Bill Burr Uses Flaws, Screw-ups, and Bowfishing to Fuel His Comedy
Facebook / Bill Burr
Despite his onstage agitation, Bill Burr is in a very good place.
The longtime comedian has secured his seat in the who's-who of stand-up without falling victim to bad TV sitcoms, publicity stunts, and other perils of growing celebrity status.
But that's not to say the man isn't busy
Between his heavily downloaded Monday Morning podcast, his on-screen roles in movies including The Heat and such TV shows as Breaking Bad, and a schedule of cross-country stand-up shows every other week, it's a marvel how the man manages to bring a steady influx of new material delivering his unapologetic views on women, bankers, and the rest of society he could do without.
Leading up to his one-night-only show at Celebrity Theatre this Saturday, Jackalope Ranch caught up with Bill Burr over the phone to discuss upcoming projects, his favorite comedians, and the method behind his madness.
How did you get into comedy? I just always liked stand-up, and I had a buddy who said he was going to try it. Next thing you know there was a competition at Nicks Comedy Stop, "Find Boston's Funniest College Student," and I just signed up before I chickened out and that was it. Next thing you know I was a comedian.
This past year, you appeared in Breaking Bad and The Heat. Are we going to be seeing a lot more of you on screen now? Yeah, I just did a movie with Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer called Black and White; it'll be out next year. And I did one earlier this year with Elizabeth Banks and Ethan Suplee called Walk of Shame.
Was acting something you always wanted to do in addition to the stand-up? I mean who doesn't want to be in the movies? Fake gun, I get killed or something... It's fun.
People talk a lot about your impressive work ethic. Is that what is takes to make it in comedy these days? Or is that just how you operate? Well I can only speak for me. It's what works for me. I grew up, you know, watching people working the way that I'm working. I don't look at it like I'm working any harder than anybody else. I just get up and I work. That's what you're supposed to do.
Will you ever reach a point where you feel you can relax? Where you feel like you've made it? No, I feel like I've made it. I feel like if you're a comedian and you have a following and people pay to see you and you can pay your bills and that type of stuff, you've made it. I mean that whole thing where you've got to feel like there's always something else... I'm not saying you don't keep challenging yourself, but to not enjoy it at some point that wouldn't work for me.
So I have a lot of free time despite how much I work. I guess the travel is probably the most time consuming part of the job, but other than that my job itself is a tremendous amount of fun. I never feel like I'm working. I feel like I'm just having a good time. And whenever I want to take a day off, a week off, a month off, I can do it.
I should take advantage of that. I've never taken a month off. How great would that be?
You're praised for bringing so much new material to the stage. What is your method for constantly finding that material? You live a full life.
So you put yourself in interesting situations? No, I don't like jump into shark infested waters. But look, I have a lot of flaws so I'm constantly screwing up in one way or another, be it literally, morally, or something. I'm always making mistakes. So there's that and then I'm also always trying new things. New things interest me. So when you try something new, you're not good at it, or you feel stupid, or something happens, and there's usually something that comes about, a story you can tell.
So what's something new that you've tried recently? I got a motorcycle license. I went bowfishing in the bayous in New Orleans. I watched Ken Burns' The War, like a 14-hour documentary on World War II. And all that stuff sort of smashes together with your own personality and your flaws and your feelings and fears and all of that. And then there's just what goes on in the everyday news and [when] you watch sports. And I guess I meet a lot of people when I'm on the road. And all of that is just a big gumbo.
But the thing is, for me anyway, I can't just sit down and go,"I'm gonna write jokes. Now it's time to be funny. Aaand let's go."
Something has to inspire me, and that's one of the things that is difficult about the business part of showbiz, if you get a gig where you have to write and everything.
Like one of the hardest things I ever did was writing for the ESPYs and it was different form my usual process which is basically like something strikes me as funny, like I'm not even looking for it and all of a sudden I just see something or think something and I'm like, "Oh wow I'm going to talk about that."
But this was like, "All right here's this topic. We need 10 jokes on this. Think of funny stuff. And begin."
And it was a great exercise and I already had respect for comedy writers, but now I have even more having done it basically that one time I did it.
Who are some of your favorite comics right now? Chelsea Peretti is one of my favorites. She's on that new show Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Sean Patton. Joe DeRosa, Paul Virzi, Jason Lawhead. A lot of guys that open for me. Joe Bartnick.
And Fortune Feimster. She's a beast. If she just did stand-up rather than getting all this acting work and guest hosting -- you know she's very successful -- if she just did stand up... I'm such a huge fan of stand up that I get possessive, that I'm like, "I just want to see you doing stand-up. Just keep telling those stories."
I just think with the art of stand-up comedy, you get to see a person so much more than if they're doing a monologue or writing for other people or something. You know a talent like her doesn't come around that often.
Is it good to have a schtick in comedy? Do you want to establish a particular style or voice? Well you've got to figure out what works for you. And usually for most people it's being themselves. But then there's other people that can really just do those character things amazingly. Like I just watched the Roast of James Franco and watching Bill Hader do that Mr. Hollywood character... I loved it. I thought it was absolutely hilarious and like that's something that I've never even tried to do. Like, "Hey I'm just going to be this character now. This is how this guy talks and how he stands, and this is his point of view on the world..."
So how similar is your offstage persona to your onstage one? It's probably similar to me when I'm either flipping out or anxious. Me on stage is me in heightened moments in my life offstage. You don't talk about boring and mundane stuff unless you're making fun of how boring and mundane your life is. But like I talk about stuff that bothers me or frustrates me or whatever.
I guess I definitely have a temper. But I'm not walking around just randomly yelling at people.
As you get more and more publicity do you notice any changes in your everyday life? No, I'm very low on the totem poll. I mean I'm doing alright with the stand up thing but believe me, I don't walk down the street and people recognize me. I mean it happens occasionally, but like I'm at a very fun level, where I'm selling tickets but people still don't know for the most part who I am.
So you can still live your life. Hell yeah. That's one of my goals. Right along with doing great specials, one of my goals is to not be a person of interest when I'm offstage.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Phoenix art and theater scene.