"People are going, 'I loved your rant about this.' It's like, 'Dude, I made a statement. It took like one-and-a-half seconds. That's not a rant.'"
– Bill Burr
Bill Burr: I'm stuck in traffic. I left an hour and fifteen minutes to go eleven miles in L.A. and I'm still going to be late.
Guy MacPherson: That's L.A., right?
BB: It's worse than it usually is, but yeah, it is L.A.
GM: I've seen you a couple times here in Vancouver. In your long career – how many years now?
BB: Coming up on twenty-six in a couple weeks.
GM: Had you played here coming up in comedy prior to 2014?
BB: No, I never did. I went up there one time to go to a hockey game but I had never performed in the city.
GM: Now you're a veteran of two times. Do you get a chance to get out in the city or do you just get in and out quickly.
BB: I'm there for two days. It's a place that I really wanted to take my wife for a while but we got a kid so it kinda limits our travel. But one of these times I'm gonna bring her there. Seattle, Vancouver, all those beautiful northwest parts of this continent.
GM: How old's the kid now?
BB: A year.
GM: I was an old dad, too. As they get to that playing age, boy, it can get tiring.
BB: Well, fortunately I have a ridiculous level of energy that drives my wife nuts but it's been great with the kid. When she's ready to go to bed, my wife's problem with me is that I'm still rough-housing with my daughter getting her all amped up. I keep myself in pretty good shape so I think I'll be okay.
GM: All I hear is the best about you, and you must hear that about yourself, too. Is there still room for insecurity when everyone's singing your praises?
BB: Hey, I'm married so very rarely do I hear the best about myself. (laughs) It sounds like I'm getting reviews of my show – ninety percent of my life is my lovely wife telling me I need to work on my temper. And you know what? She's right. Believe me, she keeps me grounded.
GM: What about professionally when you hear all that? Does it put more pressure on you or do you just put that on yourself anyway?
BB: No, what you don't see is how much I get trashed on social media by people every day so the occasional good review doesn't really trump trolls on Twitter and Facebook and all of that stuff. And I gotta be honest with you, I don't really pay attention to it one way or the other, unless it's like a really good criticism, like, I don't know what it would be but like saying, you know, 'You were going too fast on the podcast.' I'll listen to that.
GM: So if it's constructive, you'll listen.
BB: Yeah, if it's constructive, I'll listen to it. But that whole thing, who's the best and all of that, that's all subjective anyways. That's the beginning of the end when you start sitting there listening to the good or the bad. You just block it all out and just keep doing what you're doing, and you hope people show up when they put your name up there.
GM: You're still doing your podcast, since 2007.
GM: I got you beat by three years.
BB: Aww! Like one of the originals.
GM: I know, but people listen to yours, that's the difference. You must love doing it because you don't need to do it, but I'm thinking that just by verbalizing to yourself without the need for constant laughs, must give you ideas to expand upon in your act. Does it help that way?
BB: I try to keep those two worlds separate. When I'm doing the podcast, I'm just riffing and just basically acting like an idiot. When I'm doing my standup, I guess that's a different version of acting like an idiot, but they are two different things because I can kind of take a break from being funny on the podcast and really talk about something. And reading advertising. It's like doing radio on the internet. It's a different thing. If there's something that I really feel that I could expand and develop beyond what I riff, then I would consider doing it but I'm self-conscious about doing stuff that I kinda already touched upon on the podcast. I definitely have done it in a pinch, but I keep them separate.
GM: So when you go to develop new standup material, that's a completely different muscle? You just go to the clubs to work on it?
BB: It's a different idea. It's just different. It's where my head's at and the approach that I take when I'm doing standup. Podcast, I'm sitting at home, I'm in my friggin' sweatpants; it's just me just fucking around. That's just you hanging out with me, but standup I'm at work. There's only so many times you can be like, 'Well, I guess that didn't work' when you're on stage as a comedian before people are like, 'We get you. The whole thing's not working and I paid money for this. This isn't enjoyable.'
