Thursday, May 6, 2010

The BC Q&A: Bill Burr

Bill Burr says he’s happy. He should be. He’s got a new CD/DVD special, called Let It Go, coming out in August, he sold out two dates at the Comedy Connection Wilbur Theatre on Friday and added a third show for tonight, and he’s in the new Steve Carell/Tina Fey vehicle Date Night. He’s got his Monday Morning Podcast on which he gets to vent his spleen, had a short but successful tour o f the U.K., and he’s living in North Hollywood, a place he says he loves.

Not to worry, though. He’s not so happy that he’s lost his sarcastic edge. I spoke with him by phone last week about the new special, selling out his home town, and “Nature Boy” Ric Flair.

Coming from Boston and New York, was Los Angeles as big a change as the east coast versus west coast comedy bits would have you believe?

I lived out here for a little bit ten years ago. That was more of a culture shock because I wanted to live in New York at that time. But just, my career had taken me out here. And I ended up going back to New York. And I loved New York and everything. I stayed in New York just long enough where I still love the place and I didn’t get sick of it. It’s just one of those deals.

New York is awesome, but after a while, there’s something not natural about living with twenty floors above you and below you. You just feel crunched down after a while. You gotta get out of there. I like L.A., man. Even though the traffic is brutal, the people are a little flaky, there’s a lot more space out here. And I love the weather.

Do you still have anything like you had in New York, meeting the other comics at the Comedy Cellar?

Out here it’s the Comedy Store. The Comedy Store is the freak show. And I mean that in a good way. It’s a crazy place. I love it. The Improv is great for hanging out. The Laugh Factory. It just takes you a minute when you get out here to just sort of settle in and see who you’re going to hang out [with]. It’s like, moving to the other side of the country.

How tough are the crowds at the Comedy Store? I saw you there really working hard to win people over who seemed indifferent to every comic up there, including Dave Attell and Dov Davidov.

No, it can definitely be challenging. It’s not for the faint of heart. That’s kind of why I like it. I always end up in those comedy clubs where there’s a certain potion of comedians who just don’t work there because they think it’s too negative or too difficult or the crowds suck. I don’t know if it’s that Catholic upbringing where I have to punish myself, but I’ve always felt at home.

And I also saw the challenge of it. Oh, this is a tough room? Let me go in there and I gotta figure it out. The job that I have, there’s a lot of fear involved when you first start out and a lot of stuff you have to overcome. So I’ve always been of the mindset that, if you’re afraid of something, just jump in with both feet.

The rooms you were playing when you first started out in Boston had a similar reputation. Seems there were a lot of tough rooms here.

Oh yeah. Nick’s Comedy Stop was no joke. Back in the day, when they would paper that thing, and you had 400 people who thought they hit the lottery just because they got free tickets and couldn’t care less about the show? Kevin Knox used to go up there and slap them around, turn it into a show. And then you’d go up there and try to ride the wave that he crated.

Nick’s is celebrating 30 years this weekend with Don Gavin.

Wow. That’s unbelievable. I’m really happy that, even though it’s not the Nick’s that I knew, I’m really happy that it still exists. Most guys, the first place they started was either demolished or turned into a Forever 21, you know?

When did you get back from your tour of the U.K.?

It was really quick. It was like three one-nighters. I did London, Dublin, and Glasgow, Scotland. It was just awesome. An awesome, unbelievable experience, jus to go over there and see what worked. You know what reference worked and actually killed, and I didn’t have to change it over there? I made a reference to Ric Flair.

The wrestler Ric Flair?

Ric Flair is huge. I threw it out there just to see. It got this huge laugh. I was like, wow, I knew that guy was world famous, but that guy is famous famous. My girlfriend was over there, she was like, I can’t believe Ric Flair worked. I was like, yeah, he went to Japan I don’t know how many times. Those guys were travelling the world. It was awesome. I hope I meet him someday. I want to tell him that story, because he seems like just a great guy.

What’s the context for the reference?

I was talking about Tiger Woods, how they were trying to redo his public image. I was like, why are they doing that? He should just go out there and be the bad boy of golf. I said I’d go out there, I wouldn’t even be wearing a shirt. I’d go out there like Ric Flair. It goes on after that. People jus timmediately related to the joke. It got a huge laugh. Whereas other things, I talked about kickball in fourth grade and they didn’t know what that was so I had to switch that up. But Ric Flair is the man.

