Bill Burr rants on alternative comedy: ‘I’ve had it with nerds!’ (Audio)

By | March 28, 2012 at 12:01 pm | 97 comments | Audio/Video, feature slider, News | Tags: , ,

Never one to shy away from saying exactly what’s on his mind, especially on his Monday Morning Podcast, comedian Bill Burr this week delivered a six-minute rant about why he hates alternative comedy and ultimately why the sub genre’s very presence negatively affects the world of stand-up.

Burr cites NBC’s The Office has a prime example of alternative comedy creeping into the mainstream, calling its characters cartoon-like and says the show is completely unwatchable. “I’ve had it with nerds,” he says. But Burr gets even more specific, real fast.

“I resent the alternative comedy scene for one reason only,” he says. “That scene created a situation; it basically distilled all of the horror out of attempting to be a comedian. No heckling, no drunks, no obnoxious behavior, no aggressiveness [from the crowd]; every fucking reason it takes balls to be a comedian; every fucking reason that people wanted to be a comic but never fucking did it, they’ve removed [those things] from the situation and [they’ve] created this fucking comedy womb.”

“It’s like stand-up comedy with training wheels,” he adds. “But you never take them off.”

Check out the entire monologue below, and tell us what you think. Do you agree with Burr? Is he being too hard on the alt-comedy scene, or not hard enough?

[via Cringe Humor]

About the Author

Dylan P. Gadino

Dylan is the founder and editor in chief of Laughspin. He launched Punchline Magazine in 2005 (which became Laughspin in the summer of 2011) with childhood friend Bill Bergmann. Dylan lives in northern New Jersey with his wife and two sons. He hopes the Shire is real.

  • Quentinsentials James

    Funny is funny. Bill Burr is funny, but I hate bitter stand ups who think they own the form.

  • Rick Torres

    I know I’m four years late to this party, but who is this Howdy Doody looking motherfucker to talk about being sick of nerds? As Dave Chappelle told Burr during the “Racial Draft” sketch, “man, fuck you!”.

  • PDuff

    That’s like saying that all doctors must work long hours as a resident or all those rushing frats must summit to hazing, simply because that’s what others in the past had to do. There’s a reason we don’t have to hand-crank our cars anymore to start them: Because that crank was replaced with an easier and more convenient way to do it. All I ask is that you make me laugh, whether that’s coming from a stand-up, improv, a TV show or a film. Not having to put up with drunk hecklers? Even better.

  • Bull Cusby

    And this puny balding gingerhead isn’t a nerd lol, the guys a douchebag! An arrogant phucwad. Found funny by white gun collectors, outside of The Usa …cough Cough NYC and Boston no one even knows who this redneck is.

  • etiennes

    Bill Burr is a funny stand-up comedian but also quite dumb. His “opinions” are mostly awful but he has a way to say them that makes one chuckle instead of run away. But that doesn’t mean they’re still awful. Also, he seems a little too self-conscious about him being seen as a “man’s man” – the cigar smoking, the pitbull, the SUV, the NFL fandom, all point to a guy that’s pretty insecure and making up for it with comedy. He’s basically all delivery, if any other guy would do that material people would be leaving inside five minutes.

  • Sweatcold

    I agree with Bill. PC has killed comedy, and the audiences are simply getting dumber and dumber. Alt. Comedy audiences are basically pre-programmed to hate certain buzz words regardless of the context, and to only laugh at “clever” premises vs. things that are just wrong on every level.

    A big round of applause for Dave Atell who’s underground comedy show is devoted to keeping edgy material alive and well. Edgy doesn’t necessarily just mean profane, either; it’s more about taking the audience to the precipice and inviting them to look in and occasionally dive into the abyss. Alt. comics take no risks, and if people enjoy them, that’s fine–but they’re not my cup of tea.

  • Kill Nick Thune

    I hate online bickering. I wish I knew Burr and we could get a beer. Love ya, thanks for being real, and F all these relativists. I live in this crazy beautiful city NYC and love real standup So what? Let me tell you the fundamental element that makes comedy an art form- Being TRUE. True comedy is killed by this repetitious garbage. It is not “relative” or humor “in the eye of the beholder”, well if this were the case, wanna be comedians who are lacking in material and skill & ability would be where Bill Burr is (ahem) and YES I like Oswalt too goes without saying on some level.. I am sorry Burr just makes sense, common sense, and whether or not you agree his points are relevant and being talked about throughout his career. Can any of these other guys say the same? I would love Bill Burr to do a Joe Rogan and bust these little girls up in a comedy showdown, Now That’s an idea.

  • J. Yates

    If comedy is art then it’s about freedom of expression, so whether you like it or not is irrelevant. There are good and bad alt comics as there are good and bad in every other ‘fucking’ (seeing as swearing every two seconds seems to be your thing) avenue of life. I like a variety of comics out of the wealth I have to chose from, I don’t limit myself because of pre-supposed convictions. Saying ‘I think this is shit and so should everyone else’ isn’t a rationalisation; it’s YOUR opinion.

    I’m sorry to hear this is having such a profound effect on your career. I empathise, I do. As an aspiring photographer there are many people earning more money than I ever will through their work because their style is just more appealing to the masses. Get past your jealousy/anger/frustration and keep ‘fucking’ working. If you’re funny enough surely you’ll prevail? You never know, like many artists you might only make it after you’re six feet under.

    And by the way, this article riled me; notice the balanced view though? This is why your argument is invalid.

    • abasslinelow

      I hate this argument so much. Art CAN be rated, and it can be rated objectively as well. Any form of art. Music, film, comedy, theater… there is objective criteria with which to judge these things, and it’s perfectly valid. If I shit on a canvas and call it art, does that exclude it from criticism? Should we all smile and nod and say it’s wonderful that someone is expressing themselves?

      Above that, you commit the same exact faux pas you accuse Bill Burr of. “Art is about freedom of expression, so whether you like it or not is irrelevant” isn’t a rationalization; it’s YOUR opinion. But seeing as I don’t believe that, and my point is that definitions CAN be set and value judgments CAN be made pertaining to art, let’s attempt to quantify and define things anyway and see how it turns out.

