It’s one thing to “make it” in the world of stand-up comedy. It’s quite another to have a career and a body of work that spans the course of decades and illustrates the personal and professional evolution of the comedian in question.
In this sense, Bill Burr is part of one of the most exclusive siblinghoods there is. His name is on the shortlist of the “made” men and women of comedy, side by side with contemporaries such as Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman, Marc Maron, and the few dozen other names that are held in high regard by both the casual stand-up fan and the die-hard comedy nerd alike.
“In my opinion, [he’s] the greatest current working comedian,” says Michael Turner, co-host of the hit local comedy show This Week Sucks Tonight, which will be featured as part of the All Things Comedy Festival, an event Burr himself co-founded. “Every single special he puts out not only is among the best of its year, but it also shows the new tricks he’s learned. He acts as a great example of a work ethic we should all take note of.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in comedy who would disagree with Turner’s assessment. Frequently referred to as a “comedian’s comedian,” Burr has been grinding away at this for 26 years, and at age 50, he’s showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, it certainly seems like the best is yet to come, as unbelievable as that may seem. His animated Netflix series F is For Family will be entering its third season. His podcast has a devoted fan base who tune in to hear Burr’s acerbic take on a vast array of topics, from our current political climate all the way to botched pro-wrestling matches. He’s consistently touring and drawing bigger crowds than ever.
On top of all that, he’s a new father who recently earned his helicopter pilot’s license. Pretty impressive, considering most of us have to restructure our entire day if something as small as an impromptu trip to the post office lands on our lap.
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But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Burr is his evolution over the years, especially when you take today’s social climate into consideration. We live in a time in which the lines of what you can and can’t say are up for vociferous debate. In this sense, it has to be noted that any changes Burr has made in relation to his work have come from within, and not as result of any external pressure from the changing sensibilities of audiences or the unforgiving blogosphere.
While some comics have dug in their heels and given a defiant “no” to either long-overdue social progress or political correctness run amok, Burr seems to be completely unaffected by our recent paradigm shifts. He is who he is, and makes no apologies for it. Some comedians stay put and get bombarded by the waves, while some make a conscious effort to sidestep them, but in Burr’s case, the waves seem to part and pass him altogether. His comedy specials seem to evoke an attitude of “No, YOU move,” with such titles as I’m Sorry You Feel That Way, You People are All the Same, and most recently, Walk Your Way Out.
It’s this rock-solid sense of self that has led most of his detractors to throw up their hands and let Burr be Burr. He puts the onus on the general public to accept, and not on himself to adapt. Again, not an easy trick to pull off in 2018. But if anyone can do it, it’s Bill Burr.
Bill Burr. 8 p.m. Friday, October 26 at Comerica Theatre, 400 West Washington Street; 602-379-2800; comericatheatre.com. Sold out.