Thursday, June 19, 2014

A conversation with Bill Burr

Posted By on Thu, Jun 19, 2014 at 5:28 PM

  • Koury Angelo
After two decades spent working the late-night talk show circuit, clubs, and larger stages the world over, Bill Burr needs no introduction. The fed-up Bostonian is a master of wise-guy comedy, and he's stole the show dozens of times via smaller acting roles such as his recurring appearances on "Chappelle's Show" and as Saul Goodman's go-to guy Kuby on AMC's "Breaking Bad." Since 2007, Burr has continued building his audience online with the "Monday Morning Podcast." Burr marks his triumphant return trip to the Dirty South with two back-to-back rounds of unadulterated stand-up comedy. Everything from inner-relationship absurdity, sports, racial tension, and many more socially taboo subjects are fair game when Burr goes on a rant - all tackled without an ounce of pretense. Both performances are being filmed for his next comedy special. Before the show, Burr took a few minutes to talk about social media, "Breaking Bad," and letting go of his anger.

Are you only filming the Tabernacle shows, or will you film performances in other cities as well?
No, I'm just taping that night. I'm taping two, and then I'll take the better of the two.

Does the special have a name yet?
No, I'm playing with a couple of ideas.

You often talk in your "Monday Morning Podcast" about how you got into stand-up because you didn't want to have a job. But doing this and being motivated enough to remain self-employed requires even more dedication and work than a regular job. Does it seem like a job to you yet?
No, it seems easy. The social media stuff in the last 10 years has made it feel like a job. Just going out and performing, that's good. But sitting there and "hey, we need you to re-tweet this link, and the link isn't working, and your website is down." And now everybody has moved from Myspace to Facebook and from Facebook to Twitter, you have to start doing vines? It's like chasing the club kids. It's all the same kids and they just ran across the street to the new club because it has different chandeliers and that other club across the street is so last year. But it's all the same people. Just stay in one goddamned place so that I don't have to move all of my shit again!

And what's funny is the amount of people who don't know what they're talking about that tell you what you have to do. The thing that I love about the Internet is that it is the wild west. They are trying to corral it. The Internet leaked into the masses, like a damn, and it's just pouring into the valley and everyone went a different way and I thought it was hilarious watching them trying to corral it. Eventually we are all gonna talk about the Internet and how it used to be, and the freedom of it. Because it can't happen. As much as we talk in this country about how great the Arab Spring was, no country enjoyed that. They enjoyed the direction that they went, toward democracy, but nobody in power enjoyed watching people not in power seize power. Nobody in a position of power likes that. (Laughing)

Does it feel like the audience for your "Monday Morning Podcast" is growing?
To be honest I never look at the numbers. My formula is to just have fun. If I'm having fun people will hear it and hopefully they will stick around. In my podcast, if only a couple of hundred people were listening, I enjoy it so much I would still do it. It's like, I play drums as a hobby, and nobody wants to see me play drums, but I love it, it's fun, so I keep playing.

But you never look at the numbers?
To be honest I don't even know how to do that. Listen, the second you start looking at the numbers and seeing where you're at on iTunes you might as well be sitting behind a desk with your horn rimmed glasses on. I don't give a shit about that. As long as I have enough people listening that I can make enough money to put a couple of pork chops on the table and pay the rent, that's all that matters. When I start trying to get somewhere with something it takes all the fun out of it. If I'm just hanging out and having fun, I'll get there. I might not be as big as I could have been if I was sitting there going, 'Oh I got more hits when I talked about this and I need to have segments. I should have some intro music... ' and all of that shit. It would stop being fun.

You don't have any segments of theme music or anything with your Podcast. You just turn it on and go!
That's right. And I'm done an hour later. That's what I love about stand up. You live in real time. I like living in real time as much as I can in entertainment because, as fun as being in a movie and acting is, you do it, you do it again, and you do it again, and they break it down and set it up from a different angle, and you do it again...
And actually the problem to solve then is how to make it new each time. It becomes fun the way podcasting is, so I figured out a way to have fun while acting even though you are saying the same thing over and over again. You do it a little differently each time; it's a weird sort of game within the game. So I figured out how to make that fun. Basically it's so I never have to feel like I'm working.

Do you feel like you toggle between the stand-up comedian, the actor, and the guy with the podcast? How much of a distinction is there between these things that you do?
On a fun level there isn't a distinction. When I'm acting: Say, if I'm on "Breaking Bad," I'm not being me. I don't go around intimidating people for money in my everyday life. As far as the little bit of acting work that I've gotten to do. I like the more extreme characters. Playing somebody tough or playing somebody meek is equally fun. There's a passive-aggressiveness to meek people that is hilarious. I like messing around with that type of thing.

