Bill (Burr) of Rights

Bill Burr will grace the stage of the Tower Theare—one of Philly’s most iconic venues.

By Brian McManus
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Apr. 6, 2011

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Yeah. You know what’s weird, is my parents are white-collar, but we grew up in a really blue-collar town. My parents have a ridiculous work ethic, my dad just works works works works works. I think it would be hard to find a guy who’s logged more hours than that guy. He just, he busts his ass.

He was a dentist, right?

Yeah. And I worked for him. I assisted him on procedures and I’m telling you, when I tell you he was doing three times the work these other guys were doing in the office, it was three times. He used to side book root canals. I can’t even tell you what a tedious procedure a root canal is, it takes 45
minutes. He’d have them on like on the side, splitting aces, and then the
extraction, like someone needed a wisdom tooth out, he would numb that
person, go in the other room and, he was like a locomotive, you know. He just worked his ass off, and then he was—some of those dentists were snobs, man. Unless you had private insurance they just kind of gave you pain meds and got you out of there. But my dad wasn’t like that. If I could be as good a comedian as my dad is a dentist, and I’m not trying to be corny, I would definitely be all right because he was ... it was a really good thing for our relationship, us working together. He
just worked his ass off, and then you know, he was - some of those dentists
were snobs man, unless you had private insurance they just kind of gave you
pain meds and got you out of there. My dad, I swear to God, I know it sounds
like I’m building a myth here, I swear it’s all true, I think it’s so
maddening—we would finally get a lunch, he’d have so many patients, we’d
always be numbing somebody up and I’d be standing outside wolfing down a
slice of pizza to go back in, and one day we were finally going to get a
lunch, and I’m so psyched that finally he’ll sit down like a human being,
and in comes this homeless guy, this drug addict, he comes stumbling in and
all the other dentists scatter and my dad’s like, “Come on, we gotta. I’m
sitting there saying “Dad, just give the guy pain meds, I wanna go get a
slice of pizza,” you know, I didn’t care, and my Dad says, he goes, “You
know I can’t do that,” he goes, I can’t know that someone’s walking around
in pain and I could have gotten him out of it. He really took it seriously,
so, we shoot up this homeless guy, wolfing down a slice of pizza, we get him
on the pamper, the guy was like ridiculously psyched, and I actually have a
tremendous respect for what my dad does, because as much as I can go on
stage and make people laugh, his ability to get people out of pain and, you
know, some people are so afraid of the dentist they wait until they’re in
absolute agony... dentists are just like comedians, there are a lot of them,
but there aren’t a lot of good ones.

Let’s talk about your infamous Opie and Anthony performance in ’06. What made you decide to just let loose instead of doing your act?

Well, I was backstage, listening to comedian after comedian be booed, and I was mad. I felt like the crowd didn’t deserve the show, the way they were treating some people, and I just kind of—looking back, that was probably the manifestation of fear, where I was like going “Oh my God, I gotta go out there with these animals.” The last thing you need onstage is a comedian scared, so subconsciously I just turned it into anger and I wasn’t even nervous when I went out there, which is never a good thing. You go on in front of 10,000 people you’re supposed to be a little bit nervous. Excitement is what you should have. But I felt nothing, like I was walking into my living room to sit down and watch ESPN, walking out in front of 10,000 people. So I went out there, and I screwed up, I ended up doing a joke that they had been playing on the radio. Nobody laughed, so I panicked. A lot of that booing was my mistake.

So you think you could have, despite the fact that they had already booed a
lot of people, won them back?

I could have gone out there and had a great set. Jim Norton went on after me
and killed But you know, it went down the way it went down. It was 50% my
fault. Here’s the thing that I love about Philly, everybody else seems to
remember that and Philly, they do that to people so often that seven months
went by and they don’t even remember it, they’re like “What happened?” “Oh
yeah, yeah. Whatever.” A guy puking on people at the Phillies game—it just
seems like every three weeks there’s another story about what somebody in
Philly did, so I mean, you know, they were doing that stuff before I got
there and they’ll do it afterward. I ended up getting out of it because
Philly’s such a sports town and I’m such a sports fanatic, I was able to get
out of it because I knew some stuff...