Was there a lot you had to change? I know people always fret about what might translate.

No, I tell stories about my life. I would think a guy like Dennis Miller would have a big problem. He has so many references to pop culture. I think it’s easier now with the Internet and YouTube, we’re becoming more like one whole nation. But they had something over there called – what the hell was it called? They had these two twins. Ah, Jesus, I can’t even remember their names. IT was like this American Idol thing, and there were these two kids who were really into Vanilla Ice, thought he was the shit, and they were twins, and they somehow combined their names. Whatever their names were, they took half of one name and half of the other and that’s the name that they went by. They’re sort of huge over there in Ireland.

Did you have time to write about what you discovered once you got there?

Ah, yeah, I made an ass of myself. I asked them in London if they had squirrels. I hadn’t seen any. Evidently, not only did they have them, they had red squirrels, and some idiot trying to impress women over there with his travels hundreds of years ago brought the gray ones that we have over here and they kicked the shit out of the red ones that they have, ‘cause they’re smaller squirrels. So now the red ones are protected. That’s what I learned during a show.

We’re even imperialistic in our animal husbandry.

Absolutely. Insurgent gray squirrels. If anybody deserves to be taken over, it’s England. A taste of their own medicine.

Especially by squirrels. That’s the first wave.

Exactly. You go subtle. You go subtle.

Once the red squirrels fall, you just push the rest of the country right over.

9/11. You just blame it on 9/11.

So you have the new CD and DVD coming out – when is that coming out?

We don’t have a release date yet. I’m guessing sometime in August is when it’s going to come out. And I’m also in that new hit movie, Date Night with Steve Carell and Tina Fey.

I saw that. I kept hoping you’d be the guy to kick down the door and shoot up the place in the end.

I did get to take Common down, though. You know?

Was that a fun shoot? They didn’t give you a lot to do as far as comedy.

Well, they were trying to do a thing where it was sort of serious, and the funniness mas more with Steve Carell and Tina Fey, and then those cops being dirty cops, they didn’t want them to be wacky dirty cops. That aspect of it was serious. So yeah, I had a couple of people say that. “I saw you, you were great, but you weren’t funny.” It’s the usual thing, “You’re a comedian, how come you didn’t have a lampshade on your head?” That’s not what the director wanted.

Would you want to do more stuff like that where you’re not necessarily in a comic role?

Dude, I would take anything that they want to give me. I’ve been taking all kinds of acting classes out here, and I really enjoy it. I’ve gotta tell you, comedy’s a lot harder. It’s like they say, it’s a lot harder than the dramatic stuff. I say that because, somebody might be messing up some drama stuff and it might take you a minute to figure it out, but when a joke bombs, it bombs, and everybody knows it.

It’s very hard in a dramatic thing, if the theater’s quiet and people are paying attention, it’s hard to tell, are they bored or are they actually riveted? Unless you turn the lights on and look at their faces. But if you’re watching a comedy, and it’s a packed theater and nobody’s laughing, it’s pretty obvious that it’s bombing.

It’s probably harder to diagnose comedy, as well. If there’s a problem with the delivery, you can’t necessarily just say, try it this way.

If you’re talking about testing it in front of an audience, for comedy, you have to do that. You have to see if stuff plays. That’s another thing, too. Me and two of my buddies, we wrote and shot a short film that we’re trying to get into short film festivals called Shooting Angles. I just saw the final copy of it, it looks great. So I’m hoping I’m going to get something out of that.

Is that the one you were talking about on the podcast?

Yeah. It came out really good. We did it for ten grand and shot it in three days. The acting in it is great, it’s really funny, and it looks awesome. I’m really, really proud of it, and I’m hoping it’s the first of many. It was me, Robert Kelly, and Joe DeRosa. We all came up with the story, Joe wrote it and directed it. We all produced the thing, put our money together. Lou Wallach came on board, from Comedy Central. We just got the final edit done, now we’re making copies, we’re trying to give it to everybody we can to move the careers along, as they say.

What’s the synopsis?

It’s one of those things I can’t tell you, because there’s a misdirection in the beginning that would give it away.

Are you going to do more with these characters, or do you want to do more short video in general?

