After 13 years on the road, the comedian finally hits the big time.
By Tasha A. Harris
Ever since he debuted on Chappelle’s Show last year, Bill Burr has made a few thousand new fans — and not by being the token white guy on the show but by consistently offering stellar performances in skits, most notably as a mock commentator for the race draft – where races lobbied to have ambiguously ethnic celebrities join their group – and his part in a Samuel L. Jackson-brand beer commercial sketch.
On the heels of his newfound popularity, the Boston-bred Burr along with Chappelle’s Show cohorts Charlie Murphy and Donnell Rawlings set out on the “I’m Rich Biatch” comedy tour.
Burr’s new HBO special premieres in September. He’s already writing a new half-hour of material, planning a DVD for release in October and meeting with writers for a new TV show. After 13 years in the business, Burr is finally taking off.
Punchline Magazine met with the comic in New York City, following a taping for Last Call with Carson Daly. He still looks camera-ready: business-casual attire, his face is lightly powdered. Burr’s disposition has changed from a year ago when we last spoke. No longer anxious about trying to land a deal at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival, he’s relaxed and upbeat, loquacious and insightful.
How did the “I’m Rich Biatch” tour pan out?
The tour was great. I love Charlie and Donnell. We had a great time and got along really well. But it was just one of those things — toward the end, I was ready to get off. I love doing standup, but when you’re out every weekend for eight months… Every comedy club has the exact same menu: mozzarella sticks, nachos and some sort of horrific chicken sandwich.
Did you bomb at all?
The last time I bombed was about an hour ago [on Last Call ]. It was just one of those deals where I was kind of freaking people out. The last time I really bombed was Saturday night, third show in St. Louis. They added this third show, so it was like a punishment. There were 37 people in the crowd and this kid was sitting in the front row. He was just staring. He’s sideways to the stage and he’s not even looking at me. He’s looking bored.
I just did this thing to get his focus, like, “Dude, did you not want to be here?” Just kind of joking around, trying to make him laugh, so he’d look at me. It seemed better than me standing on stage watching someone daydreaming. I go, “What are you doing?” He just goes, “You’re not funny.” Then I just ripped into him. Like, if you didn’t want to be here, why did you show up? So that’s kind of how I bomb nowadays.
Besides that, what’s the most recent thing that aggravated you?
I got into a huge argument about the Oprah bit I do. [Oprah Winfrey arrived at the HermÃƒÂ¨s boutique in Paris in June, 15 minutes after closing, and was denied entrance. Oprah has called it “one of the most humiliating days of her life,” according to her best pal Gayle King.]
I was actually arguing with [comics] Marina Franklin and Keith Robinson. They started giving me shit, saying, “Why do you hate Oprah?” But I don’t hate her. But by the same token, she recommends those books — that’s what bugs me. There’s no way she has time to read five 300-page books every ten days and then recommend the best one. She’s the star of her own show, a producer and owns a magazine. When is she reading all these books?
Oprah’s life aside, what else inspires you to write jokes?
I try to read a lot of different kinds of magazines. I’m not one of those guys who will sit there and read a book on astronomy. You know what I was getting for a while? Do you know the magazine F.E.D.S. ?
Yes, it’s a prison magazine.
I liked reading the stories and trying to figure out if this guy is going for a new trial. A lot of those guys are in there forever and they’re not getting out. There’s nothing to hide, so they will tell unbelievably crazy stories. I don’t necessarily like to read about positive things. Occasionally, I’ll pick up something about the environment or whatever catastrophe is on the horizon. So I mix all that shit together with my own experiences.
How was the comedy scene in Boston when you started?
It was great. If you listened to the headliners, they would say, “Five years ago, this place would be packed.” But I was just so excited to do it. There was Nick’s Comedy Stop, The Comedy Connection and Stitches Comedy Club. When some of the clubs closed down, it sucked for the established guys. But for the new people coming up, it wasn’t too bad because there was always a couple guys hustling and starting rooms.
I use to do clubs with Dane Cook and Patrice O’Neal. We were up there every Tuesday night and then we would go to Nick’s Comedy Stop. I started out with Patrice and Dane and every night they were coming down with new stuff. We just kind of became like this little clique. And it was like every night, Dane’s got something new and Patrice has something new. So I’ve got to have something new. We just pushed each other along.
Were you nervous about the HBO special?
I was scared to death because for the comics of my generation, HBO specials are like the pinnacle. I’m thinking of all these unbelievable comedians I’ve seen on HBO: Chris Rock, George Carlin, Damon Wayans, Richard Pryor and Billy Crystal. I started having a panic attack seeing my name in that list of people. It was pretty overwhelming. So I started watching the HBO Comedy channel.
What did you learn?
Some people kind of sucked on their specials. So I tried to think more about them than Eddie Murphy.
So the taping went well?
Afterward, I felt unbelievable. I just really felt like that was something that, before I started, I always wanted. I got it and I made the most of it. I felt 100 feet tall at the end of it. It was, without a doubt, the night of my life as far as my comedy career.
Bill Burr’s CD, Emotionally Unavailable is, oddly enough, available.
For more information, visit www.billburr.com.