Comedian Burr fits the Bill

In advance of his show at the 3Arena, the American stand-up tells Richard Fitzpatrick about his role in Breaking Bad and the rise and fall of Kari-Jokie.

Comedian Burr fits the Bill

In advance of his show at the 3Arena, the American stand-up tells Richard Fitzpatrick about his role in Breaking Bad and the rise and fall of Kari-Jokie.

Bill Burr rides shotgun through life. He’s adopted a philosophy from his brother, which he discussed with Jerry Seinfeld on Seinfeld’s show, Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee.

Burr’s take on life is that it’s better not to be the guy who owns the boat; it’s better to be the guy whose friend owns the boat.

You don’t have to deal with docking fees and or with scraping barnacles off the hulls. Just show up with a 12-pack of beer and “You’re a hero”. You get on it. You enjoy it, and when you’re done, you move on.

That’s the way Burr has rolled through life and his comedy and acting career, parachuting onto friend’s shows, or hit TV series like Breaking Bad (he was one of Saul Goodman’s goons in seasons four and five). Burr was a fan of the show from the off. After watching two episodes, before the series went viral, he made his move.

“I was one of the first actors to start bugging my agent to get on the show,” he says. “Before the show’s producers got inundated with every actor at my level who wanted to be on it, I got my request in early.

“They had me read some lines from the show, some of Badger’s. I guess they liked what they saw and said, ‘Alright, if something comes along, we’ll give you a shout.’ A couple of seasons went by. I didn’t think it was going to happen and then I got to read for a guy named Patrick Kuby.

I remember the first time I did an episode, how surreal it was. I watched every single episode. I watched reruns. I was so invested in it. I always thought it was like, if you were the biggest Star Wars fan ever and then one day you get to play a stormtrooper and you’re standing next to Darth Vader, and then they go: ‘And – action.’ It’s like: I just got sucked into my TV. It was crazy.

Burr — who has built up a mass following for his weekly podcast series, Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast, in which he has been ridiculing life’s blowhards and dissecting sport, and other matters, since 2007 — performs at the the 3Arena in Dublin on June 5.

His standing as a comedian couldn’t be higher in the US. Last year, he was placed 17th on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 50 ‘best stand-up comics of all time’, one spot behind Billy Connolly and ahead of Woody Allen and Eddie Izzard.

Burr first visited Ireland 15 years ago, for the Cat Laughs festival in Kilkenny. He was roped into appearing by his buddy, Dom Irrera. Burr was given specific tourist advice about Ireland.

I quickly learned that you didn’t want to go to Temple Bar, that if I went down to Temple Bar, it was just gonna be me and some other jack-ass from Ohio talking to each other, and I’m thinking I could have done this in the States. What I learned was to meet some people from Ireland and, hopefully, they’d tell you where to go and drink.

Burr’s lineage is German-Irish. He grew up in Canton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. He has that flinty Bostonian humour, which he has mined to good effect with his popular Netflix animated series, F Is for Family, the third season of which is due out later in the year.

Deciding on animation as a vehicle for the show — in which he does the voiceovers, along with actors Laura Dern and Sam Rockwell — seemed like a good idea at the time. So, why did he choose animation?

“Because I’m an idiot,” he says. “I thought it was going to be easier than doing a live action show with hair, make-up, wardrobe, setting up and breaking down. I did a couple of episodes of shows that were one-camera shoots and I was like: ‘This is brutal, but it’s still quicker than animation’.

“But the thing with animation is that you can get away with so much more, because the people that complain are morons. They’re going, ‘Well, those are cartoon people. My kid is into cartoons, so I guess the kid won’t get affected by what it’s watching’.”

Burr says he really doesn’t get people who complain about stuff on TV and keep watching it, rather than switching channel.

“They’re a special breed of people. I don’t know if they’re right or wrong, but I don’t understand them.”

Burr turns 50 in the summer. He has been doing live stand-up since forever. He got his start at Nick’s Comedy Stop, a comedy club in Boston, back in the early 1990s, and has survived all kinds of gimmicks and threats to his trade. Who remembers Kari-Jokie, a mishmash of karaoke and teleprompter-scripted joke-telling?

“For a minute, they had this thing called Kari-Jokie,” says Burr, “which was, basically, an audience member would go up on stage and read a joke off of a teleprompter. All the comics were like, ‘Oh my God, this is going to kill comedy.’

It was hilarious, like some idiot reading a street joke off a teleprompter is going to kill George Carlin and Seinfeld’s career, right?

"But that’s what we thought. We went up on stage to start the show one night and there was this table of assholes in the front row and they were heckling us, and they wouldn’t shut up. They really got the better of us. We were all depressed, having a bad show.

“But the second the show was over, all of a sudden they had Kari-Jokie and the people that were heckling us started going up on stage and I was sitting there going, ‘This is bullshit. This is going to kill comedy.’

“And my friend, Pete, a comedian, who recently passed away, said, ‘Dude, are you kiddin’ me? This is perfect.’ He started heckling the people who had heckled us. It was almost like a feel-good Hollywood movie. They were up on stage, trying to do the jokes and we were destroying them to the point that nobody from the audience then wanted to get on stage. They all had the balls to heckle us, but they didn’t want to hear it from us.”

- Bill Burr will perform at the 3Arena, Dublin, on Tuesday, June 5

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