Say what you want about Bill Burr. The chances are he doesn't care. Riffing in an angry, acerbic, and anything goes-style of dark humor, Burr walks the stage with an agenda. While surely looking for laughs (after all, that's what pays the bills), at age 50, Burr is increasingly morphing from controversial stand-up comic into astute social critic. And we're better for it. Burr has famously called his onstage banter, "uninformed logic," the kind of sanctimonious rant heard from a drunken bro bellied up at the bar around closing time. But that description hardly encompasses the brilliant fury that charges through Burr's best work. We chatted with the comedian to hear what he's bringing to his Charleston shows.
City Paper: You're doing two shows the night you're performing in Charleston. For a fresh one-hour set, how many hours in a calendar year do you think you spend honing that material?
Bill Burr: I guess in three months you could slap something together. But it's not going to be good for a good eight months. It really takes two years for it to be where it's at right now. I don't think it's any different than bands when they're trying to get enough good material for an album; coming up with a riff here or there. From what I've read and gathered, writing comedy is really like trying to make music; once you come up with enough good songs, you drop an album. With comedy, you keep writing more bits and throw enough crap on the wall to see what sticks.
CP: You've done five really popular Netflix concert specials. Are they gunning for you to do one more?
BB: Oh, one more and call it a career? (Laughs). Well, they've been nice enough that whenever I've gone to them, they've always wanted to work with me. But I've been in this business long enough to know you don't take anything for granted.
CP: When you were starting out, late night TV was still the place where comedians could find the greatest exposure, along with scoring spots on shows like HBO comedy specials, Def Jam Comedy, and the earliest days of Comedy Central. When you talk with younger comedians today, do you think social media has totally changed their worldview of how to "get in" to the business?
BB: Yeah, I do. But I also think the way that I came in was totally different than someone who'd been doing comedy 26 years before me. I started in 1992 so 26 years before that was 1966. Back then, there weren't even comedy clubs or a road to do. Somebody would look at me and go, "Eh ... you kids, you come in with these comedy clubs! Christ, they're like Starbucks. They're all over the place!" Every generation can do that thing, "Oh, you had it better than me." You know, Jay Leno would do stand-up in front of strippers and shit like that. Those were normal gigs and by the time I came along those were considered "hell gigs." But for him, it was just a gig. So I think Leno and those guys had it a helluva lot harder than I had it. For as much as it seems like, "oh, you just upload some funny stuff on YouTube," and next thing you know you're this YouTube star ... everybody's trying to do that. So those one-in-a-million odds are always going to be there. Just because it's now easier to put yourself out there doesn't mean that less people are also trying to do this. It really just encourages more people to try. It's like being a white guy. People will say, "But all the doors are open for you!" Yeah, but every white guy on the planet is barreling toward that door. (Laughs). If you drive around the country and look at the amount of people that are struggling; nothing is easy.
CP: Walk Your Way Out was filmed right before the Presidential election and you were fairly diplomatic in kicking both Trump and Hillary in the ass during your performance. After all that's happened since, do you think some people look at early 2016 like this almost-quaint Little House on the Prairie time in America?
BB: No. Hell no. I sure as hell hope not. People think that America was fine until Trump got in there? It's ridiculous. How about the fact that one corporation basically took control of our food supply and essentially turned it into poison? And we're here allegedly fighting terrorism? That's gotta be the biggest terrorist act, ever. And now that same company is trying to force that same food on the rest of the word and they don't want it. We're looking at 3,500 jerk-offs on a jungle gym who don't have a plane or a boat and acting like they're going to come over here and overthrow our government. Jesus Christ. I do a joke in my act that I'd bet all of my money on half of our rednecks and whatever they have lying around their house against a full-on invasion, from ISIS and Al Qaeda to all of them, and they'd kick the shit out of 'em. But you'd have to spot the terrorists a boat or plane to even get over here. If they start Ubering boats, then we should start being a little concerned. Meanwhile, fruit now literally doesn't produce seed that you can plant? Who the fuck are these people and how do they get away with doing this shit? If ISIS is bad, what the fuck are these guys? So all of that went down while the Democrats and the Republicans held office, and they all turned a blind eye because they're grossly underpaid and set up to be bribed. They need corporate money. I was looking at getting solar panels for my house and that whole thing is a nightmare. You don't "own" the solar panels and any extra energy you make, they own it. Why is this free energy source that would actually get us out of the Middle East so difficult to acquire? Madness.
CP:I know you're a big sports guy. What do you think about Nike's move to have Kaepernick as part of their new ad campaign?
BB: Well, they knew there was going to be controversy and I think everything they are doing is coming down to some kind of profit. That being said, watching people burn their own sneakers — it'd be funny if it weren't so sad and pathetic. Jesus Christ, people. Know what I mean? And I just love how Kaepernick repeatedly said, "This is about police brutality," and people responded with, "No, that isn't your point. Your point is my point." Remember when you'd play baseball and the kids would grab the bat, and whoever grabbed the end of the bat got to go first? Now that fucking last grab is always the troops. Any time somebody spits out 9/11 or "the troops" at you, against any point you're trying to make, you're fucked. Whatever you're saying is no longer heard and now suddenly you, "don't support the troops" and you're making a Bundt cake for ISIS. It's a brilliant technique. Meanwhile, they actually don't give a shit about the troops and they make you look like a terrorist. Jesus, why did we have to get so heavy here right off the top?
Note: Originally scheduled for Sept. 16, this show was rescheduled for Sun. Sept. 23.