh man, I’m missing something [my daughter's] doing! But, that’s where FaceTime comes in, thank God. It’s one of those deals where, if I was a plumber, I’d still have to go out and fix things. But, I’m home a lot. I work two weekends a month, most of the stuff local. I just build the schedule around her, which is a fun thing to do.
R: What would you say is the most satisfying part about your job?
B: It’s the dream of mine to be a comedian, to go around the country and sell tickets. I have to work at living a dream! (laughs) When I had other jobs, my motivation was getting the hell out of there. I’m not gonna lie to you, there were definitely a lot of tough years and tough gigs. Even then, I get to do what I love.
R: Do you remember the worst you ever bombed?
B: I don’t think about them, but I could sit here for hours and tell you all kinds of stories of getting stuff thrown at me, getting fired, people writing letters. I was never the flavor of the month, so I had to do all the gigs, so I have the stories! (laughs) I do have a lot of empathy for people who get shot up the ladder. They have to figure out all of this stuff when they’re in their twenties, and it’s not an easy thing. Life is all about getting knocked down and learning how to come back up even harder. Not being stupid about it and keep running into the same wall the same way, you adjust and try to get over it. That was a skill I didn’t have early on, and I used to get eaten up by a lot of things. It’s gotten to the point now that when I do get knocked down, I get this adrenaline rush. It’s weird, it’s just like, “Alright, you just watch this. I’ll come back f***ing harder.” (laughs) They’re not telling young people things like that. They’re telling them, “You can do whatever you want blah blah,” but they’re leaving out how hard you have to work and how you gotta develop that skill of getting punched in your face, falling on your ass, and then getting back up again and learning how to stop your brain from sending you negative messages and that you can’t do it. You gotta be cognizant of those thoughts and beat the shit out of them so they don’t take your dream away!
N: A lot of people have a lot of different reactions to your comedy, and I think it’s because you have a really different outlook. What’s your process writing new material?
B: It’s a combination of saying what I’m thinking and trying to annoy people before I go somewhere. (laughs) Sometimes, if a crowd is being overly sensitive, I will deliberately say things that make ‘em groan, and then I go even harder in that direction until they start laughing because it’s so ridiculous! If someone’s being malicious and hateful, and that’s all they’re doing, I understand that. The amount of people that waste all this energy getting offended for another group of people that won’t even get offended by the joke is ridiculous. There’s a couple of bits that I’ve actually done in front of the group of people — and this isn’t a race or religion thing, it’s more like a branch of the government — and they love them. I think comics get in trouble because it’s lazy journalism. A lot of people that should be getting s**t don’t because they’re advertising these on news channels. But when we do a gender-neutral joke or something like that, all of a sudden it becomes like this big thing. And it’s just a giant pile of nothing.
N: Do you find it harder being a comedian nowadays?
B: No. Absolutely not, I find it way more fun because it’s bulls**t! A majority of people don’t go to a comedy show to get offended. You do a show in front of 500 people and 499 enjoy it, and one person complains, that’s what people focus on. If you had that approval rating as a president, you’d be the most popular president of all time! And if Donald Trump taught me anything, I couldn’t believe the lack of follow-up with the press when he ran for president. They would call him out on stuff and he’d be like, “I never said that!” and they’d go, “Yeah you did!” and he’d say, “Eh, you’re probably right!” And then nothing after that. I guess they were so used to people trying to dodge questions, and not owning up to it. And it’s just like, “Now what do we do?” The first person I ever saw do that was Madonna. They found nude pictures of her. She goes, “Oh you found those? I got better ones.” And it was supposed to be a huge scandal, but she just completely didn’t give a shit. The whole thing just died. Which is cool to see a pop star do that! And this isn’t some kind of liberal rant, I didn’t like either one of ‘em.
N: F is for Family got picked up for a third season. What’s it like writing for that show now that you’re a father yourself?
B: The only difference was I tried to get out of the writer’s room a little earlier (laughs). ‘Cause I spend time with my daughter in the morning and then I’d go to work. I’d miss her, and she’d nap, and then she has the afternoon when she’s up and then she’d nap again. So I’d miss the afternoon thing. But once a week my wife would come in for lunch and she’d bring her. That’s all. I’m not gonna do this thing where I’m a dad now and I’m gonna pretend like I’m not a crap moron, you know? That is what I am, and that’s what got me here, I’m not gonna sit there all of a sudden with this “holier than thou” schtick.
R: Do you think you’re gonna focus more on shows like F is for Family now, or continue doing stand-up for the foreseeable future?
B: Oh God no. No way! This business is a hustle. If you have any sort of hustle in this business that you have control of, you can’t let that go. My stand-up and my podcast are my number one things because I can’t fire me. I love doing F is for Family, but that show ends the second Netflix decides they don’t want to do it anymore.
R: It’s good to hear that you’re sticking with the stuff you like to do!
B: Yeah! I love doing F is for Family and I love the people I work with. It’s great, their notes are unbelievably supportive. At the end of the day, it’s their show. Plus, I love doing standup, I love doing my podcast, but it would be too unsettling to be in a position like that with anybody where they could fire me. And I think that for anybody who’s ever worked with themselves, to go back into that situation would be a little scary.
N: Was it a big change writing standup as opposed to writing an animated Netflix show?
B: Jokes are jokes. I didn’t know how to write a script, really. My writer’s room is wall-to-wall killer, I learn from them every day. The great Mike Price, the co-creator of the show from The Simpsons, just watching how he runs the room. I could get too focused on a conversation or bit, and he’s the guy that keeps the story moving. I didn’t get it at first, I was like, “Aw man, you cut out this whole chunk, blah blah blah,” and I didn’t realize that it was spinning off into this whole tangent, I wasn’t staying on story. With each season, I feel like I’m getting a little bit better at that. There’s definitely days when the script isn’t working and I think, “how the hell did I sign myself up for this?” But the days when it is – which are most days – it’s worth it.
R: I’ve always wanted to ask you — if you were God for a day, what would be the first thing you would do?
B: I’m trying to think of the one thing that would fix the most things. I would somehow restructure corporations, so that they actually function in a human way. I think that would eliminate a lot of wars. I don’t think that people who work in corporations are evil, I think the way the game is set up is. I would like to think that people wouldn’t want to kill other people so they could make a profit. But I don’t understand [why] war is still legal. They talk about the economy, but they don’t say the real thing: you have dead bodies on your conscience. It’s so funny to me to see Hollywood people going, “I’m gonna run for President!” It’s like, “Dude, you’re gonna have to make decisions where to drop bombs and they’re gonna land on somebody’s baby and you’re gonna to go to bed justifying that.” You wanna be that guy that makes that f**king decision? I have learned though, that we gotta stop blaming each other and we have to just sit down and try to figure out how to get out of this thing.
R: Is there anything you want to say to people who are going to your shows this weekend?
B: I want to say thank you so much for buying tickets and allowing me to continue to live my dream! I plan on giving you more than your money’s worth! And Go Bruins! (laughs) That’s for the Penguin fans out there!
To see more of Burr, check out his Netflix specials, his podcast Monday Morning Podcast, and be on the lookout for his feature in the 2018 film The Front Runner.