It’s 8:30 a.m. on a Tuesday and Bill Burr has already been up for hours. “I like getting up in the morning,” he says. “If I ever sleep past nine o’clock I feel like a lazy loser who wasted the day.”
Netflix has just released Burr’s sixth hour-long stand-up special Paper Tiger in over 190 countries, but he’s deliberately ignoring the instant reactions on social media. “I’ve heard that there’s feedback, but I don’t read any of it,” he tells me on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast. “I watch Turner Classic Movies for a week. I don’t need to be listening to all of that crap, because so much of it is negative.”
Like his friend and one-time mentor Dave Chappelle, who launched a thousand think pieces when his most recent special dropped on Netflix a couple of weeks earlier, Burr has become known for pushing buttons with deliberately controversial jokes.
“Dave Chappelle said something nice to me in the early 2000s and I held onto that for like five years,” he recalls. “No matter how bleak it got, it’s like, ‘Dave Chappelle said I’m funny!’”
Paper Tiger, which he shot earlier this year at the Royal Albert Hall in London, includes rants against the #MeToo movement, “male feminists” and a handful of Michelle Obama jokes that are guaranteed to horrify the kind of “woke” liberal viewers he can’t stand. Mocking the former first lady’s best-selling book Becoming, Burr jokes, “Chapter One: How to tell if a dick tastes presidential.”
But Burr insists he genuinely doesn’t care about the “outrage culture” that dominates so much of the media coverage around comedy these days. “It feels like Chicken Little,” he says, explaining that while it can seem like the sky is falling down on his head when he, for instance, makes a Caitlyn Jenner joke, the vast majority of viewers understand that he’s just “screwing around” and give him a pass.
Why he can’t stand ‘outrage culture’
“Outrage culture is one of the most misrepresented things out there, how they will make such a small percentage of people seem like they’re three million people. And it’s not even necessarily because they believe in their cause, it’s just that where the money’s at is eyeballs and controversy and people arguing and being offended and watching somebody get in trouble makes people stop on your website or your TV channel and watch. But it’s just not an accurate portrayal of where people’s heads are at. It just isn’t. It feels like Chicken Little. You go on stage and some nights you’re going to do a bit and you go, should I say this? And it’s like, what is going to happen? It’s just a joke. And 99 percent of the people there—100 percent most nights—realize they went to a comedy club and everything you’re saying [is a joke]. You’re not watching legislation being written, it’s not going to change anything, it’s just somebody screwing around.”
Why he thinks Trump will be re-elected in 2020
“Once you perform long enough, everything just becomes a version of stand-up in your head. It’s why I can’t watch those presidential debates, because a lot of them are so astoundingly bad at public speaking. If someone gives a comedian crap, you can go, ‘Ehh, go fuck yourself!’ But as a politician you can’t. But I think now, maybe you could. What blew me away watching Trump do what he did, the things that he said in the past would take down somebody’s campaign. Or you thought it would if you said those things and the media would be all over him and that would be it. It’s kind of blown me away that in four years, it doesn’t look like anybody is going to [be able to beat Trump]. It’s like a pay-per-view fight, I want to see a good fight here. I don’t want to see Tyson-McNeeley.”
On his controversial Michelle Obama jokes
“It struck me as funny that she was considered this feminist icon. And I was like, what is feminist about her life? She went to an Ivy League school and she got a law degree. Yeah, and then she abandoned her career to stand behind her husband and clap and smile at everything that he said. And just the attention that that gets, how inspirational she is. And look, I’m not totally shitting on her, but it’s just a funny thing to do as a comedian. And if people take it seriously it makes it even funnier. It’s a joke. The same way I’m not above being heckled, I don’t think anyone’s above being made fun of.”
On being labeled an ‘angry’ comic
“One of the misunderstandings of me is that if I’m on stage doing a character or yelling about something that I’m actually angry. I’m not. I’m having fun. I’m having the time of my life. I’ve gone on stage angry. My act does not work. I get off stage and I have a headache. I feel bad and I feel bad for the crowd. I feel like I let them down and that I selfishly—whatever happened in my day, it wasn’t their fault. And they paid for a sitter and they paid to have a show, not to have me go up there and act like a fuckin’ baby. So there’s a difference between that and having something that drives you nuts and sharing with people and they can share in their frustration. That’s the difference. When people say ‘you’re an angry comic,’ it always makes me laugh, because they don’t know I’m having the time of my life.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Comedy Bang! Bang! host and director of Between Two Ferns: The Movie, Scott Aukerman.