Art

Bill Burr Defends His Reputation as a Constant Complainer

It’s hardly surprising that Bill Burr strikes some people as a bit of a contrarian. After all, his standup comedy routine and frequent late-night television appearances find him ranting on everything from women in the workplace, Bruce Jenner, and grocery shopping to fast food, stay-home moms, and muffins, while scouring a variety of subjects in between.

He’s a constant complainer, a man who’s unafraid to denounce absurdity and tear apart the ties of political correctness. He seems to have his audiences convinced that his life is one big cauldron of complaints, although in reality, he isn’t nearly as disgruntled as he appears.

“I don’t walk around with this big cloud over my head,” Burr insists. “I have a great life. I play drums, I fly helicopters, I travel. I get to work with talented colleagues. I’m in a great mood most of the time. When I go onstage, I’m just imitating some lunatic losing his shit, and for some reason, people think it’s me. I don’t give a shit. As long as people keep showing up, I’m fine with it.”

Fortunately, they do. Although Burr’s credentials include several specials on Comedy Central and Netflix, an animated series on Netflix called F Is for Family, his own podcast, a onetime role on the show Breaking Bad, a featured part in the buddy film The Heat, voiceover work on the game Grand Theft Auto IV, and, of course, a spate of television and radio guest appearances, he’s best known as a standup comedian with no shortage of socially askew opinions. No matter what the topic, he seems to have an unapologetic opinion about all of them.


There’s Super Bowl parties, for example.

“Most people agree with my opinion on Super Bowl parties,” he insists. “It’s the most important game of the year, and people who don’t like football show up and talk during the game and then shut up during the commercials. I don’t think that’s a crazy point of view to dislike Super Bowl parties. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with a Super Bowl party. I’m just saying that if you like football, you don’t go to a Super Bowl party.”

He’s especially adamant when it comes to incompetence.

“You know what irritates me?” he says. “People that suck at some of the easiest jobs on the planet. I went to an Italian restaurant and they screwed up spaghetti and meatballs. I wanted to say to the person that did that, ‘If you can’t pull that off, there’s really no hope for you.’ Every job I ever had before I was a comedian, I was great at. I just don’t get these people who think that when they get their dream job, then they’re going to start trying. You’re either someone who works hard or you’re just dead weight.”

Burr claims to speak for experience and he cites his own work ethic as an example.

“I was a busboy. I cleaned bathrooms. I did all of these so-called horrible jobs and I showed up and I did the damn job and gradually started moving up. Or I got out of there and found something else. People who show up with their shoulders slumped deserve to work there. I don’t know how you can be mediocre at anything and succeed.”

Of course, Burr also knows a little something about the art of complaining. But his complaints aren’t based on his gig. Quite the opposite. His gig is based on his complaints

“We’re in a big bitch period right now where everybody just sits around and complains that they got the short end of the stick,” Burr grouses. “The biggest advantage you’ll ever have is crushing it at your job. That’s the kind of thing that irritates me and then it just spins off into my material. I just start thinking of that person, what their life is like, what their relationships are like, what their parents are like.”

Not that he’s looking for things to gripe about.

“It just happens naturally,” he says. “I don’t make a conscious choice that I’m going to get irritated by something. Stuff just irritates me.”

Nevertheless, Burr concedes that there are certain taboos he won’t talk about. However, he hedges when pressed.

“I have my list and another comic will have his list,” he muses. “I’m not going to say what’s on that list because in the past I’ve gotten in trouble from people who say things like" — and here he affects a high-pitched, nagging voice — "‘You said you weren’t going to talk about that!’ There’s stuff I won’t talk about just because I think it’s too easy. I’ve always veered away from talking about sex onstage, because it just goes off the rails. It seems too simple. And if I don’t have an original point, then I don’t bother.”

Still, there have been times when he’s pierced those parameters. An exchange with a blind person in the audience led to the suggestion that he was insensitive. Burr says he was simply responding to a heckler he didn’t know was handicapped. Likewise, he’s been criticized for being offensive to women.

“A couple of specials ago I may have trashed women too much, so now I try not to do it at all,” he says. “Then again, I am married so it does creep back into my act.”

With all his dissing and digression, Burr once claimed he’s not a big fan of people, an unusual statement considering the fact that he makes his living entertaining them.

“That’s just me being an idiot,” he says. “People take comedians way too seriously these days. When I go to Times Square, I don’t like people. Super Bowl parties, the same thing. A bunch of people running their yaps. I don’t enjoy people in that situation. I like to go to dive bars. I like a four-door sedan more than I like a sports car. I’m sort of a curmudgeon.”

Ya think?

He’s also unhappy about the current state of our politics.

“Depressing,” he says when asked his opinion of Donald Trump, another individual who’s apparently unafraid to say what’s on his mind. “He was funny for maybe two months. He’s a reality TV star who’s gotten this far by not saying anything. They all dance around the topics, but he’s up there just talking trash. ‘I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that.’ Then you ask him how and he says, ‘I’m not going to tell you because they’ll just start stealing my ideas.' Right! I’m not a fan of Hilary Clinton either. I just wish we had better choices than the Democratic and Republican parties. We’re too flawed and there’s no species above us that thins the herd, so we’re just going to ruin it, ruin this paradise.”

Luckily for audiences, it's this malaise that supplies him his material.

“It’s working for me.” he beams. Clearly, audiences seem to agree. 

Follow Bill Burr and keep up with his podcast billburr.com.

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Lee Zimmerman