Bill Burr Falls into His Usual Contradictions in Live at Red Rocks

Comedy Reviews bill burr
Bill Burr Falls into His Usual Contradictions in Live at Red Rocks

I’m never quite sure how I feel about Bill Burr. He’s the type of comedian often praised for taking aim at all sides. Burr is undeniably funny, with excellent pacing and storytelling abilities, and his yell-rant style might not be for everyone, but it works. Personally, I think he’s a bit like a hard candy: once you get past all the tough bits you’re rewarded with the melty center—that is, until nearly cracking a tooth on the last bite.

“You gotta put this shit in historical perspective,” Burr expounds in his latest Netflix comedy special, Live at Red Rocks, as he discusses the “cancellation” of recently or long-dead celebrities. Here, he’s talking about Sean Connery, how people posthumuously brought up the Bond actor’s comments on domestic abuse (nevermind the fact that he was accused of physical and mental abuse by his ex-wife Diane Cilento), and why their objections to glorifying the late performer make no sense because Connery was a product of his time.

While Burr’s not entirely off-base—what is considered socially acceptable has and will continue to change, even if that behavior is and was reprehensible—his flattening of the discussion is a preview of what’s to come. Burr will edge towards an insightful point, like how skinny women compliment fat women while also desperately trying not to look like them, and then veer off into a lowest-hanging-fruit analysis by comparing being fat to being an alcoholic (I don’t have time to get into anti-fat bias here, but this NPR transcript demonstrates how this is a false equivalency).

When it comes to certain topics, especially those pertaining to women, many of his observations remain superficial and seem totally out of touch. He jokes that women are to blame for feminism failing, using a dearth of interest in the WNBA as an example (and hell, our lack of investment in women’s sports has real world consequences) of how women are always asking for men’s help when we should be helping ourselves and filling stadium seats, so to speak. “Why do I have to say something? This is your fucking problem,” he declares in his litany against feminism. The evidence says otherwise.

In another oversimplified argument, Burr says that if women weren’t so busy fighting each other, then we could overcome misogyny. Once again, he’s almost there; unnecessary competition between women is real, but it is a product of a patriarchal society that benefits from such conflict. He identifies the symptoms, but never the disease.

The middle and latter parts of the special prove funnier and show just how perceptive Burr can be. He is most compelling when he focuses on his own experiences, like his childhood and desire to avoid making the same mistakes as his dad. Burr insists that he is changing and growing; while parts of the special heave with George Carlin-esque misanthropy, he also talks about empathy at length—though who he chooses to empathize with, and how, is quite telling. A lesbian with a whiny wife? Yes. A homeless person? Not so much, though he will give them his old clothes.

Fans of Burr will likely love Live at Red Rocks, and newcomers, depending on who they are, may be turned off by the first 20 minutes or so of the special. He is self-deprecating, abrasive, hot-tempered, enlightened, and obtuse all at once. All these contradictions make Burr a compelling performer, especially as an actor in The Mandalorian and other shows. However, as a comic, his both-sides tactics end up feeling toothless and, at worst, regressive. In his own words, “You gotta put this shit in historical perspective.”

Live at Red Rocks is streaming on Netflix.

Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.

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