      Google says the definition of art is:
      The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

      Human creative skill and imagination. Beauty or emotional power. These things matter. Art isn’t simply “freedom of expression” and nothing else. That’s trivializing something so, so much deeper than that. That’s comparing Backstreet Boys to Mozart. That’s comparing Battlefield Earth to Schindler’s List. That’s comparing clip art to Picasso, or a Big Mouth Billy Bass to the invention of the car, or a Precious Moments figurine to Michelangelo’s David. Using your definition, these things are all exactly equivalent, with absolutely no difference in artistic ability or expression. Is that what you honesty believe?

  • Asashii Fustazi

    the only thing i have seen in the past decade was funny was the the Green room show, everything else is watered down garbage and its over done, and those comedy delivery formulas have been over done. political correctness doesnt help either. give me Bobcat over any of these cookie cutter wannabe idiots anyday of the week, Whats in the bowl B!tch!!!!!

  • JP

    There is a parallel of this regarding music. There is a very similar attitude with the indie music scene and culture that is completely obnoxious. However, unlike apparently the comedy scene, the indie music can be really good. I think Bill may have been in to the Pixies band. There is a parallel there. The Pixies took big chances and wrote/played from the heart. However, now their music has the stamp of approval of the hipsters (as a sort of vintage band), and they’ve been ripped off and intellectualized. (Something like that…)

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  • Coreykennedy37

    If this guy is THAT upset about alt comedy, then I’m guessing he’s not to happy with his career in general.  He needs to stop worrying about what others are doing and focus on his own goals.  I’m not sure what alt really is, but it sounds like storytelling and coffee shops with intelligetn people listening…in other words a Bill Cosby or David Sedairs type of comedy….which to me is way funnier that aggressive mean put down comics.  Basically an evolution in humour.  

  • Al

    What’s the big fucking deal?
    Im a comic and I have been labeled an alt comic and i frankly dont give a crap.
    Its marketing and advertising pure and simple-to become a headliner or even any kind of comic you eventually have to have an audience.
    Alt comics have their audiences-smart people who love their shit.
    Mainstream comics have their their audience-working class to undereducated middle class people who love their shit.
    Its business-pure and simple.
    Alt comedy makes money and opens a niche for smart comics whom comedy clubs as a whole arent interested in.
    End of story.

  • Jason Wayne

    Completely agree. The Alt-Scene has been played out. Just like all scenes and movements before it. It starts out awesome by brilliant people innovating and it all eventually devolves into hack shit. Remember when Observational Comedy played it self out in the late 80’s and everyone made fun of comedians talking about airlines? That’s where alternative comedy is right now. Except hack alt comics are pretentious, hack club comics aren’t.

  • Guest

    I don’t get why we’re trying to put comedy into one box. I think Bill is just talking about certain comedians that annoy him and they happen to be part of a certain scene. As others have put, if you can make people laugh then you’re doing your job. I mean not everyone finds the same things funny, that is the beauty of comedy. 

  • NoThanksPal

    What a joke. If he thinks alt comedy crowds are somehow easier to play to, he’s lost his goddamn mind.

  • A guestest w/ the bestest

    Lets start name dropping here, because this is all just generalization.Because I like both Club Comics and Alt Comics (if I’m forced to caterigize them into 2 groups), and I’d be interested to see who’s being a bitch in the club rooms, and who’s working all the rooms, like they could be.

    • Cincinnatihipster

      The biggest problem of this whole thing is not “naming names”. I know it’s against the comics code, but most people think, when you say “Alt comedy sucks” think you are saying “the writers & performers on Mr. Show sucks”. Bill doesn’t think that. So name names. What’s the big deal?

      I consider myself an alt-comedy fan but I think the American “Office” sucks, I think Nick Thune sucks & I think Charlene Yi sucks. Maybe it’s more improv people trying to do stand up that sucks rather than alt comedy? I don’t know…

  • Tony

    I think that taking Burr’s opinion on such a petty thing is a waste of web space. Anyone taking anything a comedian says, and making into some kind of controversy complete bullshit.

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  • Mike David

    Does anyone notice that Bill’s podcast is one of the only “comedy” podcasts that is ACTUALLY funny?  Seems like far too many people are into discussing comedy and “nerding out” about it than those who actually PRODUCE IT.  I love the nerding out part.  But half the comedy podcasts on iTunes should be in a different category.  They do not PRODUCE comedy.  They all just interview each other.  I like that and listen to all of those, but remember when comics were more interested in making people laugh than discussing it?  The old saying, “less talk more rock” comes to mind.  Bill rocks.

    This little rant -whether you agree with it or not-  is something that will ultimately HELP comedy.  The people who think what he is saying is “harsh” are exactly the same people he’s referring to.  Comedians are slowly becoming a group of very self consicious, scared, hypocritical NERDS.   By “nerds,”  I don’t mean people that are into Apple products.  I’m talking about people that were social outcasts when they were younger and maybe picked on and are now finding comfort in comedy scenes.  It’s a nice safe place where you never have to be invited, but yet get to hang out with a group of people every night that are all just like you.  How great is that?

    None of them are actually even friends with each other. Not in the real sense of friendship at least.  A comedy show or open mic is one of the only places you can show up alone,  uninvited and “socialize” with a group of people without the fear of rejection.  You dont have to ACTUALLY make friends, or sit by the phone waiting for someone to invite you out. You can just show up, and pretend that you have a life.

    Here’s the catch – you gotta start doing stand up in order to “fit in” without looking like a weirdo/stalker.  All of a sudden, the world’s rejects are now all doing comedy!

    Is this a bad thing?  Not entirely.  But it is a thing.  I think that Bill Burr is more upset at the attitude of these kinds of people rather than them just being “nerds.”  The nerds I assume he is referring to are not the innocent, sweet boys and girls that everyone wants to think. They’re not underdogs, or secret geniuses that were never given a shot. They’re weird, bitter, vindictive people that emulate each other and talk just as much shit as any “bully comic.”  The difference is, they talk “pre-approved shit.”

