Bill Burr talks Trump vs. Obama, Netflix specials, the new comedy boom and more
Bill Burr once saw a video on chimpanzees.
“For the longest time, I thought they were vegetarians. Then I found out that they actually eat meat, and that they kill other monkeys,” the comic said by phone from a hotel room in Toronto, days before a deadly chimp attack last week at the Lowry Park Zoo.
“Then I found out that they actually eat meat, and that they kill other monkeys. They went after a smaller monkey, four or five of them, and they basically pulled this thing apart as it screamed in agony. And the agony of the other monkeys actually excited the chimpanzees. I’ve never been able to shake that image since I watched it.
“We are these things. That is us in our simplest form.”
Caustic take, right? But that’s Burr for you. The 49-year-old Boston stand-up spits barely constrained rage through an omnipresent smile, always honing his perpetually aggrieved outlook on life’s issues, big and small. And like fellow angry men George Carlin or Bill Hicks or Louis Black, it’s helped him claw his way to the upper ranks of the industry.
Burr, who has two shows Friday at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, has a string of successful stand-up specials under his belt — including a few for Netflix, which is also the home of his animated sitcom F is for Family. Though he has a popular podcast (Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast) and numerous acting credits (Breaking Bad, Kroll Show, Daddy’s Home), the stage is the place where he feels most at home working out his rage against humanity.
“You probably need 1/10 of the world’s population for us to continue to exist” as a species, he said. “There’s just too many damn people. You have to somehow get us from 7 billion people to ... I don’t know what the magic number is, but I imagine at some point, that will happen. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’m making the cut.”
It doesn’t take much to get Burr off on a rant, as we found in our phone call.
I rewatched your special Walk Your Way Out. Your bit on overpopulation reminded me of George Carlin. Did you ever meet Carlin?
No. I was supposed to meet him at the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach like three months before he died. He said to come down. He was running his hour for his final special, and he ended up being too sick, didn’t feel well, didn’t go down. So I didn’t get to meet him.
I know you taped the special almost about a year ago. Where are you at on the next hour?
Well, whatever I’m working on is always a work in progress. But I have an hour and a half of new stuff. I can run my mouth for an hour and a half.
The podcast helps with that, I would imagine — just a constant forum for you to talk through your thoughts every day.
I don’t take anything from the podcast and bring it to my act, because I feel like that’s been burned, unless I feel like I can really develop it beyond two or three jumps beyond what I said on the podcast. I have a small amount of people that know me, and they come out to my shows, and they’re all in. They’re listening to the podcast, they’re watching my stand-up, all that. So if I take something from the podcast and try to do it on stage, they know the ending, and they’re yelling out the ending. I can’t do that. So it keeps me on my toes.
At least it lets you talk about what’s happening in the world, because the world has changed a lot since you taped your special. Your bit on Hitler suddenly has a lot more relevance.
I don’t think it’s changed much at all. People focus too much on whether there’s a Democrat or a Republican in office. It’s not like this guy Kim-Jong Un got into power the second Trump got into power. It’s not like he wasn’t a problem. It’s not like we haven’t had warmongers. It’s not like corporations haven’t been the main influence on what we’re doing around the world. It’s not like these giant news corporations haven’t been looking the other way, because certain giant entities advertise on their channel. It’s all the same thing.
It’s convenient to blame the current president, the same way Obama was getting blamed, Bush was getting blamed, Clinton was getting blamed. It’s not them. It’s the way it’s set up. I think politicians are grossly underpaid — they should have “F--- You” money. Instead, they need to go out with their hat in hand to try to get money, and then they owe people favors. You and I don’t have the money to influence politics. That’s basically what it is.
It’s very convenient for everybody to sit there and flip out and act like we were living in a paradise, and now the world’s fallen. I think it’s hilarious the way Obama is depicted post-presidency. He’s always kayaking or playing jai alai like he’s some retired athlete or something. Like he wasn’t doing the exact same thing everybody else was doing. That guy has $69 million worth of road gigs coming up, giving speeches. Who do you think he’s going to talk to? You and me? He isn’t. He’s going out to talk to the people who got him in office, and now they’re paying him off. It’s bribe money. They’re just washing the bribe money.
So I don’t subscribe to, “Oh my god, can you believe Trump?” Yes I can. I totally can. It’s not like Obama was this champion of global warming. I know he put on his L.L. Bean outfit two weeks before he f---ing left office, and sat on a boat looking at mountains, and that was the photo op he needed to act like he gave a s---. Like he could actually do something! You can’t. We’re on a high speed train about to hit the wall. I try to believe in the religion that the s--- I recycle is actually being recycled, which I know is probably just getting dumped in the ocean.
So, let’s tell some jokes!
I do want to talk about Netflix. In 2017, if you’re a comic, does Netflix just drop a pile of cash on your doorstep? How does it work?
I’ve been in business with them since 2008. I’ve been doing F is for Family with them since 2014. The deals are different for each person. They have this algorithm over there; they are really efficient at figuring out how many eyeballs you’re going to bring, and then they act financially accordingly. I’ve always been more of an underground person. When you’re talking about comedians as big as Chris (Rock) and Dave (Chappelle), that’s a whole other different level. But that’s what gets attention, so then everybody thinks they’re running around giving that kind of money to everyone. They aren’t. (laughs)
Yeah, but Bill Burr in 2008 was a different comic than Bill Burr in 2017. You’re at that level. You would be in that category of comics.
No, and I have the financial receipts to prove it. I’m telling you, dude. Chris Rock has hosted the Oscars, you know what I mean? I haven’t done anything near that level in this business. I do a cartoon on Netflix, and I do a podcast, and that’s pretty much what I do. (laughs)
But that’s more than a lot of comics.
It is, but to put it into context, Jerry Seinfeld had arguably the greatest sitcom of all time. You’re talking about icons. There’s a reason why a global media entity like Netflix understands their value. That’s the thing about this business — you have to have a f---ing logical idea of where you are in this business, or you’re going to drive your agents nuts. Like some of these other suckers in this business, going, “He got this amount of money, how come I’m not getting it?” Because you’re not that, you f---ing dope!
Even so, between these Netflix deals and the rise of podcasts, we’re in the middle of a comedy boom. Do you see this bubble bursting?
Yeah, absolutely. This business does that all the time. Remember all those f---ing vampire movies? Every movie had a vampire and a werewolf? Where did those all go? So eventually, yeah. An hour of specials every single week? It’s unheard of. I mean, what the f--- do I know? I don’t run a TV network. I don’t know if you can sustain that. I have no idea. All I know is I’m working on my next hour, and I’m hoping people are going to come out and see me. That’s all I can control. It’s the hope that I won’t be kicked out of this business.
-- Jay Cridlin