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Friday, April 12, 2013

Bill Burr talks music, improv, and 'Breaking Bad'

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  • KOURY ANGELO
For more than 20 years, comedian Bill Burr has done his time in the trenches, building an impressive resume that includes roles on Comedy Central's "Chappelle's Show" and AMC's "Breaking Bad." He's also a fixture on the late-night TV circuit - Letterman, Conan, Jimmy Fallon, et al. But live, on stage, and in the moment is where Burr's talents truly shine. The Massachusetts native's devil-may-care attitude and Bostonian "Whatever?!" conversational pace make him a distinctly hilarious, no-nonsense philosopher of the times. Inner-relationship absurdity, sports, race, and socially taboo subjects of every stripe are fair game. When Burr takes the stage, no one is spared his exacerbated wit.

Chad Radford: Most of your performances on this tour that sweep through the South are at larger theaters this time around. Have you fully graduated from the club circuit?
Bill Burr: No, When I go to write a new hour, I go to clubs, and then once I've got the material together I take it to theaters. So every other year I do clubs, and every other year I do theaters. You can never stop doing clubs because that's like going to the gym. That's what gets you in shape, and I'm dong the theaters now, which means I've got my hour down.

You have an hour down, but your performances tend to feel pretty spontaneous. Does improv figure into your set?
It absolutely plays a role, and I'm very conscious of ... When I did the "Night Of Too Many Stars" I burned the Steve Jobs bit. It's a topical bit. I'm not doing another special until 2014, so what, am I going to do the "Hey, Steve Jobs died!" bit in 2014? No. So what I did was I waited for the right opportunity to put it out there. And then it's just out there - the fact that it's on "Night Of Too Many Stars" makes it kind of like a cool B-side. That's an old record album reference. I don't know if kids are going to understand that now, but back in the day bands would put out a 45 and then there would be just one song that you could only get on the back side of whatever the bigger single was. ... The point is, I try as much as I can to make sure that the people that come and find me on YouTube are not going to just see me telling the same joke wearing 15 different outfits.

I never really hear much crossover during your Monday Morning Podcasts, either.
I try not to say things during the podcast unless it's an idea from the show that really has some legs. Or if I feel like saying something new that one night, or maybe if I'm talking and whatever I'm talking about just kind of leads me to that subject. But generally speaking, with the podcasts, I'm just riffing. Stand-up I'm also riffing, but it's a different kind of thing.

I do hear some passive references to music in your material, and your humor feels very punk to me. Were you into punk rock when you were growing up?
No, I was not into punk rock at all. I listened to the most mainstream stuff that was out there. I don't know how to say it. ... I wouldn't say that I listened to straight-up hair metal, but I wasn't listening to Metallica. I was more into metal in the '80s, but I was listening to the big bands. I played drums when I got older ... I had no idea who James Brown was until I saw the Eddie Murphy stand up special, Delirious. I had no idea who the guy was because he wasn't being played on any of the radio stations I was listening to, and my parents didn't have any of his records. So I came late to that whole party. I don't know what I listen to, to be honest. When it comes to popular music, I find it hard to listen to. There's the boy bands and stuff. It's not hard to listen to, and it's not hard to pay attention to it so, as a comedian, you know what kids are listening to. A lot of the stuff nowadays, just kind of ... I don't know. Auto-Tune. The whole Auto-Tune thing was hard to listen to. And all the new styles of rock ... They just kind of sound like they're whining too much to me. It's hard to force myself to listen to it, but I don't want to be the guy who's basically listening to the equivalent of Glenn Miller.

It seems like the DJ stuff - there's got to be something to it. I saw that Thom Yorke was DJing the other day. Not having to necessarily learn how to make the sounds, but you get the sounds. ... It's more about how you arrange them, and it becomes a song. You can literally piece together this composition, like you're composing this music, and you don't have to be able to play any of the instruments. That's really fascinating to me. I don't want to say if it's a bad thing or if it's a good thing, it's just different and it's fascinating to me.

You tend to be pretty unrestrained with your comments. Is there a danger in calling it like you see it to such a bold degree?
No. There are two levels to that. If you notice, the people who get into trouble - as comedians - they're almost always the people who have a TV show. Or they have a movie career. Basically, there's something at stake. If a group is going to waste their time by putting out their the whole "We're outraged!" thing, they want to get some media mileage out of it. So you have to be a certain level of successful to actually be offensive. You know, a homeless guy can say whatever the hell he feels like saying and nobody gives a shit. But if you're attached to something that they can then attack - something that can cost somebody else some money somewhere down the line - then you have the ability to be offensive.

Will your character Kuby return for the final half-season of "Breaking Bad?"
I really hope so. Man, I really hope so. I love doing that show, and just like everyone else out there, I'm waiting to see how it's all gonna come to an end. I have no idea what's gonna happen! But when it's over, I'll be sad and I'll go out and buy it on every single format they could possibly think to put out there - DVD, Laser Disc x 2 - you name it, I'll buy it. I love doing that show. I love everything about that show. The writing is phenomenal, the way it's shot, and the choices of music that they use - everything is perfect. When I got that role I said to myself, "I really have to do this right. I cannot screw this up. I have to know my lines inside and out." But really, no matter what you do, they're always going to make you look good.

Once I did my first few, I got to know some of the people on the set, and started going back. One time I got to watch a scene between Bob Odenkirk and Bryan Cranston. Then they edited some lines out. They changed things around a bit. It was great.

You've gone on record a few times saying that you're not interested in having a show.
Yeah, but that whole thing got blown way out of proportion. I said that to one guy, just kind of in passing. Then, before you know it, it becomes the story. But that's not really true at all. I really like acting, and if I had a really good idea for a show, or if someone came to me with a really good idea to do a show, I would love to do it. I would do it in a heartbeat. I'm working on an idea for a cartoon right now.

Bill Burr performs at the Tabernacle tonight (Fri., April 12) at 7:30 & 10 p.m. $27.50-$33.50. 152 Luckie St. 404-659-9022.

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