    There are all sorts of topics that “nerds” are allowed to shit on that are just as “evil” as Bill’s rant.  The difference is that the scene seems to come up with these sets of rules that they all follow.  All of the topics that they claim to be superior to usually stem from a feeling those topics or jokes give them.  They most likely are reminded of being picked on whenever they hear or see a comic who is good looking, confident or is making fun of things that weren’t okayed by Chris Hardwick. (Not dissing Chris there – I’m a big fan).

    The best comics never seem to doubt their comedy.  They don’t follow trends, they dont worry about being offensive, and they dont constantly apologize after every joke they make that could possibly offend someone.  Have you listened to these comedy podcasts out there?  No one can just ever say anything without instantly saying “just kidding” or quickly retracting and explaining in the case that someone out there might be bothered.

    The sensitivity and over-thinking is putting the brakes on comedy.  The “community,” everyone gets a trophy mentality is getting a little too out of hand.  By the way, for those of you who think the “be nice to everyone thing” is a great thing, it would be a good thing, if everyone wasn’t just pretending.  All of these so-called sweethearts sit around talking shit about one and other.  The same type of behavior that they claim they’re above.

    I don’t think any of this has to do with alt comedy vs. club comedy or any of that crap.  I think it’s all about who’s got the balls to do comedy and who doesnt. NOT EVERY SINGLE PERSON THAT WANTS TO DO COMEDY IS MEANT TO DO COMEDY!  The comedy scene has become more of a hangout for lonely people rather than a place where truly talented people go to practice and hone their craft.

    Right now we have a large number of comics that simply are not built or prepared to be comedians.  Never have I seen so many comedians afraid to do clubs -and by the way: You FEAR the comedy cellar? Wow.   Now that almost all of them have their own podcasts, we can really see how weasely and scared they really are.  They contradict themselves on a daily basis.  They get teary-eyed over negative reviews. They dwell on twitter trolls that they dont even know.  They won’t make certain jokes based on whats trending in being offensive.  Their “opinions” are those of their colleagues and peers instead of their own.  On top of all that, most of them are not even that funny. They may be likable to a certain crowd -their crowd of people like them- but are they really making us die from laughter?  Are they inspiring us or is it that they are just safe, come off as harmless, and seem to be somewhat successful?

    Again, I want to make it clear that I am not against most of these people.  I listen to over 30 comedy podcasts and like all sorts of comedy, but the real problem is this careless path of converting ALL comedy into something that really may not even BE comedy.  Maybe this “nerd thing” is it’s own new genre.  Fantastic if it is!  My issue is that they are starting to place restrictions on comedy that reminds them of being picked on.  Since when were you not allowed to say whatever you want as a comedian?  If I shit on Dr. Who fans I’m considered a bully. However they seem to give themselves permission to shit on anything non-nerd.  Thats the problem that people are having now.

    “Nerd” is hot right now.  Podcasting is hot right now.  Sharing your feelings is hot right now.  Tweeting things only to impress other comics and collect followers is hot right now.  Some day “being funny” will be what’s hot again.  No restrictions, no rules, just whatever is funny is king.

    Bill Burr is funny.  On mic.  Off mic.  On Stage and podcast. Every time.  Can we really say that about the other 90% of people involved in comedy?

    Thanks Bill for not being scared.  The scene, industry and community is getting bigger than it’s talent.  I can completely relate to your frustration.


    • Dr Kerporkian

      Mike’s response should be it’s own article.  Today more than ever, it seems more people are getting up on youtube, sitting behind a mic, or going up on stage with the attitude, “people have told me I’m funny, so whatever I say will be funny”.  It isn’t.  All that attitude does is create a sub-genre of people talking out loud and hoping something, anything, will be funny.  They don’t seem to realize that content is comedy.  You need jokes to make people laugh, not a common interest in something that falls under the umbrella of “nerdy”.  And you know what?  We get it now.  Nerd is hip, hipsters are in and all that.  But that doesn’t make these shows or podcasts funny.
      I completely agree with Mike and I think he hit the nail on the head with  They’re weird, bitter, vindictive people that emulate each other and talk just as much shit as any ‘bully comic.”  The difference is, they talk “pre-approved shit.’

    • Adam

      Mike really did nail this on the head.

    • Amack

      Well said Mike. Can’t stand how at the end of every podcast with comedic or non comedic guests you hear “you should totally have a podcast”. No…you shouldn’t; but unfortunately, shortly thereafter, they do. iTunes “comedy” is completely overrun with no content shows filled with garbage interviews. Not entertaining, or comedy.

      • Eric

        I’m pure speculating here so feel free to chime in… it seems to me that podcasts are fostering the alt/nerdy stand up comedy scene many times more so than traditional/road comics because majority of podcast listeners are generally nerds. Therefore alt/nerd comedy is blowing up faster and bigger so its effectively becoming mainstream, or at least beginning to overshadow modern comedy.

        So ironically podcasts themselves are another comedy womb that are disproportionately building up alt/nerd comedy.

    • Pchase122

      Well spoken Mike!! The thing I hate about “Alt Comics” is that they are so fake. Nobody is like this in real life, so it’s hard for me to relate to some of the awkward bits they perform, it’s even harder to laugh at them. 

      Comedians are supposed to make a room full of strangers laugh plain and simple. If they can’t seem to do this most of the time, they need to either work on their act, or realize they might not be cut out for stand up and walk on. (with pride and dignity for attempting something that isn’t easy). If beginner comics did this, there would be no such thing as Alt Comedy. 

      Patton Oswalt is not an Alt Comic, he’s a Funny Comic, which is why he’s performing on TV and in theaters and not at some coffee shop with a chip on shoulder (and his panties in a bunch cuz the skinny jeans are too tigh)

    • ValleyTrash

      Seriously, someone give Mike a weekly column here or something. This guy knows what he’s talking about!

    • anonymous

      Nerd haters can kiss my ass for all I care and so can you and that biased BIll.