GM: Before I ever saw you live, all I heard was the word 'rant.' And then I saw you – and I wrote this in my review – that it's not that at all. I wrote that your opinions have nuance and you show this vulnerability and you equivocate on your delivery, like 'maybe I'm right, maybe I'm wrong'. It's the farthest thing from a rant. But you have this reputation.
BB: Yeah, a lot of people don't see it. They see a little leprechaun-looking man screaming, doing characters and they think it's you screaming. You're one of the few people that have noticed that.
BB: Yeah. I wish more people did. People will take you at face value. To get into what you're talking about, you actually have to care enough. You've got to care enough about something. You have to, like, give a shit about whatever you're watching. It's kinda like the way I make fun of soccer – there's no scoring, everybody's faking like they lost a leg. The stuff that I say about soccer is what someone who doesn't watch it and watched it for ten minutes would think. But someone who actually watches the game, if they were going to criticize it or compliment it, they could really break it down. But most people are gonna just approach a lot of performers like, 'Oh, I watched this for five minutes, bing-bang-boom, oh, he's yelling, okay, he's angry, he's ranting.' And also the word 'rant' has really been kinda blown out. Any time you talk passionately about something for longer than thirty seconds, it's called a rant. When I was growing up, rant was part of ranting and raving. It was like you were making people uncomfortable, like, 'Alright, dude, I got it, I got it, I got it.' And I'm not saying I don't do that. But at this point it's like people are going, 'I loved your rant about this.' It's like, 'Dude, I made a statement. It took like one-and-a-half seconds. That's not a rant.'
GM: Yeah, just stating an opinion, following a logical stream, isn't a rant. You may disagree with the opinion but it's not a rant.
BB: No. People don't know. They'll talk about a comedian and be like, 'Hey, I love when you heckled the crowd.' I can't heckle the crowd. Heckling is you're disrupting a performance. The crowd isn't giving a performance. Whatever. But then they'll say it enough and then that'll become something. It's like in this country we call the main course the 'entree.' It's a French word; that's the enter, that's the appetizer, that's the beginning of the meal. That always confuses French people when we say 'the entree.'
GM: Are there other misconceptions about you?
BB: That I'm a sweetheart. (laughs) I'm kidding. I don't know. Like I said, I don't pay attention to it. In a healthy way I don't pay attention to it.
GM: You're here as part of the festival, but would you be here anyway? Is this part of your tour?
BB: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It's one of the great... I love playing in Canada, even though they tax the shit out of me. I've played Vancouver, Calgary, I did that island out there in Vancouver, I've played Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton. I've played everywhere. All the way out to the maritimes.
GM: You're playing the Orpheum one night and then the Queen Elizabeth the next night. I don't think I've ever seen another artist do that.
BB: Well, what happened those two shows [at the QE] sold out and we wanted to do a third show and the first venue, the Queen Elizabeth, wasn't available so they just stuck me at the Orpheum.
GM: Do you have friends outside showbiz?
BB: Yes. Absolutely. My high school friends.
GM: I read a quote where you said the goal in standup was to be as comfortable as you are hanging out with your buddies and making them laugh. It reminded me of a quote I saw from thirty or so years ago. Dick Gregory said the funniest people are cab drivers and just people being naturally funny, funnier than any comedian. It's completely different, of course, but do you find that you have really funny friends that are funnier than any standups you know?
BB: I have a lot of friends that are funnier than most standups I know. A lot of 'em. A lot of 'em. And that's not a knock on other comedians; it's just how funny certain people are. But they can't go on stage and recreate it.
GM: They don't want to or they're just incapable of it?
BB: No, they just can't do it.
GM: You've worked both clean and dirty. Which is harder? We always hear that it's so much harder to work clean but I don't know that I buy that.
BB: I found them equally challenging, making people laugh. There are times when it's easy; there are times when it's difficult to work clean. A lot of times clean doesn't just mean don't curse; it means don't have an opinion that's going to upset people in the room. So usually when they start saying 'work clean,' you're going to be in front of a really uptight crowd.