Chappelle's Show veteran and all-around funny guy Bill Burr is stopping at Comedy Works this weekend. We caught up with Burr just after the recent earthquake in Los Angeles.
Westword (Amber Taufen): How are you?
Bill Burr: Well, I just got back from vacation, and we just had a nice earthquake here in L.A., which is the usual. You just sort of sit there, and for a second and a half you think it's a dump truck, then you think, "Is this the big one?" and then it's over.
WW: Where did you go on vacation?
BB: My family rented a house in Nantucket, so we had a very Kennedyeseque vacation. Went deep-sea fishing, really did a lot of stuff outside -- I'm kind of into nature and that kind of stuff, even though I know nothing about it. I always liked nature, but it was more of watching Discovery Channel than being in nature.
WW: You do quite a bit of stand-up touring; have you been to Denver before? What did you think?
BB: Yes, I have, I've been there, I went there on the Chappelle's Show tour, the "I'm Rich Bitch" tour, and I think that was 2005. That's when I got to know Wendy (Liebman), who's one of the great club owners out there -- straightforward, honest character, knows how to run a club. There's not really a better club as far as how they're all packed in, the acoustics. If you're going to make a comedy club, that's how it's supposed to look. I've been back twice since then, their vibe kind of matches with mine.
WW: And how would you describe your vibe?
BB: Basically, a smart guy who doesn't read and kind of goes with his gut. A lot of my opinions are basically based on part of a conversation I overhear, then I watch a couple of YouTube vidoes and paste it. I really have strong opinions, yet I realize that I've only been exposed to about one percent of the information. Those talking head shows you see on TV where the person's the all-knowing figure? I'm one of those guys where I present my opinion just as strongly, but I know how full of shit I am. An admittedly full-of-shit talking head. It strikes me, I'll be improv-ing during my show, and I'll make some sort of statement, and in my head it sounds good, but it sounds ridiculous as it's coming out of my mouth, and I make a point of calling myself out on it. Which I think is good. There are too many people acting like they have a friend in the Pentagon or actually know how cell phones work.
WW: What's it like being on the road as often as you are?
BB: I used to be out about three weeks in a row at a time, now I do it every other week. It's great. 52 weeks in the year, I probably go out 25 times, so I'm always rested and I'm always excited. The Denvers, the Seattles, San Francisco, New York City, Boston - I pretty much just go to places where people really appreciate me at this point, as opposed to back in the day where I would go anywhere, anytime. Going to the airport and getting on the plane is the hardest part now, they just keep nickel-and-diming people, it's getting really really tense. They keep taking away ameneties, it's literally worse than taking the bus. You do so much of their job now. Checking yourself in, and on one flight the stewardess asked us to fold up the blankets, and now we're all supposed to collectively become a free cleaning crew or help with it because they got rid of the cleaning crew.
WW: You also do a significant amount of radio; what do you like or dislike about that?
BB: When I was living in NYC I was on the opie and anthony show which I'm still a part of, I still call in and when I'm in town those guys put me on, that's kind of how I got into the whole radio thing. And the other way I got into it was just from traveling and going on the road, I met Floorwax and all those guys on the road, you go to town and there's usually a couple of guys you vibe with, if you're lucky. The closest thing to doing standup is doing radio. My favorite shows to go on are the ones you go on and you just kind of jump in on whatever they're talking about, do the morning drive, that kind of thing. That usually translates to a bunch of tickets. Bob and Tom, all those guys. I also do my own radio show on XM, Uninformed, it comes on once a month and it'll land on whatever Saturday night we get. It's been on hiatus because we were watiing for the merger to go through, but now we're back on it.
WW: You're sort of infamous on YouTube for that Traveling Virus clip in Philadelphia. Can you tell me about that?