Like the Joe Frasier line. That was pretty amazing.

Yeah, no, that’s ridiculous, you have actual champions and you just nah,
fuck it, and you have a statue this little white Italian guy. Frasier almost
died in one of his fights against Ali. It’s like, Jesus, what do people have
to do to get respect from people in Philly.

I want to talk to you about a bit you do about going up to Harlem for a
booty call as a pale white guy and being terrified on the train ride uptown.
Maybe because we live in such racially divisive times, but that bit seems to
me like it would take a lot of courage to write because it could go so
wrong. Do you think about that sort of thing, how do you walk that line and
know that this is funny, people feel this way, and you can write a bit like
that without isolating people?

First of all, that joke is fish out of water, which is one of the oldest
comedy premises ever. It’s like the little nerd has the try out for the
football team, or whatever, just trying to think of those classic movies you
see, the fish out water kind of thing. I think that we, how do I put this,
yeah there’s a lot of people that say they still don’t understand that type
of material, I guess is how I would put it. Like I know somebody—one time
somebody was reviewing my act and they said “it’s amazing how Bill can do
racist jokes and get away with it.” And I called him up, and I was like,
“I’m not doing racist jokes. I’m doing jokes about race. And they just go
“Ah, you’re being so sensitive,” you know, some blogger or something. No.
You’re putting it out there that I’m doing a racist joke when this is a joke
about race. There’s a huge difference. But all that joke did was talk about
my fears, and black people find it funny and they know when white people get
scared. But black people get freaked out by white people situations too, so
it’s a very don’t want to be the only one of you. Like, you
don’t want to be the guy who sucks at sports around a bunch of jocks and all
of a sudden you start playing a sport. I think it happens, that feeling,
that survival thing in your DNA, and I mean I don’t know of any black person
that would wanna walk into a country saloon or whatever down in the South or
something, it’s just one of those things, and I think that’s what that joke
was. What I do sometimes if I’m doing a joke that I wanna make sure I’m
doing it right if it’s about race, is I try to get in front of that group of
people. So they have uptown shows. Mainly, the ones I really make sure I’m
saying correctly at this point are anything that has to do with black-white
stuff, because the history there is so sensitive: the slavery and all the
other atrocities, then slavery ends and it’s another hundred years of
bullshit. and that comes down to because And you go on Youtube and read the
shit people write on the stuff... everyone wants to be interactive, I think
that’s stupid. I think you should earn the right to leave a comment. Because
all you’re doing is making stuff worse by writing that type of stuff, and
this is a weird time with this Internet stuff, where if the Beatles came,
you know all those classic shots of the Beatles where they’re running down
the street, crowds chasing the— the whole thing has flipped, like if the
Beatles came here now they would be chasing the crowd down the street,
that’s what the Internet is. Everybody wants their opinions out there
regardless if they have any information whatsoever and some of them can
write some really really, hurtful and ignorant shit. I gotta admit, it’s
kind of depressing, I try to stay away from those sorts of things. I watch
the Youtube videos and try not to scroll down because I swear to God you
could have a video about a puppy and three comments down someone’s gonna
figure out a way to write something racist.

This is a good topic to end on. On Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, which you’ve been a guest on, he and many of the fellow comedians he interviews talk a lot about this idea of why they got in to comedy. And Marc always mentions that he got into comedy because he didn’t wanna really work. But now with Twitter and podcasts, maintaining a website, keeping a Youtube channel, Facebook, all that stuff—is this more work for you now than ever?

Yeah. It’s ridiculous. You may as well build a cubicle in my apartment. Speaking of which, I gotta take this call on my other line. It’s my next interview. You can call me back if you need anything else.

Bill Burr performs Sat., April 9, 8pm. $32.50-$44.70. Tower Theatre, 19 S. 69th St., Upper Darby. 610.352.2887.

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