  • Dale Zawada

    Love Bill Burr.  I talked about this a couple weeks ago:

  • brijazz012

    Alt comics haven’t worked the club circuit? Havent been heckled by drunken loudmouths? I’ll bet that Patton Oswalt, Blaine Capatch, Brian Posehn, etc. would disagree. Hell, Patton even talks about emceeing an open mic in Toronto on one of his albums. Its not like these guys are sticking to the safety of hipster spots in Williamsburg. I like Bill Burr, but he’s off-base here.

    Moreover, I’ve always put Bill into the same “class” of comedians as Patton and other (ahem) alt comics. I’d be more interested in hearing him outline how his entry into the business has been so different than those comics he’s railing against.

    • BP

      Burr notes at the end that the comedians that started the “alt” movement are “monsters.” He references Odenkirk, Cross, Maron, etc, but it’s safe to say he’d put Patton in that group of comedians he respects. It’s not the people that started the movement he’s complaining about.

  • hqm

    The problem with alt rooms isn’t that they don’t have hecklers, it’s that being supportive is obligatory. It’s rude to expect the comic to work for the laughs. In alt rooms, the comic is entitled to laughs, entitled to the daily five minutes of unconditional love their parents didn’t give them. Everyone laughs at everything, everyone pretends everyone else is funny, nobody’s feelings get hurt, and the comics are all hothouse flowers.

    • ECN

      Um, this has nothing to do with any “alternative” show I’ve ever done. A few open mics, maybe — but that’s not “alternative comedy”, that’s open mics. In Los Angeles, at least, a lot of alternative shows are tough rooms — you really have to work to get laughs, even if you’re funny enough to kill everywhere else. And the rooms with hot crowds have hot crowds for a reason: their bookers put great comics on the bill and do a good job of promoting.

      You want to pick on someone for being lazy and getting laughs? You want to make generalizations? How about you go after generic frat-boy comics? You’ll still be painting with an absurdly broad brush and insulting some people who work hard and have talent, but you’ll be less ignorant and wrong than you are now. Which isn’t saying much, granted.

      • hqm

        Are you telling me or Bill Burr to go after generic frat-boy comics? Because all I’m doing is looking at his rant from a slightly different angle– it’s not the lack of drunk hecklers that makes the alt scene “a fucking comedy womb,” it’s the culture of unconditional support among the comics themselves.
        If you want to argue that that culture doesn’t exist in the LA alt comedy scene, that being supportive isn’t obligatory, then I guess we have had different experiences. I have found that for some comics, it’s not about the work, the craft, it’s about them having a good set so they can feel good about themselves. Such a comic could fill every night with a different LA open mic or booked show and never have to sojourn outside their safe, supportive spaces.

        I’m not sure having an experience that’s different from yours makes me ignorant, Erik. 

        • ECN

          And that’s limited to “alternative” rooms… how? As I said up there, there are plenty of cliques and mutual admiration societies in LA comedy… plenty of people looking at comedy as a social outlet rather than something to strive to succeed at. Heck, look at the Comedy Store, which I’m pretty sure runs almost entirely on that principle.

          So is the Comedy Store “alternative” now? No, it’s some good comics, some guys who buddy up to good comics, and some people who hang around long enough that the bookers decide to inflict them on audiences.

          Are the roving bands of itinerant misogynists in the Valley “alternative”? No, they’re just talentless dicks who will never go anywhere.

          I’d be the first to agree that one of the main problems with LA comedy is that people aren’t held to standards. There are so many open mics and so many shows who’ll book anyone that people don’t have the incentive to earn their stage time. But that has nothing to do with “alternative comedy” — that has to do with people cutting corners and self-promoting. With people who have a website before they have 10 strong minutes. With open micers starting shitty little shows and booking all their open micer friends. With people shuffling through their acts, not committing to material, and turning on the audience when they bomb.

          Well, guess what? That happens ALL OVER THE CITY. A lot of “alternative” comedians do it, and a lot of “non-alternative” comedians do it. A lot of “alternative” shows are poorly booked, a lot of “non-alternative” shows are poorly booked. Conversely, a lot of “alternative” comedians take pride in their work, and a lot of “non-alternative” comedians take pride in their work. And in the long run, the “alternative” comedians who are good at comedy win out, as do the other comedians who are good at comedy.

          The main wrong thing you said is that alternative shows are “supportive” to comedians who haven’t earned it. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of BOOKERS (alternative and otherwise) are guilty of this. They’ll book a guy, watch him bomb, then book him again. But note what happens between those events — the guy does bomb. The audience is not having any of it.

          Can you honestly say that about hacks who go up at low-level mainstream shows? Because in my experience, those audiences let a lot more unimaginative, ignorant shit slide. The nepotism is the same everywhere on the booking side, but when the comics actually go up, guess who gets held to a standard. In an ideal world, there would be consequences, but if you really believe no consequences is an “alternative comedy” thing, you’re either not paying attention or lying to yourself.

          • hqm

            Burr’s observation about nerds and alternative comedy (his words) resonated with me. They don’t resonate with you, and that’s fine. Is everyone who trusts their own perception of reality more than yours lying to themselves, Erik? Are you just so much smarter than everyone else that it’s not possible for a thinking person to see things differently?

          • ECN

            I think it’s irresponsible for a “thinking person” to make blanket statements like that to begin with. Are you willing to concede that some “alternative comics” — some “nerds” — are hard-working and talented performers? If not, you’re ignorant, or so biased that your opinion is meaningless. If so, you’re a jackass who’s deliberately insulting hard-working and talented performers.

            Are you saying that there aren’t crappy “mainstream” rooms where comics suck and get invited back again and again? If so, you’re delusional. If not, you agree with me and you’re just sniping in order to snipe.

            I fully acknowledge that there are smart people who know comedy and disagree with me on important things. I’m pretty sure you’re not one of them, though. (I mean, which of us is acknowledging that there are a wide variety of ways and a wide variety of places to do good comedy, and which one of us is slinging generalizations and stereotypes as though they were insight?)

