By Lisa Morgan
Comic Bill Burr might seem to some, to be an overnight success. With recent roles in AMC’s uber popular television show, Breaking Bad as “Kuby” and in the smash comedy hit movie, The Heat alongside Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock, his star is definitely on the rise. But this recent success is the result of 21 years of, as Bill puts it, “climbing the stairs to the castle one step at a time.” His resume reads like the average comedian’s bucket list: He appeared in the March 26th episode of New Girl on FOX, and the Al Pacino and Christopher Walken film “Stand Up Guys”. He is an international headliner who sold out Carnegie Hall, three shows at The Sydney Opera House, and his second European theater tour. He has a Monday morning pod cast that is one of the most downloaded comedy pod casts on the web. AND, as if that wasn’t enough, Bill is a regular guest on Letterman, Conan and Jimmy Fallon. He even co-wrote a book titled “Cheat” inspired by the short film he co-wrote, co-produced and co-starred in. Then compliments above all compliments, Bill received the prestigious Comedian of the Year Award from the Boston Comedy Festival, a true statement of appreciation from his peers. Out of everything that Bill Burr has done, performing stand up is his first and greatest love. And that is what Spotlight 29 will be bringing us, Saturday, September 7th at 8pm.
Despite his signature rants and sharp, witty knack for sarcasm, it turns out that, Bill Burr is, to the core, an extremely nice, hard-working guy who is very passionate about his craft. I had the fabulous opportunity to talk to him about how he started in stand up and what his future holds.
CVW: How did you get started in Stand-Up?
Bill Burr: I was sort of a shy class clown. If there were too many pretty girls or popular jocks in the room, I would tone it down. I knew the pecking order. But if it was a room full of regular people, I was more of a class clown. I have always loved standup comedians and comedic actors; if it was funny, I gravitated to it. I just thought that being funny was the best thing you could ever be. Once I decided to do it, I just took baby steps to get there. I had to get over my fear of public speaking. So every opportunity I had to get up in front of the class, I would do it. Then I got a job being on air at the college radio station behind a microphone. I got to talk to people, but I didn’t have to see them, so I baby stepped my way. Then there was a competition to find Boston’s funniest college student at the local comedy club, Nick’s Comedy Stop. So I just signed up before I chickened out. I went there, they called my name, and I went up…that’s about it. It was hang on for dear life, and then come back and do it again.
CVW: Did you ever imagine getting this far in the entertainment industry?
BB: I’ve been in this business for 21 years. Show business seemed really far away before the internet. I don’t think kids can understand that today. There were 5 or 6 major channels. If you even got on the affiliate stations, you were in the background waving. I didn’t even know how to get into it. A series of events led me to that first comedy club. I always dreamed it. I felt that I could do it, but it always seemed to be three to five years away. I’ve had a very gradual sort of assent in the business. I’ve never had that watershed you have arrived moment. I walked up to the castle one step at a time, which really works for me. I don’t think I’d have been able to handle that sort of overnight thing.
CVW: Out of everything you’re doing now, what part of it is your absolute favorite?
BB: Stand up is my favorite and always will be. Standup is just so pure. There’s no bells and whistles. You go out, take the microphone and create something. Once you get it down, the fact that it’s just you, it becomes an advantage. In the beginning, it feels like a kind of a disadvantage, but there comes a tipping point where it becomes an advantage because it’s completely streamlined…there aren’t 40 cooks in the kitchen; there’s just one person making the meal.
CVW: After all that you’ve already accomplished, what do you see in the future?
BB: Learning how to do standup is like learning an instrument – it’s limitless. That’s what I find fascinating about it. I’m going through a growth spurt right now. 21 years into it, and I’m learning how to do some things up there that I hadn’t been able to do before- things I was only comfortable doing off stage, I’m doing on stage. I have goals that will sustain me until I’m 90, God willing I live that long. I would love to see how far I can take things. I, just in the last 5 years, have started to feel comfortable. Usually when a comedian gets to this place, he gets sidetracked into doing other things outside of stand up. That’s so disappointing to me. I wanted to see what your next hour was going to be like. I want to try and be a master of stand up.
CVW: Can you tell me about your experience working on the set of the movie The Heat with Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock?
BB: It was an amazing experience, and I met lifelong friends. I think that is the best experience you can walk away with from something like this. I’m still in contact with a number of people form the movie, and we still try to hang out even though we all have busy lives. It was a Paul Feig movie, and by now everybody knows what that experience is like… he’s going to say action and let the camera go for 5 or 6 minute takes, just let you improvise and screw around and just have as many at bats as possible. And then he has this absolute arsenal of comedic takes. He’s really good at giving new people a shot. It was amazing! And Melissa McCarthy is one of the funniest human beings I’ve ever met. If she did stand up, she’d be a comedian’s comedian, and I would be standing in the back wall of the club listening every chance I’d get. She has that style which is my favorite style- she comes from a real place… not just wacky mad cap. I blew a lot of takes on that thing because she’d keep making me laugh. As much as she’s being funny, she means what she says and she’s fully invested. It’s a real pure form of comedy.
CVW: Your bio says that you hope to get married and have kids in the near future, but until then, you will continue to spend most of your mid-afternoons sitting in your sweat pants learning AC/DC songs on your SG. What kind of woman are you looking for?
BB: (said chuckling) Someone who’s a good enough person who can actually tolerate me.
As our conversation closed, we bantered back and forth a bit. I promised not to let it leak what a nice guy he was as it might spoil the image. He replied, “I would like people to know I’m a nice guy. People confuse me with my act and think I just blow up at stuff.” Then he began to thank me for helping him promote his show in El Paso. (Poor guy – it’s tough being in demand). When I assured him that I would be more than happy to but our paper’s reach was geared more toward his Palm Springs show. He laughed and said, “You should print that… that’s funny.”
I agree with Bill Burr; being funny is one of the greatest things to be and this guy brings it with the best of them. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to see comedy delivered in its purest form by this 21 year overnight success. You can check out his brilliant delivery on Conan at teamcoco.com/category/tags/bill-burr. You can also see him featured on Comedy Central’s Night of Too Many Stars Autism benefit at www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iGm4dl0ys4. Bill’s special, “You People are All the Same” is available as a download for $5 through his website and on Netflix.