Your character Kuby wasn't a regular character on "Breaking Bad," but he was a memorable one.
He was a really, really fun guy to be. I loved that Lavell Crawford who played Huell, who was my partner. Huell being there took all of the pressure off of Kuby to have to be overly intimidating. All I had to do was just say what we needed, and if you didn't do it, all you had to do was just look at Huell and you knew what was gonna happen. So when we did the scene when we shook down Beneke for that money, it was a fun scene to do because I could be so matter-of-fact. "Hey, we're coming in your house, you're writing a check for this, we're hanging out until it clears. In the meantime let's get some food, maybe watch a little TV." He's just very simple and neat, which is what a guy in that position would want. Unless he was a sociopath in which case he would want an excuse to inflict some kind of harm on Beneke, but I didn't think Kuby was like that. And there are only a few moments in that scene where Kuby had to ramp it up a little bit just to keep the guy on course. Other than that he could be kind of jovial, as he was extorting six figures from somebody.

Do you think we will ever see Kuby again?
There is no idea for a spinoff of Kuby, but there is the Saul Goodman one and I can assure you I'll watch every episode of that. If Vince Gilligan is guiding the ship, he'll definitely do something great. I can't wait to see it.

How incredible was it to be a part of that show?
It was one of the most surreal things I've done. I have three major surreal moments in my career. One was the first time I got to do Howard Stern. One was when I did stand up on David Letterman. And the other was being on "Breaking Bad." I watched it from the pilot episode and was immediately hooked. I watched the show for three seasons and didn't get on until the fourth season. All of a sudden, this show that I was completely 100% emotionally invested in, the story line, all the characters, Albuquerque, and all of that... All of a sudden to be on the show interacting with the characters and being part of the story line. The only way to relate that to you is, pick your favorite movie and imagine you get sucked into the screen. If you're into Star Wars, all of a sudden you're in a scene with Darth Vader or Han Solo and you're talking to them. You're just sitting there in between takes just thinking, "This can't be real. How am I here right now? This is ridiculous." I felt like I won a radio contest: Be on "Breaking Bad" for a day! Get to meet Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn ... It was crazy! It was one of the greatest things to happen to me in my life! It was that big!

Do you think you will make an appearance on the Saul Goodman show?
I don't know. I would obviously be in anything that Vince Gilligan makes. I owe my acting career to him because of the great footage I was able to get by my small part on "Breaking Bad." It led to me doing five or six movies since I started acting on that show. All I know is I'm watching every episode the same way I did with "Breaking Bad."

I listened to the "Monday Morning Podcast" when you had Doug Stanhope on, and he called you out in kind of a friendly jab for being happier, or nicer, than you used to be. And you said that you had reached a moment in your life when you had to decide whether or not you wanted to continue to be the angry guy. I think a lot of people reach that point in their lives.
Yeah. I travel around to a lot of places, and I find out what's fun to do there, and I go out and do it. I did the other thing where I go there and I'm like, "Oh shit, I'm in Kansas City, oh shit I'm in Memphis ... " these cities that a lot of people would never want to go to. One day it just hit me: Do people in Memphis really just sit around and have no fun? They have to be doing something here that's great. I quickly found out that everywhere you go there is a great bar, there's great food, there is something great to do. There's a great hike, nature, sports, food, drinks, women ... There's a reason this town was made. There is something going on there, go find it. Some of the best food I've had has not been in the major cities. It has been in little places, off the beaten path. When I was in Alabama, I had this BBQ with a mayonnaise base, and it makes no sense that it would taste good, and it was absolutely delicious.

So, yeah. Life is gonna go by. How sad would it be to be angry your whole life. You were alive, and you were angry, and that's what you did. And you made people uncomfortable when you came around, and you caused tension. I'm not saying that I don't still do that sometimes, but that's a part of my personality that I don't like and I'm working on getting rid of it. At this point I'm flying around and playing theaters. Can I really go to someplace and not have a good time? I go to a sold-out theater and everyone laughs at my jokes, and gives me a big applause in the end. How would you still be angry? If you're still angry, you're an asshole! (Laughs)

Bill Burr performs at the Tabernacle on Fri., June 20, 7 & 9:30 p.m. $30. 152 Luckie St. 404-659-9022.

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