Seven Questions for Comedian Bill Burr

The veteran stand-up on his role in Breaking Bad, being a comedian’s comedian and the hate-hate relationship between New York and Boston

bill-burr-color-1-photo-credit-koury-angelo.jpgWhen Bill Burr came through the Pearl in 2011 on The Anti-Social Comedy Tour with Jim Breuer, Dave Attell and Jim Norton, he more than held his own in a stacked lineup—he was the best performer on a night even when Attell was thoroughly in the zone.

Two years later, Burr has beefed up his IMDB page with film appearances in Stand Up Guys with Al Pacino and Christopher Walken; the upcoming The Heat with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy; and Walk of Shame with Elizabeth Banks. Not to mention his turn on the small screen as Kuby, one of the fixers in Saul Goodman’s (Bob Odenkirk) employ in Breaking Bad.

Burr, 44, has also joined the growing ranks of comedians such as Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari and Jim Gaffigan who are selling their stand-up specials directly on their website; his most recent—You People Are All the Same—is available for download as well as on Netflix. Now the Massachusetts native joins the Aces of Comedy series at The Mirage, where he’ll be at the Terry Fator Theatre on May 17 and 18 (10 p.m., $40).

What do you know about the last few episodes of Breaking Bad?

I know nothing. I have a very, very small part on that show. And I’m a huge fan of it, so even when I’m acting on it, I try to have my earmuffs on so I don’t hear anything, because I am as emotionally invested in that show as anybody else is. I’m not allowed to say either way [if I’m in the last episodes], but I just heard the ending is insane. That’s all I heard.

Judging from your last appearance on Conan O’Brien’s show, where you said, “I don’t understand DJs. … To me it’s just a guy playing his iPod with like a mouse head and everybody’s losing their mind,” is it safe to assume you won’t be hitting the nightclubs after your show?

That came out wrong. That came out like I was saying the [DJ] wasn’t talented. I was trying to make fun of myself, that I was old. When you do those shows, it’s always kind of an out-of-body experience for the first 15 seconds. Even if I understood [nightclub] music, I’m way too old to be going out to that kind of stuff.

Does it seem like the model of comedians selling specials directly to fans is here to stay?

I don’t know. I imagine the businesspeople will try to insert themselves back into it. I love it, because whether I make all my money back or not, I’ve eliminated the middleman so nobody can steal from me. I’ve seen more money from this special than I have from my other two combined. [It’s] the Hollywood math: You see that Lord of the Rings lawsuit? Those three movies grossed $6 billion, and they said they still didn’t earn a profit. Everybody had to sue to get paid. Somebody’s getting a raise for doing that to people. They go, “OK, it grossed $6 billion, and we spent $7 billion on billboards, so the way we figure, you still owe us a billion dollars.”

Recently you’ve kind of touched on that idea, about how nobody in the “business” can take stand-up away from you—the idea that stand-up represents freedom.

Total freedom. No conference calls, no notes, no anything. But if it fails, and you fall flat on your face, there’s no one to pick you up. I like that. I’m not really trashing this business. It’s how all business is done. All business is, basically, if you’re a new guy, you walk hat in hand with your idea or widget or whatever, and they’re immediately like, “OK, we own your idea, and all monies will come to us, and we’ll tell you what we made.” That business model sets it up to where there’s no possible way for you to steal from them, but if they choose to, they can rob you blind.

You’re a guy who sometimes gets tagged with the “comedian’s comedian” label. How do you feel about that?

If it’s something other comics actually say, it’s arguably the biggest honor you could ever get. I never hear it, but I’ll take your word for it if it’s happening. There are a ton of guys who could get that label—guys way beyond my reach who I’m trying to catch up to: Louis [C.K.], Brian Regan, Dave Chappelle, Dave Attell. I just have an advantage of being 21 years in and considered one of the “newer guys.”

As a Boston guy, what did you think in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings when the New York Yankees—in a show of solidarity—played “Sweet Caroline” during a game at Yankee Stadium?

It was horrific. Horrific. And them saying “New York loves Boston.” No you don’t. You hate terrorism. Stop saying you love us. You don’t love us, and we don’t love you. We hate each other.

Sort of like after 9/11, when every Red Sox fan I knew had the attitude, “I know what happened, but I still can’t root for them.” Was that you?

The closest I came was I remained neutral. I was living in New York, and [right after 9/11], I’d be at the Comedy Cellar 15 to 20 blocks away, and [ground zero] was still on fire, and you could smell it. I’ll never forget that smell. Even then, the closest I could get was, “I remain neutral.”

As far as that “Sweet Caroline” thing [the Red Sox playing it at every home game], it’s one of the worst things in sports—right up there with the Tomahawk Chop. Aside from the fact that Native Americans countless times have said it’s offensive, even if you just leave that out, the lack of passion when you hear those people in the stands in Atlanta—have you ever heard a tone-deaf family sing Happy Birthday at like a Cheesecake Factory? Not to mention no Indians ever did that [chop]. It’s almost so offensive it stops becoming offensive because it makes the people who are doing it look dumb.

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