          • ECN

            And yeah, you may not be lying to yourself. You may just be too dumb to notice what’s really going on, or you may not know that much about comedy. You may sincerely believe the simple-minded, reductive crap you’re spewing. That just might be the case.

            Who are you again, anyway?

          • ECN

            Oh, okay, never mind. I just figured out who you are… probably should have figured it out earlier. The Bitterest Open Micer in All the Land. Get some psychiatric help already.

          • hqm

            I guess I’ll never be as smart, funny, or as psychologically healthy as you are, Erik.

          • ECN

            Oh, there’s time for you yet. And I’m sorry for coming off as so dismissive there — I was actually kind of relieved that it was you and not someone I didn’t already feel that way about, and I spoke too hastily.

            As recently as a few years ago, you were a promising new comic. (Remember, I booked you.) But even then, you had a bit of an inflated ego and a bitter streak — which I was able to look past, even though it was occasionally unpleasant to talk to you offstage. Because, you know, I was booking a comedy show, not a dinner party, and I knew that if I booked you, you’d do well. At comedy. You know?

            But at this point, you’ve been off the rails for a while now. I can recognize that — I have my own history with bitterness and paranoia. I don’t know if you knew me in winter and spring 2007, when I basically had a three-month caffeine-induced panic attack. I burned a few bridges then… some of them still aren’t fixed, and may never be. I agreed with you on some things about comedy, and probably even now.

            But I recognized that bitterness was consuming me, and while a lot of it was rooted in my beliefs, some of it was delusional, and some of it was stuff I believed but didn’t have to SAY. I couldn’t trust my own brain any more, so I took steps to fix my anxiety, and it changed my life. I’m not saying it doesn’t affect me now — I’m not saying I’m not sometimes gripped by irrational worry in one form or another. (I mean, have you seen the way I’ve been posting here? I had to take a couple Excedrin this morning, and look at where it’s gotten me.) But for the most part, I got a hold of myself, and when it does come, I can tell myself, “oh, that’s just the anxiety talking.”

            I’m not saying this to boast — I’m not one of those comics who acts like it’s FASCINATING that I have mental problems, or that I’m somehow wiser than people who can keep themselves stable. In fact, I tend to kind of hate those guys. (Almost invariably guys.) I’m just saying that I recognize some of the symptoms, and I think you’re smart enough to recognize them too.

            And I had good days and bad days — days when I was in denial, and so consumed by my paranoia that I wouldn’t admit anything. It took me a while to stick to the idea of getting myself under control. Maybe this isn’t the day you get started on that… but please, for your sake, when you do start thinking that way, try to hold onto it. When I built up the resolve to make the effort, it was easier than I thought.

          • hqm

            I’ll file that under unsolicited advice, and I’ll take that advice just as soon as I decide to model myself after you, either personally or professionally.

            I honestly can’t fathom why you think I’m paranoid. What have I said here that makes you think I think anyone is out to get me?

          • ECN

            It’s not what you’ve said here, it’s what you’ve said in the past, many times. Be honest with yourself — maybe you don’t think people are “out to get you.” I never thought anyone was “out to get me” — but I DID think that people disliked me and were holding my career back for that reason. I DID think people made it a point to pick on me. I thought a lot of things that turned out not to be true.

            Anyway, even if I didn’t know you… it’s not hard to draw a line back to something like paranoia from the kind of virulent, unfocused bitterness you ARE expressing here. (And everywhere else these days.)

            But that’s enough. I sympathize with what you’re going through, but I’m not going to argue with a brick wall. I hope for your sake you’re not always a brick wall. But I can’t say it’s of such crucial importance to me that I’m going to keep going through this trouble over it. I tried, and I meant everything I said, and there it is.

          • hqm

            My career is just fine. I don’t think anyone’s holding me back, and I fail to see why you think my comments are any more virulent or bitter than Burr’s, which is what we were talking about before you decided to make this all about me.
            Everything is personal, right? It’s never about the work. If I think a bit panders to the lowest common denominator or resonates with people for the wrong reasons, it’s because I’m bitter and virulent and paranoid. Any analysis is verboten, except analysis of the “evidence,” apparently. Whatever that means. I guess “evidence” is whatever ECN thinks is important. All else is dismissed.

          • ECN

            Well, I think Burr’s comments here were based in bitterness and insecurity too. I don’t believe his LIFE is, though. I could be wrong.

            As far as the evidence is concerned, the one crucial piece of evidence is that there are some “alternative” comedians who are doing the work the right way and earning their success. As soon as you acknowledge that, it’s unacceptable and insulting to say “alternative comedians are just laughing at each other to be supportive.”

          • hqm

            Oh, you’re saying my _life_ is based in bitterness and insecurity. Well, since you know my life so much better than I do, I guess I can’t argue. I will report to the nearest psychiatrist as ordered.  What am I bitter about, again? 
            Who do I think is holding my career back? Can you email me my thoughts and feelings, so I know what to say to the shrink?

            I still reject your notion that an observation can be dismissed if it’s not 100% true in all cases, as if such a thing could even be quantified. It resonates with me, and I’ve told you why. You disagee. I understand that. And I am seeking professional help for my inflammatory insistence on having thoughts and feelings that are different from yours. 

            Are we done?

          • hqm

            Any observation can be dismissed that way. Observations are basically just generalizations and reductions, aren’t they? The question should be: does it resonate. Burr’s observations about alt comedy and nerds resonate with me. If that makes me simple-minded, so be it. I guess I’ll never be the comic you are.

          • ECN

            The question isn’t “does it resonate?”, the question is “does the evidence support it?” A lot of stuff resonates with a lot of people for a lot of wrong reasons — because it plays into their self-importance, their insecurities, or their biases. Because it’s eloquent, or stirring, or clever. Not because it’s true.

          • hqm

            Of course some things resonate with some people for the wrong reasons, and those things are Not True. But to suggest that makes the search for Truth pointless smacks of Sophistry. 
            Figuring out why things resonate is part of the work, and it’s on that point that I differ from Burr. I don’t think what alt comics need is more exposure to drunk hecklers. Cedric Daniels says it best: “Comes a day you’re gonna have to decide if it’s about you, or the work.”

