Stand-up comedian Bill Burr has that fiery Bostonian blood pumping in his veins. He’s brash, outspoken, irreverent, a devoted sports fan who loves his dog, wrestles with anger management and fully admits to having issues with women. But he’s a swell guy. Even he would agree.
And he’s a funny guy. Funny, because he stomps all over a lot of sensitive areas and issues—fat people, racists, plastic surgery and the delicate territory of gender relations. Why is that funny and not just insensitive? Burr’s a no-bullshit realist who digs a little deeper into the psyche scratching at those nerve endings where sometimes the best punch lines are simply the circumstance surrounding the truth.
Here he talks about his hometown, the sports fan, the UFC and his love for women.
Boston’s an underrated American city. When Canadians travel they often flock to LA, New York, Las Vegas, all the places that get hyped and promoted.
“Yeah, the first two are a good call. Las Vegas, I don’t know about that. It’s a bunch of casinos. Once you seen one, you seen them all,” laughs Burr.
His shows in Calgary (three of them) bookend St. Patrick’s Day, which has become a universal gong show. “You definitely want to stay indoors. I prefer either a loading dock or a good cigar bar. If you’re a serious drinker, that’s just amateur night.”
Surely, that also must be the rowdiest night of the year in Boston?
“Ah, not really. Boston in general is rowdy. It can get ugly sometimes, but it’s a great place.”
And how does the rest of America view Boston?
“Well they don’t like us right now, because we’ve won so many championships over the last 10 years. And they think that all the country’s racists either live in Boston or the South. But I can tell you, from travelling extensively, they’re spread out all over the place.”
Throughout March Burr’s on a full blown coast-to-coast Canadian tour. He chuckles when told he’s hitting all the NHL cities. Burr has only done stand-up in Toronto and Montreal, but as a sports fan supreme he’s been to all these places before following hockey games. What does he make of the obsessive hockey nut who dresses head to toe in team colours, paints their face, gets deep into some kind of mascot character, although it’s much more the act of a buffoon than anything else.
“Back in the day, you used to have those crazy super fans, who were actually kind of cool. They became little celebrities that people would take pictures of. But it’s just a way to get on TV now, where you take all your dignity throw it out the window and act like a complete ass.”
Definitely some weird psychology happening there.
“Yeah. It’s called being a loser,” chuckles Burr. “It all depends on how you do it. If you have a sense of humour about yourself, and behave like an idiot, it can be. But if you’re actually serious acting like a Star Wars character, or Avatar, or those people who actually think they’re intimidating the other team, it’s always funny to me. You might get really loud, and try to get inside the rookie’s head, but you’re never going to make them afraid if you’re dressed as a dog eating biscuits.”
The conversation diverts to professional hockey as a corporate venture where team owners have a jealous eye looking towards the successful expansion and world domination of soccer and Formula One racing, which sells out anywhere it goes.
“The one that’s doing it now is the UFC. They can sell out Vietnam or Vancouver. I remember Joe Rogan (stand-up comic and commentator for the UFC) discussing what’s the appeal. He said, ‘If you’re driving down the street and two people are fighting, you have to pull over and watch. You just got to watch it.’ While violence doesn’t solve anything,” sheiks Burr mocking a high-pitched fanatical voice, “you just have to watch them square off. You gotta know, who’s going win?”
But isn’t its real appeal is because it’s so viscous, and these fighters groveling with each other in the most primitive, uncompromising manner? Isn’t that what makes it a massive video spectator sport?
Burr contents the view. “I would say you are used to the viciousness of boxing. If you look at the deaths in boxing they have had people who were literally beaten dead in the ring. To the untrained eye the UFC looks viscous. But what I find about the UFC training is the mixed martial arts really prepares you to defend yourself in a real fight, minus weapons, right,” laughs Burr.
Boxing can be mean as hell. For Burr, the UFC plays out differently. “If you’re in a parking lot, and you fight someone you don’t know, there’s going to be kicks, knees, you’re going to be up, then on the ground. And with the UFC, I just love the combination of the striking, the grounded pound and the submission holds. It’s really well rounded, it’s like the decathlon of fighting.”
On the downside he adds, “My one complaint about it, they take too many punches after the fight is over sometimes. Before the ref can come and break them up, one guy is always getting in five extra head shots. Like ‘Alright, alright, already!’” cracks Burr.
There’s a monologue from Burr’s live performance You People Are All The Same, available on DVD and Netflix, were he’s pretending to be his dad who’s having a conversation with Bill Jr. “You know I love your mother to death. It’s weird. But when I watch her eat toast, I just want to choke her. I don’t know what it is. It’s the routine. The right, the left, then the middle. Why don’t you just fold it in half then fucking eat it. You know what I mean? It’s unreal! But that’s when you know you’ve met the right one. When you want to slap the shit out of them, but you don’t.”
That sketch then stretches into the thorny issue of domestic abuses where Burr freely toys with the convention that there’s absolutely no reason to hit a woman. “Of course there is,” contends Burr in his live performance, grinning from ear to ear, “there’s plenty of reasons, but you don’t do it.”
When asked if he ever gets attacked and criticized by feminists or anyone else offended by his lack of sensitivity, Burr responds carefully, outlining some peculiar twists and contradictions.
“It’s their job to get offended and get on TV and get their cause out there. But I take it with a grain of salt, not that I don’t respect it, but is it legit or just raising a ruckus? But you know, humans are way smarter than we give them credit for. Ninety-nine percent of the people who go to comedy shows never lose sight that these are jokes. Stiil, there is that small demographics that will sit through 20 topics and laugh at all of them until it hits an area they’re sensitive to. Then they’re immature, selfish, I don’t know what, but all of a sudden it’s, ‘Hey you shouldn’t talk about that, because that’s in my world.’ And I’m like, ‘Well you’re not fat, and I did the overweight jokes, how come you didn’t stick up for them?’ And they comeback, ‘Because I’m not fat.’ At that point, I just say, ‘Go fuck yourself.’”
Bill Burr performs at the MacEwan Hall Ballroom for two shows on March 15th and one more on March 19th.
By. B. Simm
Photo: Koury Angelo