As a stand-up comedian, actor, podcaster, amateur drummer and now animated series star, Bill Burr is a bit of a renaissance man.
The edgy comedian will show off the first of those talents in Pittsburgh on Oct. 22, as he’ll perform two stand-up shows at 7 and 9:30 p.m. at Heinz Hall. Tickets are $49.25.
The Pitt News spoke to Burr about his comedy, his career and the perils of high-definition cameras.
The Pitt News: You’ll be performing at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 14. How did this gig come about, and what kind of honor is it as a comedian to perform there?
Bill Burr: Well, it came about at the New York Comedy Festival, which every year they select someone to try and do it. This year they picked me, and I was obviously very flattered that they picked me. You know, then there’s always that, “Dude, I don’t know if I can fill that place” — that thought. Then there’s also, “What the hell joke do I have that’s worthy of telling in that building?” And the answer is none of them. So I will be trying extra hard to justify the fact that I am there that night. That venue to me is sports and music, two of my favorite things. So, to become part of that history is pretty amazing. Sinatra had his comeback there. [Led] Zeppelin did “Song Remains The Same” there. I mean everybody, even if they’re not from this country — playing this place is a huge deal. I opened for Dane Cook there one time, and I remember in the back they had pictures of all the people that sold it out. His picture was up there because he became part of it, and so was Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Billy Joel and then a guy I started off with doing stand-up with. It was pretty awesome. It was something I was staring at saying, “That is so crazy.” I think there will be a lot of that feeling, but I’ve got this huge tour coming up, which is why I’m calling you, but added a week to it. I was just going to go out for a week, but I added a week to it because of the Madison Square Garden show, and I just wanted to make sure I was on point that night. So hopefully, I’m funny.
TPN: You’re currently working on an animated Netflix show based on your stand-up act called “F is For Family.” How has the experience been working with Netflix?
BB: It couldn’t be any better. Netflix has been a dream to work with. My whole career, any time I got into business with someone trying to create a show, a lot of the notes were “tone it down, tone it down,” which I get, because they have advertisers. You can’t get too crazy. People aren’t going to lose their job over your dumb pilot — they’ve got a mortgage and kids to feed. I get that. But with Netflix, because they have the freedom of people just getting a membership, they don’t have the advertisers. They were actually the exact opposite. They were going “push it further, push it further.” They were the ones that came up with the idea to have the show be serialized, which at first I thought that wasn’t a good idea. The second I gave into it, I realized the genius of it. Like, the show went to a whole other level as far as the way we were writing. So Netflix had a major creative idea that I felt made the show better. And even when they gave notes, which was very rare — but the notes that they gave were always like, “You know, that’s a good point!” They’re the exact opposite of every cliche. When artists get in business with businessmen, we tend to look at things in a different way — not saying one person is more right than the other, but it’s definitely “The Odd Couple.” This hasn’t been like that. It’s really just felt like you’re on the same page. We’ve been on the same page. I hope that continues, because it’s been a dream so far.
TPN: You appeared on the hit show “Breaking Bad.” Have you revisited that show yet?
BB: I have not. At some point I will sit down, with all great shows like that, “The Wire,” “Breaking Bad.” You love it once, then you go back and revisit them. This Christmas break or something coming up — that might be a nice one for when I get off the road, to sit down with my wife, get the fire going. Great idea, man! That’s another good note. I’ve been getting good notes all year.
TPN: Your last special, “I’m Sorry You Feel That Way” was in black and white. Is that something you’d consider doing again, or is it a one time thing?
BB: It was a one time thing. I like the way black and white looks, and I think it’s really beautiful, and I think stand-up is a beautiful art. I’m not the first guy that’s done that. I plan on putting out specials every two, two and a half years for the rest of my career. I feel like each one of them, I want to incrementally improve as a comedian and the way they’re shot. I want each one of them to have their own look. Let’s say if I live long enough, and I’m lucky to do another 10 of them or so, when I guess I’ll be some old guy in a tuxedo, when you look at the whole body of them — to have one that was shot in black and white will be really cool. But I’ve got to be honest with you, HDTV is so clear that you kind of have to mess with it, because if I saw you in real life, I couldn’t see the pores in your face, but I could if you were on TV. That’s why on ESPN I can see the cartilage in this guy’s nose. It’s this weird thing where it’s shot with HD cameras, and the black and white is HD, but what we did with it was we kind of, like, took some of the gloss off of it. I just feel that comedy is sort of a nighttime thing, it’s a little bit seedier. Some of the stuff I watch, the people just stand there and it’s so clear and so bright, it looks like a tropical fish tank. And I’m a big fan of the comedians, which is why I was watching it. But it took away from the material being delivered.
TPN: As a comedian, do you think there’s an overemphasis on political correctness today? Are there certain areas that are touchier about sensitive issues than others?
BB: People really don’t. That’s just completely blown out of proportion. That’s just like clickbait crap.The fact that California is getting this biblical-level drought in one of the biggest states in the union should be a way bigger story than some jacka** like me doing a Donald Trump bit or whatever at a strip mall. But it’s an easy story. What comedians need to do is they need to start donating to politicians’ campaigns, and the minute they started donating to them, magically no one would be offended anymore. This would not get on TV anymore.
TPN: I know you’ve performed in Pittsburgh a fair amount. Are there any place you make sure to stop by, whether it’s food, drinks or something else?
BB: Well, there’s Primanti Brothers — I definitely go there. I just think it’s one of the most beautiful cities. When you come through the tunnel, you can’t see a thing at all, and then, boom! It’s just this panoramic view. I know there’s a couple other places I go. I actually have a list in my phone called, “places to go” in each city and I write that stuff down so I don’t forget. I try to go to a Pirates game if they’re playing, since I’ve been a Pirates fan since ’79. Probably a local bar or something. I used to love going to The Igloo. The new arenas are all right, but that old one — it looked like half a golf ball. That was the coolest thing ever. Those old hockey barns and basketball stadiums — the only places they are now are at the college level. [My places I stop] are usually sports related. Sports, food and boozing.
TPN: You’ve been doing your weekly Monday Morning Podcast since 2007, all by yourself. Are there days you struggle to fill up an hour, or does it just come naturally?
BB: There are days [I struggle to fill it up], but they’re few and far between. At this point, I just have a list of things I want to talk about, like NFL or microchips or travel, and I just sort of do it like that. I usually don’t even get to most of the subjects. I start talking and it leads somewhere, sort of meandering. But it’s been fun.