A ripened comedian known for his heated, straight-shooting style, Bill Burr offers few frills here in his latest stand-up special I’m Sorry You Feel That Way, which debuted last Friday on Netflix. There’s no fancy opening sequence or glorious preamble, and Atlanta’s beautiful Tabernacle theater is muted by a monochrome color scheme. All we have prefacing Burr’s hefty 80-minute set is the special’s title rendered in classic boldface type. The focus is on the material, plain and simple.
I’m Sorry You Feel That Way is another solid addition to the comic’s impressive stand-up oeuvre, offering more of Burr’s go-to themes and characteristically animated delivery. From the moment he steps into The Tabernacle’s spotlight, Burr’s confidence is abundant as he moves across the stage with an uncanny familiarity. Immediately he starts working his crowd, attributing racial tension in the “oasis” of metropolitan Atlanta to its blistering heat, before moving into a self-deprecating bit on his own eating habits. “Something has to die every day in order for me to live,” he says, detailing his struggle with abstaining from meat twice a week. “Something’s got to get its beak chopped off, feathers yanked, and upper cut to its jaw, just in order for me to survive.”
If that sounds abrasive, welcome to Bill Burr’s comedy show. Never one for understated humor, Burr’s consistently punchy set is marked by frequent expletives, an unapologetic demeanor, and his trademark shifting vocal timbre, which moves from manic to infuriated. One of I’m Sorry’s greatest bits is focused on political correctness—a favorite topic of his—that touches on Paula Deen and the “Duck Dynasty guy” before ending with the suggestion that former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is fairly open-minded “for an eighty-year-old white guy.”
Burr truly excels in observational humor, which comprises the bulk of his lengthy set. He tackles religion, overpopulation, sex and suicide with finesse, offering hysterical commentary on each in a blatant, matter-of-fact way that echoes the special’s black and white presentation. Concerning his faith, Burr admits his inability, as an adult, to adopt the suspension of belief required for being religious. “Why wouldn’t there be some bearded baby moonwalking across the lake, throwing out bottomless buckets of shrimp, or whatever he did?,” Burr explains, discussing his more liberal acceptance of religious stories during adolescence. Despite treading familiar ground with a brief exploration of Scientology, Burr moves onto commentary on Lutheranism, being judged by God in the afterlife, and Jesus being a difficult neighbor in Heaven (“The boss’s son is the worst!”).
Along with these larger topics, Burr addresses more personal ones like infuriating airplane seatmates, his relationship with his parents, and how his regrets come flooding back to him in the shower. In a particularly memorable sequence, Burr recalls an old employer inviting him to shoot a five-shot .38 after a landscaping gig. Just then, Burr pauses, telling the audience that “every other state is fuckin’ dying laughing at this point in the joke, because it’s so goddamn ridiculous, until I get down to the South, and you guys just sit there staring at me.” It’s a moment of clever improvisation that shows just how quick Burr is on his feet.
Burr has long established himself as one of comedy’s most enigmatic players. His fiery delivery and never-shy stance on hot-button issues has garnered acclaim among underground enthusiasts and mainstream audiences alike, but Burr tends to place value on material above all else, sacrificing the opportunity of becoming a household name (something that seems to be his for the taking) by not indulging in celebrity. At one point in I’m Sorry You Feel That Way, Burr’s joke is met with thunderous applause. “Don’t clap, don’t clap, I don’t read,” he tells the audience. “Follow someone else.”
Even so, Burr’s onstage persona is sharp, unwavering and nearly arrogant. This attitude defines him as a comic, and is even evident in the special’s title. Make no mistake, Burr’s concern for your feelings is anything but authentic. Unless, of course, we interpret “I’m Sorry” as an expression of pity rather than regret. In that case, “It’s pathetic you feel that way” would truly be an appropriate alternate title for Burr’s raucous special—and a perspective that arms Burr with the observational insight required to continuously churn out incredible sets.