One of the country's best stand-ups, Bill Burr, is ready to explode.
Bill Burr is a defensive psycho—or at least, he used to be. The L.A.-based comic and podcaster describes himself with those very words when recalling his earliest days of stand-up. “A lot of times, I was going into the crowd and chopping people’s heads off who maybe didn’t deserve it,” he says. “They were maybe ordering a beer or talking about a joke I just said, [but] I was so defensive on stage because I didn’t have confidence. If you were talking, the only thing you could be possibly saying was that I sucked.”
He’s no longer defensive, but we’re holding out for any lingering psychosis—without it, Burr wouldn’t be nearly as funny. This is a guy who sells out shows by delivering inspired comic rants about driving his car into a herd of innocent people, imagining his dog jerking off in a raincoat and attacking vendors at street fairs.
Burr, 40, grew up in the Boston area, a breeding ground for comic talent such as Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno, Eugene Mirman and Paula Poundstone, among others. “There’s definitely something to growing up outside of that town,” Burr says. “A lot of people out there are kind of dysfunctional and don’t really tell people what they’re feeling at the moment. They let it build up. Then they snap, and it’s hilarious. That’s the gene pool I come from.”
In 1990, Burr got his start at Nick’s Comedy Stop, where he competed to become Boston’s Funniest College Student. He didn’t win, but he was hooked—almost. A short while later, Burr was working at a warehouse with a fellow funny-guy friend. One day, the two were sitting around watching a Rosie O’Donnell–hosted spotlight for emerging stand-ups. “I remember him sitting there going, ‘One day I’m going to take a shot of Jack Daniel’s and go on stage,’?” Burr says. “I thought, if he can do it, I can do it, and that’s how I got into it.”
Burr worked the Boston stand-up circuit before living briefly in New York in the mid-’90s; he moved to L.A. for a few years and back to New York by the end of the decade. It’s only within the last ten years that he’s really hogged the spotlight, thanks to high-profile appearances on Chappelle’s Show, specials on both HBO and Comedy Central (his DVD Why Do I Do This? is now available), a Monday-morning podcast, cohosting his XM radio show Uninformed and regular appearances on the Opie and Anthony Show in New York.
The latter gave him more exposure then he may have imagined. In 2006, at a traveling version of the show outside Philadelphia, an unruly crowd heckled comic Dom Irrera until he walked off stage. Burr followed with an 11-minute tirade—slinging barbs like, “I hope your mother has herpes in the center of her asshole”—that won him the admiration of the crowd and his fellow comics, as well as YouTube hits in excess of 450,000.
Back in L.A. since last year and unmarried, but in a relationship, Burr says he’s enjoying some of the best times in his life. He’s auditioning regularly for film and television work, writing constantly (Comedy Central filmed but ultimately declined his recent pilot), touring every other week and enjoying the City of Angels. “I just love the whole theory that only douche bags are in L.A.,” he says. “New Yorkers are just as phony; they just get to walk down the street next to plumbers and construction workers.”
The stand-up hits Chicago this week with all-new material and will sign DVDs afterward. Just don’t assume he’s no longer psychotic. “I have this weird sort of Gemini thing where I can really be empathetic and a loving person,” he says. “But if you piss me off, I can be one of the meanest, most sadistic people.”
Burr plays the Lakeshore Theater Friday 3 at 8 and 10:30pm.