          • ECN

            A “search for truth” not based in hard evidence practically guarantees sophistry.

            Comedians, as a group, should probably work harder and self-promote less.

          • hqm

            “A “search for truth” not based in hard evidence practically guarantees sophistry.”

            I think Socrates would disagree with you there. Empirical validity is no guarantee of truth. “Science” is not some ur-heuristic to which all human experience can be submitted. Some Truths can’t be processed rationally, said the dog with Buddha nature.

          • hqm

            After name-dropping Socrates and Buddha I figured I might as well throw in Picasso: 

            “Lose yourself in your work by surgically removing your ego from the process of artistic creation.”

          • Sophist

            How do you guys find the time to post such lengthy comments in between all the butt fucking?

          • hqm

            Save it for UCB.

          • Jack Handy

            Erik Charles Nielsen? Sorry man, but you’re screaming, gimmicky set is a one note joke that bombed. And no, I don’t give a shit that this reply is three years later. You sucked then and unless nothing has changed since Conan last year, you still suck.

  • ECN

    Um… also, in what bizarre alternate universe is “The Office” “alternative”? At the show’s peak, 8-9 million people watched it every week. (And that was just first-run.) I’ve liked some of “The Office”, and not liked other parts, so this is not a statement of quality one way or the other. But yeah. One of the 3-4 most popular TV comedies of the last decade… what is it “alternative” to? “Two and a Half Men”?

    • Jason Wayne

      Nirvana was called Alternative and they were huge. It’s the problem with the marketing word Alternative is eventually almost everything is alternative. The Office is part of alt-comedy I think. I love the Office, great show, and again that show innovated and was different than everything when it came out. Now Every show is the Office. I’m tired of everything being shot like it’s a documentary, it’s terrible comedy directing with hacky predictable writing of “Character does something awkward/offensive and close up on normal guy staring at camera to show how awkward that was.” I wish more things innovated than just copying what’s hip in the moment.

      Alternative btw to me means hipster comedy. Lots of pop-culture reference, the more obscure the better, no real depth meaning or point to any of the humor. Also lots of jokes about awkwardness and such.”

      I don’t hate Alt-Comedy. I hate bad hacky predictable comedy. Also just because I don’t laugh at something doesn’t mean it’s not funny. Ultimately watch the comedy you like, and do the comedy you like, just please be original and make your fans laugh!

  • Josh Homer

    “I mean, 90% of all comedians are just boring people, and 90% of alternative comics are shitty comedians” –
    Patton Oswalt
    From this interview:

  • davekopp

    Well put, Bill.  I think some people replying to this are missing Bill’s point.  I also find jokes that require you to know something particular about the subject and then depend on this fact in order to be funny are just annoying. It reminds me a lot of Dennis Miller and his smug references to arbitrary facts that only he and a few dorks who watched c-span in the late eighties will understand.  It is sort of like creating an inside joke with your audience.  Inside jokes are rarely as funny as normal jokes, but people just like to feel included (especially nerds who thrive on the fact that they have be outsiders for so long), so they are attracted to them.  It is like alt-comics have found a way to make a whole show full of inside jokes.     I think a good joke elicits a gut response, an honest response that you can’t control.  Rarely do alt-comics make me laugh like that.  

    • ECN

      So what’s your counter-proposal? Focus-grouping your jokes? Avoiding cultural references entirely? To me, that creates dumbed-down comedy — not acknowledging your own intelligence and individual experience makes you sound faceless on stage. And when you assume the audience isn’t smart enough or informed enough to follow you, you’re just condescending to the audience.

      There are good ways to do a joke that involves a cultural reference, and bad ways. On the one hand, you have Dennis Miller or “Family Guy”, where the reference IS the joke. (Though I’d argue that in a lot of Miller’s earlier work, the joke was the fact that he was MAKING the reference — this is splitting hairs, though.) There’s nothing to it beyond “hey, remember this?”

      (Side note: “alternative comics” (still not a useful term) don’t really have a monopoly on this, do they? I don’t recall anyone calling Dennis Miller “alternative”. “Family Guy” is a favorite of frat boys across the nation, but gets no critical respect. And isn’t this kind of reference “humor” one of the main things people got on Dane Cook for?)

      On the other hand, you have Monty Python, Woody Allen’s stand-up, the first decade of The Simpsons — jokes that used references but didn’t RELY on them. Jokes that included information ABOUT the reference, so that everyone could follow along, but were written artfully enough that that information flowed naturally instead of seeming like clunky exposition. Jokes where the reference was a nice bonus to people who got it, and if you didn’t get it, the joke was still good.

      I mean, ultimately, it’s not for the people who don’t get the reference to decide, is it? ALL jokes rely on assumptions of one sort or another. If you’re doing a joke about “Star Wars”, and I haven’t seen “Star Wars,” I’m not going to get it. (Unless the joke is really well-written.) If you’re some comic doing a joke about how “all women are something-or-other”, and I think that’s a bunch of sexist crap, you’re not going to evoke any amusement in me. It’s not going to hit ME on that visceral level, because it doesn’t jibe with my experience in life. I don’t see it as “honest,” I see it as either some guy who has some pretty repugnant opinions about women, or some guy using hackneyed Comedy Stereotypes. (The opposite of “honest”!)

      So why is the gut response of some ignorant guy more important than the gut response of someone who isn’t ignorant?

      For my part, I say do what you think is funny, and what reflects your life. For Bill Burr, that may be the life of a guy who thinks “racism is dumb, but we’re kind of subconsciously racist, right?” is a really insightful thing to say, because he was brought up around a bunch of racists and carries those assumptions around in the back of his mind. (I’m oversimplifying Burr’s material about race, but…)

      Whereas for me, that may be the life of a guy who’s read a lot of books and has never really encountered racism on any level. So the comics who are going to hit me on that basic level are the comics who have led lives like mine. Also, the comics who are talented enough to make me understand what it’s like to be like them, even though I’m not like them.

