After 20 years of grinding it out on the comedy circuit, Bill Burr is finally having his cultural moment. He has a recurring role on Breaking Bad; he acted alongside Al Pacino and Christopher Walken in Stand Up Guys; he has a successful weekly podcast, the appropriately named Monday Morning Podcast; and his act — long a favorite among comedy nerds and fellow comics — now plays to theater-sized audiences. The topics of Burr's medium-angry rants range from why Steve Jobs was overrated to the gender wars to a legendary 2006 tirade in which he verbally abused a drunken Philadelphia crowd for 12 minutes. (Look it up on YouTube; it's pretty amazing.) The Pitch caught up with Burr last week as he was making his way through the South toward the Midwest.
The Pitch: You're probably as big now as you've ever been, right?
Burr: Yeah, probably. I honestly don't think about it too much. I'm just focused on looking out in crowds and hopefully not seeing empty chairs.
Can you enjoy it at all or are you one of those guys who's afraid it's all going to disappear in a second?
No, I can enjoy it. But I'm still kind of focused on the game within the game, which is topping the last hour that I wrote. So I feel like I have a job to do when I go up there. Like, right now, I'm going through the South and I'm really amped up to do the new material and kind of kick the shit out of it. I mean, I'm a lifer when it comes to this stuff. I'm not using stand-up as a steppingstone to something.
But I would think you're getting a bunch of TV offers lately, because your act has gotten pretty big and you're in movies and Breaking Bad and stuff.
Yeah, I mean, I've got some stuff going on, but everybody kind of does. There's always development meetings and things. So, yeah, I'm working on something, but even if I got a pilot picked up and got a TV show, I'd still be doing stand-up.
What kind of material are you doing this time around?
I've got a whole new hour. It's kind of crazy, maybe. I was kind of like, OK, I probably trashed women enough on my last special. So I stayed away from that subject. I just tell crazy stories, find the beat night after night, and it slowly gets better. Also, what I'm trying to do is live my life. Go out, do ordinary things, and eventually make an ass of yourself and feel stupid, and turn that into material.
Is this tour all theaters? No more clubs?
This tour is a lot of theaters. But when I'm working out the new hour, I'll only do comedy clubs.
Do you prefer the intimacy of clubs?
No, I like theaters in the same way I like old baseball stadiums — you kind of get to share in the history of a city when you play them. Like, Kansas City has the Midland, which is old, but they've redone it or whatever. It's kind of that same story in every city. The venue used to be the crown jewel of the city in the early 1900s, and then after 40 years it's all run-down, and then it's a porno house in the '70s. Then some Jackie Onassis type says, "Hey, I'm going to take some of my husband's money and redo this thing." And then it becomes great again. But, yeah, I really like theaters. I just played the Tabernacle, in Atlanta, which used to be a Baptist church. There's organ pipes up on the wall behind you. It was incredible.
Are you doing well in the South? I feel like, for most comedians, it's probably the South and the Midwest that are the last frontier.
Yeah, the South was sort of the last frontier because I'm so hardcore from the North. I got the East Coast first, then San Francisco and the West Coast, then I kept hammering at the South, and this is the first time I've been able to do theaters down here. It's been great. And I actually like doing the kind of cities that aren't the type of cities where you can get an easy direct flight to — these kind of B- and C-level cities. Like, I just did Hoover, Alabama. I did Charleston, South Carolina; Athens, Georgia. I'm in Tallahassee tonight. People are just so excited that, for once, you came to them, and they didn't have to drive four hours to get to you. After the shows, they'll be like, "Can you tell Jim Norton to come down here? Could you tell Louis C.K. or Dave Attell to come down here?" It's like you're visiting an island, and they're giving you messages to tell the rest of the world.
Have you been back to Philadelphia since that comedy festival where you berated hecklers and insulted their city for 12 minutes?
Oh, yeah, I went back like six months after that. Philly is so crazy. It's like, everybody remembers that incident but them. What they did to me, they do to somebody every two weeks. You wait six months, and they're like, "Oh yeah, did we do that to you? I don't even remember."
Who are some comics we should be paying more attention to?
Chelsea Peretti, Sean Patton, Joe DeRosa. My openers on this tour, Paul Virzi and Jason Lawhead — I like to have someone working the crowd in front of me that I feel is going to really be a monster. There's a lot of really good comics coming up. This next wave is one of the strongest classes I've seen. I mean, I'm just a huge fan of stand-up in general, so it's really inspiring for me to watch them.