BB: I was oding the Opie and Anthony Traveling Virus tour. It had been a great tour, that's a huge radio show, so there were these huge 10,000-seaters that we were doing standup in. We had done Boston, we'd done a place out in New Jersey, and those both went great, and then we went out to Philly, The people from there, they're hilarious. If you watch sports, you'll see how much they boo people. Donovan Mcnab, I saw them boo Destiny's Child, Ja Rule, the infamous story of them throwing snowballs at Santa Claus. They're crazy. So we went down there and it was like 10,000 people, they were tailgating, playing football in the parking lot, it was insane. And basically what happened is the first guy went on stage at 7, 7:30 as everyone was filing in, they booed him offstage. And I went on like three hours afterward. I compare it to the bridge scene in Apocalypse Now, it was crazy, it was bedlam. I tried a couple of jokes, they didn't go over, they started booing me and I decided in that moment I wouldn't let them boo me off -- I've been booed off before, and afterward I started thinking about the different people in the crowd and thought, "Why didn't I say this?" I think what happened was, I snapped, and there's a point where you can only snap so far and still go back into your act, and I basically crossed that line, I couldn't go back into my act, and that's when I looked down and saw I had twelve minutes left, and I thought, "I'm not leaving," so then it turned into this thing where I started attacking their sports teams and their mothers. And they loved it, they thought it was great. Half of them were cheering, half of them were booing. It was this perfect balance of pissing me off and egging me on. The perfect storm, asshole crowd meets defensive comedian. I wish at the end of the clip they would have had after the show, when everyone was out signing T-shirts, and I wish they could have shown me laughing with the crowd. There are people who watch that video and think that I actually dislike Philly.
WW: Have you been back to Philly since? What kind of reception did you get?
BB: I did Helium Comedy Club, and it was cool, barely even brought it up. Philly's like a dysfunctional family. Remember when you'd have a huge argument, and you'd say the most over-the-top, evil stuff ever, and twenty mintues later it's like it never happened, but there's no apology? They're like oh yeah yeah yeah, all right, whatever. It was never going to be like that, it was a 300-seat comedy club. If you start heckling someone in seat triple F, you can do or say whatever you want, but if you're in a comedy club I can see you and that gives me a lot more power.
WW: Do you have any upcoming projects in the works you'd like to share?
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BB: The huge thing that I want to promote is an hour-long comedy special on Comedy Central called Why Do I Do This airing on August 31, there will be a CD and DVD release following it. The CD comes out august 5, the special comes out on the 31, and then the DVD and CD will be available in stores on I believe it's the 16th. That's the big thing. I'm doing a tour coming up afterward, the Uninformed tour, hyping my new hour of material that I will be doing this weekend in denver, and cross-promoting my radio show that I do with Joe DeRosa.
WW: Anything else at all about your life, your tour or anything vaguely related that you want to talk about?
BB: I do a podcast every Monday, on my MySpace page, the Monday morning podcast, and I just riff and ramble about whatever I did over the last week and I answer questions, it's really been taking off. People send me all kinds of questions, from "How did you get started in comedy?" to "Would you rather be burned to death or drowned?" which feeds me to improv more and go off on stuff. I do it every Monday because I figure people are going back to work and it gives them something to laugh about when they get back to the office, cubicle, loading dock. I've been putting video up on YouTube and my MySapce page as far as getting heckled. Someone threw a doughnut at me. The latest ones I put up was, some lady kept yelling "thank you!" after every joke I did, and some guy in the crowd was blind and I didn't believe him, at some point he held up his cane and then I believed him, I put those random moments up there. Other than that, I just sold an idea to Comedy Central, I'll be developing that and hopefully I can get my mug on TV, but I am a stand-up comedian first and foremost, and I don't ever see myself stopping doing standup, I'm hoping every couple of years I'll have a new hour I can put up on DVD.
Catch Burr's latest hour at Comedy Works, 1226 15th Street, with one show on Thursday, July 31; two on Friday, August 1 and three on Saturday, August 2. Tickets are $20 to $30; visit www.comedyworks.com or call 303-595-3637. Visit Burr's website at www.billburr.com.