I’m thinking it’s more the ideas. We’ve got another idea, something we’ve been kicking around. A couple of ideas, actually. There’s three of us, so we just sit there throwing out ideas. You throw an idea out there and it goes through the mulcher, and if it survives it, then we do it. And if not, we either try to add on to that idea or abandon it and move on to something else.

How would people keep tabs on that? Just listen to the podcast and watch your Web site?

And then Opie and Anthony. We had a lot of fun when we were shooting that. Jim Norton was joking around like he was upset he wasn’t asked to be in the film. And the reality was, we didn’t ask him because it was such a small part we didn’t want to insult him. It was classic Opie and Anthony, where they are somehow able to trash something and it actually ends up being positive and you get three days of great radio out of it. I know their listeners are aware of the movie. They did us a big favor by trashing us for not putting Jim in it.

Do you like doing the podcast? Is that something you’ve taken to?

Oh, yeah. I love doing it. And really, to be honest with you, it all came out of the idea to get my name out there and to hype my gigs, but another big part of it was, I remember when I had a day job and Mondays sucked. I hated going to work on Mondays. Actually, the reality was Tuesday was always more difficult than Monday, Monday I was such a zombie. I just figured give somebody something to look forward to on Mondays, if they enjoy it, just give somebody a laugh. People listen to it on their way to work, they listen to it in their cars, they listen to it when they work out, they download them. They listen to them on airplanes to get through flights.

It’s also one of those things where it’s a fun exercise for me a a comedian, where I get to talk about a lot of stuff I wouldn’t necessarily talk about onstage. A lot of topical stuff. I don’t waste my time too much with topical jokes, unless I’m building a new hour. Right now I’m putting together a new hour, so I need new jokes, so I’ll have more topical things.

But topical jokes, they’re almost like appetizers. It’s like, whatever, I’ll get some mozzarella sticks. It’s no big deal. But with the podcast, you don’t feel like you’re wasting your time on a comedy stage, where if you’re really putting together a great topical bit, by the time you’re going to do a special a year and a half later, you’re going to seem like a guy who hasn’t written any jokes.

So the material you’re working on now is different from the material you did last time you were in Boston?

Yeah. It’s pretty much all different. It’s gotta be. I haven’t been there sine February of last year. I’ve written a new hour since then. So it’s going to be all different.

Are you still trying to keep on track to do a special every year or year and a half?

No, no, it was every two years. I think I might wait three years this time. Hopefully I’ll have some major life changes. I got some brilliant advice one time where it was just like, if you don’t have anything to say, don’t say anything. In two years, if I feel I have something to say and I want to record it, I will. But I’m feeling like this next one’s going to be about three years.

Do you feel like you’re running out of things to say?

No. Christ, it’s not like I’m 70. No, I don’t feel like I’m running out of things to say, but it just feels like three years will be right for the next one. My life is really nice right now. It’s on an upswing. I’ll always have a new hour every year, but it’s like, I think two years is the quickest you can put it out and still have a memorable special.

Is it harder to write from a place of happiness?

Yeah, but when you have happiness, you have the fear of losing it. You just tap into that paranoia. It never ends. I just don’t ever feel, like when you said do you feel like you’re running out of things to say, it’s just like, Jesus, my problem is I can never shut up. I do a podcast where I babble for 50 minutes and I have no problem filling that 50 minutes. I don’t really repeat myself, either. It’s why I enjoy doing radio, it’s why I enjoy doing stand-up. Running my mouth is something I’m good at.

Does it mean more to you to have added more shows in Boston?

Well, considering most of the acts that come through town only do one night, those are big acts, the fact I was able to do two Fridays and one Thursday, that’s huge for me. It’s the stuff you dream about as a comedian. Man, what if I could do Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, a venue that big? That would be unbelievable. And just have a killer hour. And that’s what you need, too, man. You need a killer hour. That’s the perfect amount of time for people to see you. That’s the perfect amount of time where, if you do your job, they’ll leave wanting to come see you again.

3 comments:

Christian said...

Bill Burr deserves to be known by everybody. He's one of the best comedians out. So brutally honest... and FUNNY at it.

Christian Lee
http://ChristianLeeLive.com

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Comedy said...

Tottally agree with Christian...

Bill Burr is really one of the best comedians...