Like many a high-profile industries, stand-up comedy is perhaps under a greater microscope than ever. Between social media, 24-hour news and the like, people are more easily offended than ever, or at the very least, far more vocal about it.
Bill Burr, one of the hottest comics in the stand-up game today, doesn’t really have time for this, and he sure isn’t going to alter his set to accommodate people’s sensitivities. Houstonians can find out firsthand when Burr plays a set at Revention Music Center on Thursday, July 26 and another the following night.
“I’ve gotta be honest, literally 100,000 people may be into this ridiculousness, but it doesn’t take a large group of people to move the needle anymore,” Burr said on a recent phone call. “Everyone has to Tweet at the same time about the same thing, it starts trending, and then everyone acts like the sky is falling … People are easily offended, and what’s going on is so many people are out there trying to get other people to click on their websites or social media accounts. The stories of people being outraged need to stop.”
This mindset is what has made Burr both a critical and commercial favorite, but also a popular figure among his comedic brethren. Burr’s no-holds-barred, pull-no-punches approach has certainly turned off certain audience members in the past, but it has cultivated a far larger fanbase along the way.
Burr, who just turned 50, was no overnight success. Sure, appearances on Chappelle’s Show certainly opened a few doors in his 30s, but Burr didn’t really become a household name until his 40s. Thanks to a recurring role on Breaking Bad, coupled with a run of well-received Netflix specials, Burr has risen through the comedic ranks, from half-empty comedy clubs to sold-out live music venues.
He attributes his success to a number of things – hard work, perseverance, a few breaks and, oh yeah, by simply hanging around.
“I’m just an attrition guy,” he admits. “I wasn’t the fat guy. I wasn’t the hot chick. I didn’t have the hipster look. I just kept going out there trying to make people laugh. It’s a competitive business, You may be out there and someone who started after you got going will just blow right by you. It messes with your head. You’re like, ‘what am I doing wrong? This business is fucked up.”
Another factor in Burr’s popularity is his accessibility, and more importantly, his ability to skewer both sides of an argument. Whereas political comedians like Bill Maher and Jon Stewart may alienate half their potential audiences with left-wing politics, and whereas those like Dane Cook may turn certain folks off simply because they're Dane Cook, Burr sees fit that both sides of an argument get their fair share of roasting.
Take the #MeToo movement, for instance. Burr certainly sympathizes with the victims, and he’s quick to lambast the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Kevin Spacey as “monsters.” But he also takes the movement to task for railroading comedians like Chris Hardwick, who was accused of abuse by an ex-girlfriend, but a comedian for whom many ex-girlfriends have come out to support as anything but abusive.
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“This whole movement began because of abuse of power, but what I love now is the reaction to abuse of power is abuse of power,” Burr said. “In some of these stories, there’s no burden of proof. Hell, there’s nothing to prevent me from ruining my own career. I could go online, start a fake account and post as an anonymous person, and everyone would believe it … It’s absolutely necessary to stop the behavior of some of these guys who are doing this shit, but it’s spun out of control.”
Burr has been billed as a “rage-fueled” comic in the past, and he certainly doesn’t dispute this notion. But he just turned 50. He married a few years back. He recently became a father for the first time. Just as his career was a slow burn of sorts, so too was Burr’s sense of maturity.
“I was always told I don’t handle stress well, and I guess I’d never really thought about it, but it took me more than 30 years to realize how angry I was,” Burr said. “I kinda took the frustration into my 40s, and having just turned 50, I’ve finally found a level of maturity. Goes to show, if you have an issue, you may as well try and fix it.”
Bill Burr is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 26 and Friday, July 27 at Revention Music Center, 520 Texas. For information, call 713-230-1600 or visit reventionmusiccenter.com. $48.25, plus fees.