A Conversation with Bill Burr about Paper Tiger and SensitivityPhoto via Netflix Comedy Features bill burr
This interview took place a little over a week ago, right before the release of Bill Burr’s new special Paper Tiger. In the time since we’ve seen the hiring and firing of Shane Gillis from Saturday Night Live and the furthering of the conversation about if what a comedian says on stage should impact their hireability.
We want to make it abundantly clear in advance, this interview was before that news unfolded. These are simply Burr’s responses to our questions before the release of Paper Tiger. Normally we would fold these answers into a feature story, but with someone like Burr, it seems like a shame to leave out any responses. Enjoy, read our review of Paper Tiger, and make sure you watch the special yourself.
Paste: Thanks for the interview Bill. I got to watch the special last night and really loved it.
Bill Burr: Oh, thank you.
Paste: It’s funny as hell. For a special that is just bound to piss people off a lot, I really liked that you named it Paper Tiger…
Burr: I am not trying to piss anybody off.
Paste: I don’t think you’re actively trying to piss anybody off. I think you’re just naturally good at it.
Burr: No. I’m not, and this is the thing. People aren’t pissed off. People are going to watch it and they’re going to enjoy it, or they’re not going to enjoy it. Now, there might be a few people that don’t enjoy it and that slips out about it. And then what happens is those few people are then gassed up like they’re millions and millions of people, like “Oh my God, blah, blah, blah.” All that is is just money, because there are too many places out there to do stuff. From videogames to the internet to streaming TV to actual terrestrial TV, and the only way to get people to stop and look at your shit is to say something crazy happened. So, there’s a big-time Chicken Little error that’s going on.
Burr: It’s really not funny, dude, because there’s a lot of real shit that’s going on and it gets no coverage whatsoever, but you tell a knock-knock joke and people act like you’re the one who poisoned the food supply and that’s why cancer’s off the charts.
Paste: Is that why you named the special Paper Tiger?
Burr: Yeah, I’m making fun of the media. It’s also making fun of me in that I don’t really read. I’m just some idiot talking, and nothing that I’m saying… It’s not like I’m presenting legislation, I’m just telling jokes. And then people in the media are really like… Because there’s just so many places to go now, you have to be like P.T. Barnum and just sit there and act like what is about to happen was the most epic thing ever. And it really isn’t. It’s just a comedy special.
Paste: I find it interesting that you say that. It seems less like actual audiences have become too sensitive because I see you and Rogan and Chappelle at The Comedy Store a lot. Every time I see you guys live you’re crushing. It feels like it’s not that the audience has become so sensitive, but that social media has given people a mechanism to say when they’re aggrieved.
Burr: No, it got super aggressive. It’s “if you don’t think what I think we’re now going to mobilize and try and destroy your ability to make a living,” and that’s where they then became what they were fighting. I mean, the whole thing [at first] was like, “hey, you have the right to say what you say, and I have the right to respond blah, blah, blah.” It’s like, yeah, absolutely, absolutely.
But it’s not tit for tat if somebody then tries to systematically destroy you simply because you made a joke about something that they don’t find funny. It’s a funny time to be alive right now. There’s a lot of people… I don’t know. Their behavior, it reminded me a long time ago, when I got into this business.
Most people, when they got a TV show, they were psyched. They couldn’t believe they got it and they felt super lucky. They tried to get their friends on it, but there was the occasional person who, as I always call it, takes the ride, and suddenly is like, “yeah, man, I’m amazing. Everything I think makes a lot of sense.” I feel, because of social media now, there are certain people on social media that take the ride, and everything is about them and how they feel about it. It’s nuts.
The whole thing is fucking hilarious. “I demand an apology?” It’s like, oh, acting like you’re a country. Honestly, I don’t understand it, and I think it’s funny and I really believe that most people are fucking rational and they’re cool. Most people are going to understand that they’re just watching a comedian. The New World Order didn’t take over, and I am not your fucking führer.
Paste: Something I’ve always enjoyed about your comedy, especially watching you from your first special through this one, is there’s this continuing theme of your own personal self-improvement.
Burr: That’s who I am. I’m a fucked-up guy.
Paste: You’re a constant work in progress. It’s interesting, though, juxtaposing that with your jokes about people being triggered, because you seem very open to change when people that you love say, “this is a problem.” Do you feel like the intent behind when someone asks for you to consider something matters, or is it different because you actually have a relationship with the people in your life versus just strangers throwing darts online?
