Fans of comedy don’t need much persuading to watch a new Bill Burr special. Burr is at the top of his game right now, undoubtedly one of the greatest working stand-ups in the business, with four hours behind him- each one better than the last. The fifth is no exception. Walk Your Way Out is chock full of the kind of brilliant political insight we’ve come to expect from Burr who is a master at finding what is hilariously funny and absurd (and downright insane) about the universe he inhabits. Burr recorded the hour in Nashville right before the election, and doesn’t shy away from the topic despite that he knew the hour wouldn’t premiere until after we had a new president, and that alone is fascinating. I talked with Burr about why he took that risk when so many other comics avoided the topic this year, why he chose Nashville to record, and how to approach a fifth special, after putting out four great hours. We also got to talk about why Trump isn’t going to build a wall, and his good friend, Patrice O’Neal.
Whether he’s talking about the election, or people who take cruise ships, or he’s comparing the relative barbarism of two dictators, or even explaining the stupidity of all day breakfast at McDonald’s, Burr’s take on life in 2017 is thought and laugh provoking and all delivered in Burr’s signature “what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-people” attitude. Make sure you check out the new hour, Bill Burr: Walk Your Way Out, available on Netflix now.
The Interrobang: Congratulations on another killer special. How do you end up picking your venues? You’re always in sort of interesting and different places.
Bill Burr: I just walk into a theater and it’s pretty hard to go into a theater that isn’t amazing considering all the hellholes I’ve played on the way up. I was happy just getting to comedy clubs. Forget about some of these places I’ve been lucky enough to perform in. Once in a while, you’ll be on a tour and you just start to feel like I want to record this hour or whatever.
I think when you go into that head space, there’s like a different feeling you have when you go into theaters and just sometimes when you go into these theaters, they just kind of have that feeling. They get that magic. Where you connect with it. I pick them as far as like… if I connect with them beyond just the joy of doing stand-up. It feels like, wow that felt like a special tonight. That felt different.
There’s a thing too. It’s something that you can’t verbalize. It’s totally just like a vibe where … You ever just go somewhere and you’re like, “wow, I could live here”? I don’t what it is. I like these streets. It’s kind of like that. It’s just like, “man, I just feel like that perfect combination of, it’s going to look good when it’s filmed and the people are up on you.” You know what I mean? You can really feel the laughs. You can just connect with them.
The Interrobang: Yeah. I’m sure a lot of that is something you and the audience are going to feel, but you could see it in the special, too. When that camera pans around that sort of rounded theater, it’s pretty spectacular.
Bill Burr: How gorgeous is that façade? It’s just beautiful. Yeah. How my specials look is something that I also … My last one I did in black and white. This one, we kind of messed with it a little bit. I’m always kind of messing with the HD quality because HD, it’s clearer than real life and it has a tendency to make your special look cheesy. It looks like you’re in a tropical fish tank sometimes. Like a clown fish. If it’s really lit and the colors are really bright for my style of comedy, that would be like me doing an hour special on one of the morning talk shows. Which is not the place for what I do. Not that I’m trashing those things because whenever I’m up that early and I watch just the level of “on” that you have to be to host one of those shows is exhausting when I watch. I could never sustain that. These people are amazing.
The Interrobang: Now, this is your fifth special. Is there like a difference to doing that? Obviously, every special’s different, but after you’ve got four behind you, do you compete with yourself? Is there pressure about it?
There’s so many specials coming out that I just feel like even if you just stayed at the same level, if you didn’t give them something different. I don’t think movie makers continue making the same movies. They try to give you some whatever surprise. That’s how I look at it.
I already learned watching this special. There were a few things that I want to improve on. I would compare it to if you played a sport. If you played hockey and your backhand stunk, you go and you work on your backhand. Get it as strong as your forehand or whatever and make it a legitimate threat. There’s so many specials coming out that I just feel like even if you just stayed at the same level, if you didn’t give them something different. I don’t think movie makers continue making the same movies. They try to give you some whatever surprise. That’s how I look at it. This is all really nerdy minutia of taping specials. People reading this are probably bored out of their mind.
The Interrobang: You took a couple of risks. Of course, there’s the cowboy shirt, which I love.
Bill Burr: Oh, Nashville. Oh, yeah.
The Interrobang: You recording the special right before an election probably breaks a lot of rules that people would have. That first five minutes of this special, at the end of five minutes stopped, looked at the time and could not believe that it was only five minutes. I felt like we’d just been through a killer half hour in five minutes.
If I missed this or fumbled that, I don’t care and I leave the mistakes in. You want to capture a live performance. A live performance has mistakes.
To me, I love when they add on to the songs or when they make left turns or somebody screws up, somebody drops a stick, something’s not working. You see the band members looking at each other. Some of my favorite bands are performers where the guys that were improvising. The band would just be locked on the singer looking. Like James Brown, Stevie Ray Vaughan. Then we saw Chris Layton and Reese (Wynans) and Tommy Shannon they would always …when he was soloing and they were coming back to one. Then a few bars you’d see him looking at them and if Stevie didn’t look at them like, “All right, he’s going around again.” To me, I get chills looking at that.
