Bill Burr: Rockstar of Comedy
One of the best comics in business

By Lee Valentine Smith

From humble beginnings in stripmall clubs in the '90s, Bill Burr has emerged as one of the hottest comedians on the scene. He's joined the ranks of Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, 'Dice' Clay, George Carlin and Dane Cook as one of the few comics who can sell out Madison Square Garden.

For the past decade he's hosted his weekly Monday Morning Podcast, a popular stream-of-consciousness hour of ribald social commentary with surprisingly perceptive relationship advice. He's also released a series of specials - including the excellent "I'm Sorry You Feel That Way," filmed in luminous black and white at Atlanta's Tabernacle in 2014.

An accomplished actor, Burr has an impressive list of film and television credits including roles in Breaking Bad, the upcoming "Frontrunner" with Hugh Jackman and his own cartoon show "F Is For Family," now in its third season on Netflix. But stand-up remains his main gig, although he frequently plays drums with other comics in heavy metal free-for-alls in Hollywood.

INsite caught up with Burr by phone from Los Angeles, the morning after hanging out with his pals in Ministry.

You've been releasing comedy specials for the past decade. Are there too many specials at this point?

It's changed so much in the last year. The sheer volume that have come out has made me rethink my whole business model of when and how often to put them out. But you know people are just devouring stuff now. I got to do this panel [for SiriusXM] about this great new show coming out on HBO called Barry with Bill Hader, Henry Winkler and all these guys. It's such a great show. I asked one of the writers, 'Does it bother you that it takes all this time to create it - and then in one night, somebody can just binge the whole thing? Then they're like that was so awesome, when's the next season coming out?' It's like you gave 'em a 10,000 dollar bottle of wine and they just shot-gunned it. 'That was delicious, can I have another bottle?'

Right, people can binge watch an entire decade of your work in a night.

I just don't know where it's going from here. But the way I don't freak out about it is, if you're putting out something of quality, people will want to see it. I remember when a special would come out and everybody would see it. Like a Sam Kinison special or whatever. If you missed it you were like in another country for three days at school because everybody was talking about it.

There are too many shows to even keep track of because everything is so segmented now.

Yeah, we've got our third season of F Is For Family coming out this year and my parents have yet to see it. But there're old, they're not gonna sit down and try to figure out the password and the second remote. I can barely figure it out! I did a small role in this movie [2012's "Stand Up Guys."] There was a scene with Al Pacino and Christopher Walken, right? So the movie came and went, then about six months ago, my dad called me. He goes, 'I'm about half asleep on the couch and I left the TV on. I wake up and I see Al Pacino. 'Yeah ok, I'll watch this.' Then all of a sudden, you come walkin' out! I wake your mother up, I'm like, 'Christ, there's Bill!' That was a really good movie, when did that come out?' I was like, 'Oh about five years ago.'

So his Breaking Bad binge weekend is a long way off.

You know, I can still talk about Breaking Bad and someone will yell out 'spoiler alert,' and think they have a legit argument. The thing went off the air four years ago! At what point can I talk about it? All I can do is just keep trying to compete against myself and make my current hour better than my previous one.

Speaking of specials, will your current tour eventually lead to a special at some point?

It's gonna lead to something but I don't know what. I do know I have no plans of recording this year, so I'm just going to go out there, work on the things I'm working on and make people laugh. I'm ridiculously thrilled that people are still coming to my shows and some markets are adding shows. It's just awesome.

More and more people are coming and you're playing bigger venues every tour.

Yeah but you never know how long that lasts. I'm not being stupid with the money I'm earning because how this business works is you get nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing and then you get all of it at once. Then it goes away again. You're like, 'Was that it?' 'Yep that was it! Hope you didn't buy too many fur coats, stupid, because the resale value is about one ninetieth of what you paid for it.'

You sold out Madison Square Garden a while back. That's just about the pinnacle of arena shows. You come from a club background and there you are in the middle of the Garden - just a man and a microphone. How did that feel?

It's oddly intimate. I learned that a while back. I opened for Dane Cook one time there. He was doing it in the round. So I was going, 'Jesus Christ dude, I've never played an arena and we're in the round. How do I do this?' He goes, 'It's easy. It's just four theaters all stuck together.' When you're in the middle of the arena it's way smaller. When you're at one end of it, it definitely seems bigger.

So you went in there and killed it as the headliner.

You know I play drums as a hobby, right? I rented some equipment and me and some buddies just went in and jammed. We played for an hour and a half in an empty Madison Square Garden! It turned it into a clubhouse kind of feel. So when I went out there, it didn't feel like that 'Holy shit, how am I gonna do this?' That was definitely in the back of my head but it wasn't up front, affecting my performance. I had one of the best shows of my life. I recorded it, planning to release it on vinyl. But the recording ended up getting screwed up. But you know what, I still did it, so that's cool.

That would have been a great companion piece to your vinyl of the Carnegie Hall show.

Yeah, that's the thing. I want to make sure I can document those shows somehow because they are so special to me. I don't know what to do with them; I guess I'll give them to my daughter and she'll own all of them. Maybe she can do something with them.

I grew up buying comedy albums on vinyl. I can play a comedy record over and over because spoken word is just like music to me.

Yeah! Those comedy albums. That was a big thing and then they came and went. And now it's the special. Everything comes and goes and changes. One of the reasons why we progress, for better or worse, is we get bored of stuff and then it becomes something else.

What was your goal, early on? Did you ever imagine playing a sold-out MSG?

All I ever wanted to do was work the Improvs and Punchlines and the A-rooms. That's how long I've been doing stand-up. I just pictured myself coming in, you know, wearing a sport coat with the t-shirt underneath it and a feathered mullet. My red feathered mullet. Obviously, that went out the window! But what goes up comes back down again. If I eventually go back to playing clubs again it's fine. That was the dream anyway.

If all else fails, you can join Ministry, right? They've offered you a spot.

Well I went to the show last night, but I didn't go up onstage. I was like, 'Listen if you want me to sit in and we'll do a cover of an AC/DC or Aerosmith song, then yeah.' But what he has going on with the DJ's and the drumming is on a whole other level. And the songs are like eight minutes long. People came there to see Ministry, all right? If I go out there and sit in on an eight-minute song, the novelty wears off in the first minute. So you want to pick a quick song and the band laughs at you and makes fun of your playing and everybody waves. 'Oh isn't that cool, the dancing monkey is a fan of the same band we like.' That should take no more than two-and-a-half minutes total. I think I like that band too much to take them up on the offer.

Bill Burr performs April 28 at the Fox Theater. Nate Bargatze opens. For more information, please visit foxtheatre.org.

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