Burr: No. Just because you’re a stranger doesn’t mean you’re throwing darts. My thing is if you have a valid point and I understand it and it’s delivered in a way that I can understand it, I will be like, “Oh, you know, I probably didn’t look at it that way. Cool.” I do that as a comedian too. I mean, I have a bit right now that I was doing about lesbians, and this is why they shouldn’t be filming comics.
The first time I tried it out two women yelled at me and fucking walked out of the club, and then waited til I left the club and were screaming and yelling at me. It’s just like, it’s a work in progress. Shut the fuck up. Now I’ve refined a bit, I fixed it, I found where the funny was, I was finding the way to comedically say what I was trying to say, and last night the exact lesbian that I was talking to came up to me and was like, “That joke was so funny. Literally, you’re talking about my life.”
Everything is just all or nothing. It’s like, in my personal life, if my wife comes at me with something that I think is bullshit, then I’ll argue it and say, “That’s bullshit.” But if she’s coming at me and I’m just like, “you know, she’s making a good point, she’s right…” I’m a little stubborn, so sometimes it might take me 24 hours to admit it, but yeah, I’ll go to it, and this is the thing too.
If somebody comes up to me… If I was to say something in… I still don’t think the way I was saying it… I thought those women still weren’t right to yell at me. They had the right to yell at me, but what they thought I was saying was not what I was saying, but of course, they thought that that was what I was saying. Then, that becomes “Well, if I think that that’s what you’re saying, then that’s what you’re saying.”
You just have to approach somebody respectfully, and the funny thing about the internet is when somebody tries to present a counter opinion, it usually starts with, “Hey, fuckhead. Maybe if you blah, blah, blah.” It’s like, who’s listening past “hey, fuckhead?” It’s funny. There’s an incredible lack of respect, just common decency on the internet as these people demand the exact thing that they’re not giving anybody. They want to be heard, they want to be respected, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and then they’re telling other people to shut the fuck up. Only think the way they think, and if you don’t, we’re going to try to mobilize and destroy you.
Somehow, the irony of that is lost on this very small segment of the population which the media keeps acting like is everyone. I do hundreds and hundreds of shows a year, okay? The last time two people yelled at me and walked, I can’t even remember. I don’t even remember the last time that that happened. It’s only happened a couple times in my career, so before you start writing, “He’s telling jokes and people are walking out and he’s not doing anything about it,” it’s like, no. It’s just simply not true. Most of what is being reported about all of this shit is just not true. It’s sensationalized, it’s designed to get people to look at it, and if you look in the corners, the sides, there’s this advertising and banners and shit you have to click out of the way. It’s people and the media pretending they care. It’s like, no, they’re making a mortgage payment.
Paste: How did growing up in Boston impact your sense of humor?
Burr: Everybody in Boston’s funny. They’re still a bunch of characters, and I don’t know why. I have no idea why, but I go back, and now that I’ve left for so long, when I come back I just can’t believe just the level of characters that are out there. To be a character you have to be just totally not even conscious of your behavior, and they’re just really in the moment. I have no idea, and I’ve talked to a lot of people who live out here from Massachusetts why it is that people are the way that they are there.
There have been all kinds of theories, where… Oh, because the sports, other than the Celts, have stunk for so long, and blah, blah, blah. Well, now we’ve won all these championships and the behavior is still there, so that’s been taken off the list. I don’t know what it is, but I feel blessed that I was able to start there because the comics that started that scene were so funny, and then just had this line of quality that they were… I don’t know. That everybody had to adhere to, and it was policed. If you were a fucking hack, word got out and you weren’t working, and if you were a joke thief you were going to get punched out.
Paste: I got a minute left. I was going to do a quick lightning round. I have a friend from Boston who asked for your opinion on a few things. When do you feel like Friendly’s restaurants took a turn for the worst?
Burr: When they stopped having the burger melt. When they put their burgers on a bun instead of having it on that white bread that they used to put it on. It was the greatest ever.
Paste: What’s your favorite exit on the Mass Pike?
Burr:: Oh, man. The one that leads to my house, which I was never at when I was doing this shit. It certainly wasn’t exit two in Lee, Massachusetts. I always seemed to get that gig when they were tearing up half the Mass Pike.
Paste: Necco Wafers. Delight, or bullshit?
Burr: I don’t know what they are.
Paste: Wonderful. Who was the best Red Sox player from your youth?
Burr: Oh, man. I would say Jim Rice.
Paste: Awesome. Thanks for your time.
Burr: No worries. All right, buddy. See you.
This interview has been edited for clarity.