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LAist Interview: Comedian Bill Burr

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Los Angeles-based comedian Bill Burr's excellent live show "Why Do I Do This?" makes it's TV debut on August 31st, Comedy Central at 11:00pm. You've had many opportunities to get familiar with Burr over the past 15 years, what with appearances on "Chappelle's Show", HBO's "One Night Stand", "The Late Show With David Letterman", his CD "Emotionally Unavailable", The Opie and Anthony Show, and his own XM Radio show "Uninformed". Not that Burr held anything back in his previous specials but this is one that shouldn't be missed. His bits on overpopulation, homophobia, Hollywood portrayals of racism, and the insane internal dialogues we all have, set a comedic bar on those topics that will be hard to surpass for quite some time. LAist had a chance to speak with Burr as he prepares for a tour supporting a new set of material, good news for all the fans that Sunday's special will create.

Listen to the full interview here:

LAist: How did this show come about?

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Bill Burr: We shot it ourselves last year at the Skirball Theater in New York, then we had to cut and edit it, then we shopped it around a few networks and here we are.

LAist: How did you get started in comedy?

Bill Burr: I did a contest in 1992, "Find Boston's Funniest College Student". It was at Nick's Comedy Stop. I was supposed to do 5 minutes, probably only lasted 3 minutes - I did mediocre, but I knew I wanted to do it after I did it.

LAist: I wanted to thank you being able to put what is a "male perspective" out there in your act, without getting all redneck about it.

Bill Burr: I know what you're saying - I make sure people know these are just jokes. I definitely say what I think, but I don't want to be on stage and come across like a know-it-all. I listen to that voice in me that says "I think this is bullshit" and then I go with it. I can't count the number of times I've been wrong though.

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LAist: It's not that the ideas aren't offensively funny, they're definitely extreme but you do it such a way that's not abusive.

Bill Burr: I'm not being malicious, I don't mean anything malicious by them. They're jokes. I always find it funny when a comedian does a special, and it's in front of a whole bunch of different people, everybody's laughing, he doesn't get heckled, and then someone has to start talking about how the comedian was offensive. Basically what they're doing is that they're calling everyone in the audience a moron, and that they weren't smart enough to realize these are jokes. There's another thing that's funny, watching people get into trouble on TV, when they didn't mean anything malicious but they still end up apologizing. If I didn't mean anything malicious, I would never apologize. The only apology I would make is "I'm sorry you didn't understand you were watching a comedian, and that you thought you were watching 'Meet the Press'".

I'm just up there trying to make people laugh and that's how I do it. I kinda talk about everything, I make fun myself and my life, and bigger things like population problems, all under the guise of this guy who doesn't read very much, which gives me license to be a moron.

LAist: You say that, but your perspective is informed. Whether you are talking about race being represented in movies or overpopulation.

Bill Burr: The point behind that bit [the "movie" about black repression] is not that it didn't happen, the point is that the representation of the event is so cartoonish. It's been so many times, it's such an odd movie and topic to have a genre around it. You know you're going to have to have the one, truly over the top, racist white character who is going to represent every fucked up thought that white people have ever had. Then you'll have the one understanding white character so that every white person who goes to the theater can say "that's the person I would be in that scenario" - rather than showing how people really are, where everybody has good and bad in them, and they have positive thought and fear, and when you have fearful thoughts, that's when you think "oh they're going to come in here and ruin the pool". I've never really written a movie script but I guess but for some reason in 90 minutes you can only develop characters to the point that says "this guy is bad and this guy is good".

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The joke is not the topic [slavery and genocide], the joke is that the way that Hollywood chooses to present this is ridiculous. Now the problem is that when certain people watch a comedian, they take it at face value, they try to say that "this guy doesn't want black people in the pool". These people and groups are a little insulting, they think people are too dumb to put things in context, if you're too stupid to not understand you are watching a comedian telling jokes, you will go out and do something stupid regardless. I don't think movies, books, and comedians should have to suffer because of this. You should be able to talk about what you want to talk about and I think morons will be morons, regardless.

I have a classic example of this. I had this dude come up to me when I was in North Carolina, and he was this really Southern, redneck dude, and he was really into my comedy, and I started laughing because this is why I love doing the road because I had all these judgements about him but he was really knowledgeable about my act [which was impressive]. One of the things he talked about in particular was his appreciation of this bit that I had done on Laughapalooza where some guy in a bar, who I didn't know, is telling me a story and then drops the n-word and then I experience the awkwardness of figuring out what was the socially acceptable thing to do at that moment. He brought up that performance, and then later on in this conversation that I have with this very guy in North Carolina, he drops the n-word! And I look at him and I think "did this just happen?" So I say what-the-fuck to him, and goes, "well I could have said this" and then he dropped the n-word again. Now you'd think that he would have understood from watching my show what the joke was all about, and that dropping the n-word was not an acceptable thing to do, but he obviously didn't.

As a performer, it's not your responsibility to babysit people who think like that.

LAist: Another great bit in your act is your articulation of the internal messaging your brain does. The "did I just think that terrible thought?"

Bill Burr: The best thing about that joke is the number of women that come up to me and tell me the thoughts that they have. Just these incredibly violent and crazy thoughts. I had a girlfriend tell me, I don't know what I was doing but I was pissing her off, and she literally had an iron in her hand and she was just thinking "what if I would just smash this over his fucking head", and I had no idea this was going on behind me and she said "you had no idea how close I was, you were just sitting there running your stupid mouth, watching the TV."

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All that shit about "if women ran the world, there would be no war" and then you have a bunch of women come up to you and say "yeah, I was thinking about strangling my kid with an extension cord" and that makes you think, "ah good, it's not just us".

LAist: Other than Sunday's premiere of "Why Do I Do This?" what else do you have going on right now?

Bill Burr: I'm about to kick off a tour with my new hour of material that I've written since this special. It's called The Uninformed Comedy Tour and it's hyping my new hour of material and my show on XM Radio, "Uninformed" that I co-host with Joe DeRosa, another great and funny comic who will be on tour with me, all the dates will be up on my website.

Bill Burr's "Why Do I Do This?" premieres at 11:00pm on Sunday, August 31st, on Comedy Central.

Pic of Bill Burr via BillBurr.com