      But I tend not to assume that just because someone is talking about something I don’t know about, or something I can’t support as an audience member, he or she is “insincere” or “showing off” or whatever. I mean, sometimes I’ll think of a comedian as insincere, but just because they come off as using the aforementioned Comedy Stereotypes. But the mere fact that he or she is expressing an opinion I can’t relate to or mentioning a fact I don’t know doesn’t lead me to respond, “oh, they don’t believe that, they’re just saying that to seem smarter.” That’s just your insecurity talking, and you should get that checked out before you start criticizing other people.

      • davekopp

        You are not responding to what I actually wrote. Obviously there is a sliding scale and I am not talking about avoiding references entirely.  

        • ECN

          My point is, you can’t point at some references and say “I get that, so this is Good Comedy,” and then point at other references and say “I’m not familiar with that, so you’re clearly trying to make an inside joke with other people who are familiar with that. You can’t possibly be making a joke that is rooted in the actual life and thought processes of a person who is familiar with that — how could you be? I don’t even know what you’re talking about!”

          And as I said, the comedians who are generally defined as “alternative” are not generally the ones who are making references for references’ sake — that’s Dane Cook/Family Guy territory. The “alternative” comedians — the good ones, anyway — live in a world where those references are part of their lives, and they use them in the service of a larger joke. Now, if you’re getting hung up on the reference because you don’t understand it, that’s not ideal — but it’s not proof or even evidence that the comedian isn’t making the reference for valid comedic reasons.

          What you’re doing here is like saying “I don’t know French. This comedian is speaking in French to an audience of French speakers, so it’s obvious to me that he’s just doing that to act smart, and the audience is just laughing to prove they know French.” Which is dumb. You’re not equipped to judge. If you knew French, you’d be able to see whether the joke was funny on its own merits.

    • jm313

      Dennis Miller was hilarious to a lot of people even though they did not get all the references.

  • Henry George

    people are people and if you can make them laugh you are doing your job. period. no club comics vs alt comics. that’s dumb.

    • EricBasile

      I don’t see much difference between club comics and alt comics at this point. I had always seen alt comedy as stuff that’s way more out there.

  • Ray

    The reason there aren’t many drunks and hecklers in alt comedy shows is that alternative comedians tend to be appreciated by people who aren’t dicks. Bill Burr doesn’t appreciate this, because he is a dick, as are most of his audience. I have no opinion on how dickish a comedy audience should be. Nor do I have anything against comedians who are dicks. What I resent are comedians who aren’t funny. Bill Burr isn’t funny.

    • AngryNarcissist

      you forgot to add “in my opinion.”  the way you wrote it makes you sound like god.  asshole.

      • Ray

        I’ve never talked to god, so i’m not sure what he sounds like. But if he also avoids appending redundant clauses to his sentences, then good for him.

        • AngryNarcissist

          “Bill Burr doesn’t appreciate this, because he is a dick, as are most of his audience.”

          your response is so clever, and you know grammar words and stuff!  you totally got me on that one!  everyone will now respect your meaningless opinion about a guy, that you posted anonymously on the internet.  great job!

      • Stoic Melies

        If you ever interpret someone failing to add “in my opinion” while expressing an opinion, as sounding like God, the problem lies with you.

  • Burt Lancaster

    His hairband analogy is funny… didn’t Nirvana come from the alternative scene? 

  • Kakulash


  • Jacal

    Hmmm Bill Burr himself talks about, masturbating and religion….sounds like an Alt comic to me.

  • Jacob

    I like Bill Burr. But he’s wrong in this case. Talk to Patton Oswalt, perhaps the current king of “alt comedy” and go back to footage of him when he was younger. Plenty of hecklers and rough crowds. What Burr wants is a NY crowd that presents a certain type of atmosphere, and thinks that’s the only way comedy should be done. Once you deem there’s only one way to do an art form, whatever point you make are invalid.

    • Chris

      Patton started in the 90’s when there were ONLY club rooms. Burr is talking about how the ‘alt’ comics TODAY have created their own rooms where its ‘safe’ and they can perform their sets without fear.  Ive seen it done not only by ‘alt’ comics but ALL types of comics, especially the newer generation.  Im sure youve been to a show produced by, performed by, and booked by a bunch of comics who are all friends, are like-minded, and the crowd is also friends or friends of friends.  Its a fun show, but its like parents watching their kids in a school play.  I agree there isnt only one-way to an artform but his point is that the ‘alt’ comics are taking something hes done for 20 years and taking away the rawness and purity of it.  I do clubs and bars and have done ‘alt’ rooms, where its suppose to be an ‘accepting atmosphere’, and have felt more of a sense of closed minded-ness than I have in a club with a bunch of drunks.  

      • ECN

        So the “purity” of comedy is that at any point, you can be interrupted by some drunk jackass? To me, talking about “pure” comedy would kind of presuppose that the comedian actually gets to show what he or she has to talk about.

        And honestly, this stuff? “I do clubs and bars and have done ‘alt’ rooms, where its suppose to be
        an ‘accepting atmosphere’, and have felt more of a sense of closed
        minded-ness than I have in a club with a bunch of drunks”? I don’t know who you are, but in my experience, three main kinds of comedians say that:

        A) comedians who rely on racism/sexism/stereotypes/etc., and don’t appreciate that they’ve run into an audience willing to call them on that bullshit.

        B) comedians who aren’t that funny or original, and don’t appreciate that they’ve run into an audience that knows enough about comedy to recognize when they’re being hacky.

        C) comedians who did the wrong “alternative” room(s), and don’t know enough about the scene to find the right ones. It doesn’t matter what kind of comedy you’re doing, some shows are just social outlets for open micers going nowhere — like bowling leagues that someone has managed to trick a half-dozen people into attending. The difference is, in the circles you actually move in, you know which ones are the bowling leagues and which ones are legit, because you know the comics. But once you venture out of a scenario where you know who’s who, you have no idea. Nobody does. I don’t either.

