Bill Burr on Doing Drama, His New Animated Show and Political Correctness

Bill Burr on Doing Drama, His New Animated Show and Political CorrectnessEXPAND
Photo by Koury Angelo

Bill Burr has a career worth bragging about. He's more than just a very funny and clever stand-up comedian with a legion of dedicated fans who pack houses like The Majestic Theatre, where he will take the stage at 8 p.m. tonight

He has released six stand-up specials, four of which were produced for Netflix's streaming service. He's appeared in a bunch of mainstream movies including comedies like Paul Feig's The Heat and serious dramas like Black or White, and he even had a prominent role as one of Saul Goodman's henchmen on the critically acclaimed TV series Breaking Bad that's sure to lead to a special appearance in its Emmy-nominated spinoff, Better Call Saul. He even has an animated series premiering on Netflix later this fall. 

So how does Burr sum up a career that most comedians would kill to have? Well, Burr may be opinionated about everything from politics to family onstage, but when he steps off of it, he's as humble as one of the Catholic Church's saner popes. 

"I do stand-up and I have a cartoon, so that's basically all that's going on," Burr says with a laugh. 

The "cartoon" he's referring to is a six-part animated series called F Is for Family for Netflix, the media giant that's made the critically acclaimed shows House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and BoJack Horseman. Burr wrote and stars in the series as a 1970s dad who's an "amalgamation of everybody's dad that writes on the show." 

"The show takes place in 1973," Burr says, "so what's cool is that I have the catchphrases and stories of about seven or eight different people's fathers from the '70s."

The series is being produced by Vince Vaughn's Wild West Productions, which met with Burr when he had the idea to develop some of his childhood stories into short cartoons for his own website. The meetings eventually developed into a feature-length series they later sold to the streaming TV service. 

"It's just something that sort of naturally progressed," Burr says. "I was always telling childhood stories on stage and I'm a big fan of animation. So I thought, 'What if I animated them?' I was just going to do five-minute vignettes on my website, and I just happened to have a general meeting with Wild West and they loved the idea. Then we got in business with [writer] Mike Price from The Simpsons and four-and-a-half years later, we've got a show coming out." 

Right now, the episodes are being edited. Burr says he's been working so hard on putting them together that he hasn't had a lot of time to reflect on his life or anything outside of a recording booth or writer's room. Still, it's hard to avoid the reach of Donald Trump's hilarious presidential campaign, as evidenced by Burr's last visit to Conan O'Brien's show last month. 

"I’ve been working really hard on this show, so I haven’t been able to go out and live life as much as I wanted to," Burr says. "So I’m excited to get out on the road and interact with people. I always make a fool out of myself at some point and I just add it to my act.” 

Since his last tour, comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock have made waves by saying they don't play colleges anymore because of the politically correct culture that is permeating comedy, but Burr says he doesn't think the majority is concerned with political correctness or that it has much sway over comedians.

"The perception is that it's a million people, but the reality is that it's like 40. But for some reason, 40 people kicking up dust on Twitter is like a million people," Burr says. "The bottom line is, all you need to do is look at a census and realize there's over 400 million people in this country and so like even if 1,000 people complain, you're still talking about .001 percent of 1 percent ... It's the epitome of making a mountain out of a molehill. It's not even a molehill. It's making a mountain out of a grain of sand."

Burr works best when he's not self-censoring, and anyone who takes offense at his comedy is looking for a fight they cannot win. 

“People are offended in a strategic way — who they get offended by and when they get offended," he says. "The good time to get offended by a comedian is when they get a big show coming out or a big movie coming out. That's when they dig through your Twitter and say, 'Hey, you said this back in 2006,’ and it’s like, 'Oh yeah, and you waited nine years to get offended by it.' It’s all bullshit. It’s a bunch of bullshit. Meanwhile, you’ve got the guy from Nestle who wants to own water.”

Drama seems to be a natural part of any comedian's life, whether it's dealing with an offended heckler or just telling a story about his life. Burr says comedy is an effective way to learn how to perform in dramatic roles. 

"Most of the time when comedians are telling stories, they are actually talking about some drama in their life," Burr says. "They're just telling it in a funny way but when it happened to them, it wasn't funny. So you're just pulling from that and rather than telling the funny story later, you're just living in the drama in the moment.

"I enjoy doing anything if it's written well and the people know what they're doing," Burr says. "Comedy or drama, it's all fun."  

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