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A Conversation With Bill Burr

Burr emphasized that humor and sharing comedy with the world is so important.
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(Courtesy of Wikemedia Commons)

 

In the world of comedy, few names are as big today as Bill Burr. Known for his no-nonsense approach to “touchy” subject matter and his appreciation of older sensibilities, Burr has stood out by being unapologetically authentic. Beyond being adored for his stand-up work, Burr has also acted in multiple movies and TV shows including “The King of Staten Island,” “Breaking Bad” and “The Mandalorian.” The comedian is now preparing to hit the road again for a cross-country tour, which passes through Utah on Feb. 24 at the Delta Center. In this preparation, Burr graciously gave the Chronicle some time to discuss film, politics, parenting and — of course — comedy.

Acting & Film

Burr said in an interview with the Chronicle that comedy in film and television isn’t something to approach differently.

“It’s also not something that I necessarily think about,” he said. “Like, I don’t think, ‘How do I make this line funny?’” It could be easy to believe a comedian like Burr would attack acting from a solely humorous perspective, but Burr has a different vision.

“I’m more just thinking, ‘What does this character want? How does this character feel?’” Burr said. “You try to be funny, it just comes off like you’re trying to be funny, and it doesn’t work. That’s sort of the trick to comedy — not trying to be funny, believing what you’re saying.” 

Burr has also honed in on what he believes makes a great dramatic performance and how he’s tried to apply those methods.

“What makes drama work is maybe not thinking about the obvious choice,” he said. “It’s like my wife sometimes. She’s mad at me or something — she’ll say things in a way, like, in a quiet way and it lands.” 

Sometimes the least expected choice is more effective: When someone yells at you, it’s kind of easy,”  he said. “They’re yelling at you and you can just yell back. When they kind of maintain their control of their emotions and they’re still conveying that disappointment, it lands a lot harder. … Trying the not-obvious choice, sometimes you can stumble on something good or interesting.”

Burr said he entered Hollywood at a time when it seems all is in chaos. “My first really big role in a movie was this movie ‘King of Staten Island.’” he said. “I thought I did some really great work that I was excited for people to see. And then, it comes out during the pandemic.”

These frustrations continued with the release of his directorial debut, “Old Dads,” this October — during the SAG strike, when actors couldn’t promote their work and premieres were low-key, if they happened at all.

“We took a lot of chances on this to give young people, the young generation, their first hard-R comedy,” Burr said. While the film has over 50 million streams, Burr said, “I always seem to get there at the end of the party.”

He connected this back to his beginnings as a comedian.

“I started stand-up comedy in 1992 after the whole ’80s boom was over,” Burr said. “Nobody was coming out, they were all stand up-ed out. … Now I’m starting to do movies and nobody knows what’s going on. Like, are people still gonna go to the movies?”

Luckily, Burr sees hope for cinema with the huge success of “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” last year.

Politics

While cinema may have stumbled following the pandemic, Burr sees the opposite with live comedy,

“Right after the pandemic … it felt like, you know, you were doing stand-up after Armistice Day.”

The pandemic changed some comedians’ approach to the art of live comedy, Burr is proud to have kept his the same. 

“I have not wavered in what I do. … Some people change their style because of certain things. ‘I’m gonna work clean now,’ ‘I’m gonna go political’ or something like that,” Burr said. … “Just be funny. Go up there and make them laugh their asses off, give them their money’s worth. Don’t start trying to be a friggin artist. Don’t overthink this stuff.”

Instead of viewing comedy as a way to make statements, Burr sees it as a way to unify folks in joy.

“I understand that people are working hard, I understand that corporate greed is completely out of control. … It’s just all greed and they got us pitted against one another,” he said. “I feel like my job when I go out there is to make you forget about all that stuff and, in a way, try to make people one, as opposed to doing that red-type and blue-type stuff which is destroying us.”

Parenting & Laughing

Burr’s life was changed for the better with the arrival of his daughter six years ago and, since then, the arrival of his son. Unsurprisingly, these two have made an impact on Burr’s life and changed how he lives day to day.

“They changed my priorities,” he said. “Being a parent, the responsibility of it — that you have to raise a good, empathetic human being. … My biggest problem is I’m probably too big of a pushover in areas, I’m sort of overcompensating for the way I was raised. So you know, me as far as being a parent, that’s definitely still a work in progress.”

As the chat came to a close, Burr shared why humor and sharing comedy with the world is so important to him.

“Just connecting with people and hearing them laugh, that laugh isn’t just a laugh,” he said. “There’s a million different laughs, and one of my favorite ones is that one where I feel like you’ve connected … it’s just like, ‘Yes! Yes! I feel that too!’ or, ‘I’ve been through that!’”

Burr said he cant wait to get back on the road. “It helps me feel seen. … I missed it. I miss performing for people. I get such a kick out of that and I get such a feeling of satisfaction like job well done.”

You can catch Burr live on stage at the Delta Center on Saturday, Feb. 24.

 

[email protected]

@grahamcool8

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About the Contributor
Graham Jones, Arts Writer, News For U Producer
Graham Jones was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and moved to Utah to study film. Despite his passion for cinema, Graham joined the Chronicle to engage with the University of Utah community and pursue his love for journalism. Outside of the student media office, Graham can be found buried deep into the pages of a graphic novel or lip-syncing to the greatest hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

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