        • Chris

          Comedy doesnt always involve drunk assholes and hecklers but its part of the artform and to say it isnt is ridiculous.

          “It doesn’t matter what kind of comedy you’re doing..” So whats all the A-C examples ECN? I havent had one racist or sexist joke in my set ever.

          Ive been in the scene for years and I know the rooms and I can tell a difference and Im not up there doing ‘men are different then women’ jokes.  Ive been to plenty of ‘alt’ room and have seen ‘alt’ comics with hacky material.

          My close-minded statement basically refelcts the fact that these rooms are filled with like-minded comics set in their ways and their own view of comedy so if you come in with a different and act dont talk about ‘star wars’ you can sense a different reaction from the crowd.

          And in my experience the first comic to call someone hacky without it even being brought up is usually the hacky comic. My comment had 0 to do with the material itself and everything to do with the environment todays ‘alt’ comics have created for themselves.

    • ECN

      Moreover, if you were going to talk about “the only way comedy should be done,” why would you choose the one that makes it LEAST possible to actually do comedy? It’s like he’s taking the old heckler argument that “I’m just helping the show,” and actually accepting it as a premise from the comic’s point of view. I respect Burr as a comic, though he’s not my style at all — but this is dumb, dangerous stuff.

  • BillBurrIsANerd

    This guy seems like a bigger nerd than the people he’s making fun of.

  • Steve

    Since when did alternative comics not get heckled?  They’re doing shows where the crowd didn’t know there was a show.

  • Elilleby

    I boo all comics equally.

  • Tjk1701

    As a comedian who can’t quite break into the clubs and isn’t quite nerdy enough for Alt . . . I get Bill’s argument even though I think he’s a bit harsh.

  • Albert Rodrigue

    So, Burr is saying that alt comics only perform for audiences that have made it through some sort of litmus test that tells us they won’t heckle and insult them?  Alt comics are in the same world of comedy he’s in.  They perform in the same comedy clubs and bars and deal with the same drunk assholes telling them they suck.  In fact, they deal with more of it because their style plays to a more niche audience.  But they’re still out there in front of everyone.  So, basically, Burr isn’t insulting them for being afraid of the real comedy world.  He’s insulting them because he doesn’t think they’re funny and can’t accept that a larger group than before has different tastes.  For someone involved in an art form, that’s way too fucking close-minded.  I really respect Bill Burr and think he’s hilarious, so hearing this really disappoints me.

    • Craig

      Actually Albert, they don’t! That’s what he’s saying. They create an “alt” scene/room where it’s safe and they can do their obscure jokes that only they & their friends understand. But when you try those jokes at a comedy club, where a majority of the people don’t get those obscure references & don’t laugh, the alt comic somehow thinks the crowd is dumb. The Alt comics I know coming up NOW don’t do bar gigs or major comedy clubs, they do their little alt room, where their “weird” jokes play and when they DO do comedy club rooms, I’ve seen them eat shit consistently. So everything he said I agree with. 

      • ECN

        I’ve seen plenty of “alternative” comics who can kill anywhere. (I should know, being one of them.) I’ve seen plenty of “mainstream” comics who can’t do well anywhere. Moreover, the “alternative” comedians who can’t hack it in clubs are generally the same ones who can’t hack it in “alternative” rooms. If there’s a problem, it’s the existence of a divide, and the prevalence of self-promotion among comics on both sides of that divide.

        When people say “I saw (alternative comic) do a club, and he bombed”, 90% of the time, my response is, “yeah, of course, that guy’s not funny. If the club booker did some research, he probably would’ve figured out that that guy bombs everywhere. Meanwhile, here are dozens of so-called “alternative” comics who are actually funny — why not try finding them and booking them, instead of trusting the talentless jerk who badgered you into booking him?”

        And yeah, the other 10% of the time, it’s a comedian who’s funny but not right for the room. Which is all right — just like it’s all right that some meathead guy isn’t going to work in front of an educated audience. In an ideal world, both of those comics would be able to transcend social and cultural boundaries — but it’s enough of an achievement that SOMEONE finds them funny. God knows how many comics can’t even get that right.

        • Miles

          “I’ve seen plenty of ‘alternative’ comics who can kill anywhere. (I should know, being one of them)” – Biggest Douche of all Time?

          I added that question mark only because I can assume that once your career nosedives after your superiority complex causes you to actually masturbate to yourself onstage, your mediocre suburban living will cause you to have a son who will no doubt surpass your level of douchebaggery. 

      • jm313

        Alternative comedy is called alternative because it does use the traditional joke form which is setup/punchline. Alt comics are more like storytellers. Comcis like Patton Oswalt and David Cross are considered “alt comics” and they are hilarious.

      • Rick McCallister

        So it doesn’t strike you as Burr’s problem that he apparently didn’t cultivate a following while Alt comics were doing just that?

        Sorry but Burr’s way in the wrong here. Alt comics don’t filter people out consciously, it’s just the natural result of their style that wider audiences don’t want to see them.

        Lots of bluster just to complain about his own macho-bullsh_t misgivings.

  • Jono Lacy

    I agree with none of this. Club comics aren’t better than “alt” comics and 
    vice versa.

    • Aaron

      I agree, I’ve only ever seen it as “comics I like” and “comics I don’t like.” Is he talking about those people where it looks like they’re turning their liberal arts classes in to comedy sets? I never saw them as “alt,” just lame. 

  • Mwatfun

    I have to totally agree with Bill……alt. comics suck

  • Socoral

    It sounds like Bill Burr is more pissed off at the crowd for not being New York enough.  Fuck him.

  • Mark N

    As everyone knows, the point of comedy is to fulfill some imaginary macho fantasy about Doing It The Right Way, not to actually be funny.

  • Redbeard

    I can’t say I understand what he means by “alt comics.” Who are some examples?

  • Kenny Kinds

    where is this again?

    because i’ve experienced all of that. I had a drunk guy walk up on stage in the middle of my set and another guy yell NEXT! after my second joke.

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