This Friday Netflix will release Bill Burr’s fourth hour long special, “I’m Sorry You Feel That Way.” The special was shot on June 20, 2014 at the Tabernacle in Atlanta. Burr is the stand up comedian that other comedians aspire to be right now. He has so many things happening in 2015, including a co-starring role in the feature film “Black or White” and an animated Netflix Series “F is for Family.”
Amy Hawthorne spoke with Bill about his career, and the new special.
Do I even need to write an introductory paragraph for Bill Burr? He’s universally revered by fellow comedians and has an enormous following around the globe, including tens of thousands of fans who tune into his Monday Morning Podcast. “I’m Sorry You Feel That Way” is Burr’s fourth one-hour special and will premiere Friday Dec 5 on Netflix.
The IBang: So, every comedian I told I was going to interview you, immediately said, “ooh, ooh, ask him this!” So if you don’t mind, at the end I’m going to run through some questions from other comedians.
Bill Burr: Ok, cool, that’s very flattering.
The Ibang: Who are some of the young guys you look at and are impressed by?
Bill Burr: God, there’s so many people that I like that have now blown up over the years, like Reggie Watts and Chelsea Peretti. We’re doing the benefit for Patrice again this year and some of the younger guys we got on there – Michael Che and Hannibal Buress – I like seeing people that I can tell love doing stand-up as much as I do. This guy who opens up for me, Paul Virzi. Fortune Feimster, hilarious. She’s such a funny comedian I actually get pissed when I see her on TV doing acting gigs because I know it’s taking her away from the clubs. As a fan, I wanna see her in the comedy club more because she’s just so unique.
I made a point when I did the Montreal Comedy Festival to stop in and watch as many funny young comics as possible because, you know, they’re the ones that are going to be setting the bar for the direction it’s going in. As much as I stay contemporary, I’m not a part of their generation. As a fan of stand-up and for my own survival, I gotta see what they’re doing. I think it’s very ignorant to sit there and think, “I’ve been doing it 22 years and you’ve been doing it 2 years, so I can’t learn anything off you.” That’s a very dangerous thing to do because next thing you know, you’re 80 and so is your crowd.
The IBang: Speaking of Virzi, he told me a great story the other day that you guys were just talking in the car on the way from the airport to a gig and you said, “Hey that’s funny, I think I’ll do it onstage tonight.” Then you did it practically verbatim. How much of a joke do you write before hand and how much does it evolve while you work it out on stage?
Bill Burr: Yeah, that’s the story about the guy who jumped out of the helicopter So I started just imitating the pilot, reacting to the guy who was trying to jump out and Virzi was dying laughing and I was like, “I should do a bit on that,” and Virzi said, “Yeah, try it tonight. But that’s something that happens a lot, like Virzi does it too. I’ll just be sitting there going, “Dude, you gotta talk about that onstage, you gotta do that onstage. That’s a bit, that’s a bit.” A lot of times comics are talking and they’ll just say something and not even realize… sometimes they’ll say something and it’s like, “Man that’s a chunk of material. You could spread that out.” I’m such a long-winded jackass, I actually forget your question.
The IBang: (laughing) No, tangent answers are usually more interesting than the original question anyway. I was just asking about typical lifecycle of a bit.
Bill Burr: The lifecycle of a bit is basically “If you’re not sick of doing it by the time you tape a special, it lives.” You have all these mini relationships going on with the jokes in your act. Some are the marrying kind, some are one-night stands. Some, you lose their number! “Ah, I got it right that one time and I can’t remember how it went.” It’s the one that got away.
The IBang: Do you ever worry while you’re working out new stuff that someone’s gonna sneak out a cell phone and either something’s out there and it’s unfinished or someone on a blog is going to come after you?
But even if you’re doing something good, you can become a little Stalin-esque and kind of lose your way and become this zero-tolerance, ugly person while you’re trying to do this good thing.
It’s really a funny thing to watch because they’re coming from such a good place, like “We need to stop domestic violence” or “We need to cure cancer.” But even if you’re doing something good, you can become a little Stalin-esque and kind of lose your way and become this zero-tolerance, ugly person while you’re trying to do this good thing. But it’s also because of that technology that I was able to put stuff on YouTube and travel to other countries and still have a following. You never really get your cake and eat it. Cake makes you fat. There’s always some price you pay.
The IBang: Was that sort of reach and distribution why you decided to go with Netflix?
Bull Burr: Well, initially I did my [last] special with Comedy Central and my agent struck up a deal with Netflix so that after its initial run on Comedy Central, it could air on Netflix. And with Comedy Central, they have commercials, so they already have to cut some minutes out. And you can’t curse on that channel, which I totally respect, but it just wasn’t a good place for what it is that I do.
Then when it went to Netflix, I got this amazing feedback and I realized “Oh, this is a better fit for me.” For some comedians, Comedy Central is a way better fit than Netflix, but I’m not one of them. I saw the difference in ticket sales and responses on social media and everything, where I felt like on Netflix they got to see the special the way I wanted them to. It’s been a really perfect marriage.
The IBang: You were an early supporter of “The Goddamn Comedy Jam” and you have gone all out every time you do it, does that prove the old cliche about “all comedians really want to be rock stars”?
Bill Burr: No, I believe that every person secretly… I mean, there’s probably like twenty really fucking badass jobs out there that everybody wants to be. So maybe you want to be a Navy SEAL or a quarterback or an astronaut or win an Oscar… even a comedian. I like those hot rod shows where they build cars… everybody has a fantasy.
I’m so psyched that you’re promoting that show! [So far] I dressed up like John Bonham and Tommy Lee and I’m trying to fit it into my schedule to do next month. And if they take it to Montreal this year, I’ll go just to do that show. I’m starting to work on a Pantera song, trying to get my double-bass game up. That show is gonna get big enough that actual rock stars are going to come down and do it. Josh [Adam Meyers, creator of GDCJ] really has a goldmine going there.
The IBang: Ok, on to the questions from other comedians. What do you miss most about starting out?
I remember, the first time I got paid, this guy Freddy Stowe gave me $5 gas money and it was unbelievable to me.
The IBang: What would you be doing if you’d never gotten into stand-up?
Bill Burr: Jesus Christ! I don’t even know. I was not book smart, I was not good at school. I always thought being a lawyer would be something I’d like to do, but I never would have gotten through school, forget about passing the bar. I’m just scatterbrained. I guess drive a UPS truck. It’s physical, you don’t have an office, have your boss breathing down your neck.
The IBang: What do you think you’d be the cautionary tale against?
Bill Burr: Temper, temper.
The IBang: How do you feel about that heckler video from Philly?
Bill Burr: I mean, I got a lot of respect from other comics after it happened, so that was great, but I was humiliated when it happened. My head was spinning, I had a headache. I knew someone was gonna film that and I wasn’t sure how it was gonna be perceived because I just looked at it as a fail. I got booed. I wasn’t sure if people were going to see it [positively] the same way comedians saw it. Fortunately, they did.
The IBang: Anything else you want to make sure people know about?
Bill Burr: We’re doing the Patrice O’Neal benefit again this February and tickets are onsale. It’s a great lineup of comics and I want to thank everybody who buys tickets because it’s great to be able to pick up what Patrice was doing, supporting his family. A lot of times when someone dies young like that, you just have one benefit and that’s not going to last. So, it’s a wonderful thing, we get to put on a great, all-star show and then take the money and help the people that he loves.