The Interrobang: I’m watching the special a couple days ago and listening to Trump saying, “Yeah, we are building this wall.” Then I’m listening to Bill Burr say, “He’s not gonna build the wall.” I still think he’s not gonna build the wall. What do you think?
Bill Burr: No. The size of that job alone. It’s going to take 10 years to get off the ground. That was my point with the Freedom Tower. We all wanted that. The sheer amount of money that whoever gets that contract to build it, how much they’re gonna steal. You know how they overcharge and all that stuff. The sheer amount of money that you’re gonna make. There are people salivating to overcharge on a wall that runs from San Diego to El Paso, Texas or wherever it’s going to go. All the way down to the, I haven’t looked at a map lately, where that kind of cuts off. It’s absolutely ridiculous.
The thing that scares me about Trump the most, that makes me uncomfortable is how insecure the guy is, the level of insecurity the guy has.
He’s in now. I don’t want to provoke the guy. I want to keep the guy nice and chill. I want to keep him chill.
The Interrobang: Absolutely. Anytime something big that’s weird happens, one of the first things I think of is what would Patrice say if he was here. This is definitely one of those times. I know you guys have the benefit coming up.
Bill Burr: Yeah. February 21st. The fifth anniversary.
The Interrobang: Are you just planning to do that indefinitely because it’s such a great thing?
Bill Burr: Yeah. It’s a way to keep his memory. You know, we never really did press for it because it’s a long story why we never really did press. This year, I want to start doing it just because I feel as much as Patrice was underground people should know who he is. He was the best I ever saw live. He’s just the best I ever saw live without a doubt. Everybody who knew him knew he was the funniest. He was the funniest and it wasn’t close either. He made me feel like an audience member. You didn’t feel like you were doing the same profession as him.
The Interrobang: Yeah. He’s funny in a unique way. I don’t think there’s anyone you can say is sort of in line to be the next Patrice O’Neal.
When somebody truly finds their voice and then you combine it with that level of talent, there’s not gonna be another one.
The Interrobang: One of the great bits in your special is a piece about how life would have been different if Hitler was black.
Bill Burr: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s right. Nobody would’ve listened. Yeah, he would’ve been yelling at people on the subway. That’s right. I forgot that one. Yeah.
The Interrobang: Is that something that just sort of popped into your head while you were developing other things? Where does something like that come from?
Bill Burr: You’re just riffing on stage and you just have all this stuff that you’ve seen. Probably I guess living all those years in New York, seeing all these crazy people on the subway and just one night you’re riffing and I started comparing the Kanye thing to the Hitler thing. The absurdity of that I guess led to that thing. I don’t try to breakdown the process too much because then you get in your head. It should just be flowing out of you.
Obviously, if they don’t get it, I’m not going to be this avant-garde asshole that just performs for himself for an hour.
The Interrobang: You got a huge laugh that I didn’t expect on the John Goodman movie reference. I can’t believe I can’t think of the name of the movie. Raising Arizona.
Bill Burr: I didn’t think I was gonna get a big one on that one either. I was just like, “I don’t give a shit. There’s gonna be a few people at home that get this or a few people that are into it.” By throwing that out, I realized on a whole other level how iconic Raising Arizona is.
The Interrobang: Yeah. I was actually very proud of the audience for that. Like, “OK, Nashville, way to go.”
Bill Burr: Nashville’s cool as hell. Nashville’s like some of the best music you’re gonna hear is made there. That’s very underrated. That show Nashville is not helping their image either. Not saying it’s a bad show, but it’s definitely a big soap opera type of thing that kind of bleeds into everybody’s walking around with cowboy shirts and western boots on and stuff. That’s why I wore the western shirt that had the stars on. I wanted something that had a little bit of style to it, but it was also a little silly because there’s a bunch of people down there that are working on apps and internet shit for the future. It’s just funny that you just treat them like they all came there riding in on a horse. That’s why I did it.
The Interrobang: Are there a lot of surprises? Obviously, by the time you’re recording this, you should kind of know a lot of what the audience is gonna react to, but maybe they still surprise you. Bigger laughs in some places than others.
Bill Burr: I don’t know. I just do the show and then I kind of forget about it. That’s something I thought about when I was first starting to get outside. I started in Massachusetts. I’d be like, “Oh, my God I’m in New Hampshire. Do my jokes work in New Hampshire?” Once I started doing college gigs and stuff. What happens is once you travel nationally, you’re act becomes national. The first time you go to Texas and you lived your whole life in this Northeast state and then you go to Texas, you have an accent. The stuff that you talk about would be so local to where you are at, you’d have a problem. I’ve been doing this coming up on 25 years in March. I’ve played Nashville. I used to play Zanies all the time. I wasn’t worried about stuff whether it worked or it didn’t.
The Interrobang: Well, it worked beautifully. I loved the special. It’s really great. I’m excited for everyone else to see it. Congratulations.
Bill Burr: Walk Your Way Out premieres today, exclusively on Netflix. Watch the trailer below