Bill Burr on Breaking Bad's "Insane" Ending, Al Pacino, and Hating the Lakers Forever
Bill Burr is a name that might sound familiar to you. Perhaps you've seen one of his three comedy specials: Why Do I Do This?, Let It Go, and You People Are All The Same. Maybe you know him from his appearances on Chapelle Show, his role in Date Night, or his recurring character on the extraordinary TV series, Breaking Bad. Did you catch him on the big screen with Al Pacino, Alan Arkin, and Christopher Walken in Stand-Up Guys? Have you noticed his name in glowing amber letters above the corner of Washington Avenue and 17 Street in front of the Jackie Gleason, where he'll be headlining during the South Beach Comedy Festival on Wednesday, April 17?
Depending on who you ask, Burr might be described as anything from hilarious to angry, from being a misogynistic ass to being comedian's comedian and a voice for the everyman. Among the packed clubs and sold-out theaters that Burr has killed with his act, you'll likely find people who describe him as all those things and could not be happier about it. But above all else, you could describe him as an honest guy.
New Times: So how've you been, man?
Bill Burr: [Laughs] I've been fine. I'm on the road road right now on a 10-day tour and I end up in Miami on the last date of the tour.
Miami seems like a pretty good place to crash.
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It's strangely not that much of a comedy city, except for during the South Beach Comedy Festival, so it's always refreshing to have an injection of levity into the atmosphere down here.
I think that's probably because you've got so much to do down there and all the beautiful people -- I don't think you need that many jokes.
Yeah, but if you look at towns like New York or Boston, they've got plenty to do and they manage to have a thriving comedy scene.
Nah, it's not like fucking gorgeous women laying on yachts and shit up there. Trust me -- Minneapolis is a great comedy town...You get a great sense of humor when you've got to fight through the winter.
As a comedian, you've always kept your material pretty close to the bone, from your first Comedy Central special all the way up to selling out Carnegie Hall. How do you see that as part of your stage presence, regardless of the scale of a gig?
I don't really analyze my style. When you do something like that, then you're in the audience watching yourself and that doesn't work for me. I have to be on stage saying what I want to say...I just go on stage and I say what I think is funny. And as far as just saying who I am, I have really good friends, I haven't surrounded myself with people who will just agree with everything I say. I have friends that go "Ahh, shut the fuck up!"...There's definitely a road you can go down when you're in this business that will isolate you and make you change, but fortunately I have really good friends. If I say something funny, they laugh, if it's not funny, they tell me to go fuck myself. That pretty much keeps you in check.
You've said in the past that people who ask why you're so angry all the time need to recognize that it's stand-up comedy, that you're on the stage because you're jokimg, and that they need to stop taking things so seriously. I was wondering about you crossing the line sometimes, since you seem to push the envelope.
I really don't feel that I cross the line. When you cross the line is when you're being serious and you're seriously trying to be malicious and hurtful to somebody and even then, that depends on what they did. Somebody heckles you and you just fucking snap and start saying some mean shit, that person in the crowd brought that on themselves.
But as far as telling jokes goes, I never cross the line because I'm never serious. I'm still joking. Just because somebody in the crowd decides to take something you said seriously doesn't all of a sudden mean you meant it. I don't have any power over how somebody takes what I say, and if you start going out on stage thinking, 'Oh I don't want to offend anybody' -- people get offended all the fucking time. They'll sit there for half an hour laughing at every other subject and every other person that you're getting at and then it comes around to their neck of the woods and they get offended. You know, it's not fair.
You're one of the biggest comics on the block right now. I can only imagine that's a heavy burden to bear, what with working on the road and schlepping with your act.
It's really not. I'm not one of the biggest acts out there...There's plenty people selling more seats than I do. There's really no burden. All you have to do is go out and do your act. It's a burden if you stop writing jokes...I'm actually dumbfounded. I mean, I always thought that I would get somewhere in this business, but when that actually happens, you just sit there and say, 'I can't believe I finally got to a point where I'm selling tickets.' It's not like you don't think it's going to happen, 'cause if you don't think it's going to happen, there's no way you could drag your ass up on stage every night, but when it finally does, you just think 'I can't believe this is happening...' After 17, 18 years of standing up in front of half-filled crowds with your name on the marquee, when they finally start showing up...you're kind of blown away by it.
I've read that you really enjoy getting into acting roles since it's a completely different mold for you. What was the experience of getting to work with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy for The Heat or with Al Pacino and Christopher Walken in Stand Up Guys like for you?
It was unreal. Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy are both sweethearts and just really, really nice people, and Pacino and Walken are the same. I was really blown away by their generosity and how you'd come down to the set and they'd just shoot the shit with you like they weren't legends. You'd ask them if it was ok for you to do something in a scene and they'd say 'Yeah, improv, do whatever you want, have fun," -- you could tell they still really love acting. And Al Pacino's just a really warm, great guy...The few things that I've done, I've found that the people at the top are really great people. I think that that's how you get there, because too many people want to do their job and if you weren't a pleasant person to be around, there's really no reason that you can't get replaced. Melissa McCarthy was one of the funniest human beings I've ever met...Movies are really fun to do and as you're doing them you're thinking in your head: 'I can't believe I'm in a fucking movie.'
How about Breaking Bad? The episodes with Kubi and Huell have some of the best moments of humor in the whole show. What was it like being a presence in that kind of amazing story?
Well, I think calling me a presence is generous, but even getting to do a couple lines on arguably the greatest show of all time -- I'm thrilled to be there...I owe Vince Gilligan my acting career. All the acting work I've been getting is because he took a chance on me. I've been a huge fan of Breaking Bad since I watched the pilot and I got hooked...I watched three seasons and I was begging my agent to try and get me on, and I finally ended up getting on it. When you're that big a fan of something and next thing you know you're on it, it literally felt like I got sucked into my TV. It's probably one of the most surreal things [I've ever felt].
Do you have more time on screen with the second half of the final season coming down the pipe? I'm dying for summer to come around so we can finally have Breaking Bad back in our lives.
You know, I don't think I'm allowed to say, but you might see my dumb face in there. If you're paying attention you might see me...And the rumor I've heard is you're not going to be disappointed with the ending. Somebody I know talked to somebody on the show and asked, "What's the ending like?" and he said the guy just shook his head and told him it's insane. I can't wait. I'm a fan of that show first and I'm a lucky bastard to get on it.
To cut back to Miami for a minute, I know you're a big hockey fan and a serious Bruins fan, but I don't know how much of a basketball man you are and I wanted to know what you think about the Miami Heat.
I was hoping the Heat were going to break the Lakers' record because according to Bill Simmons' book on basketball, the year they won 33 in a row it was a watered down league when the ABA had started and pilfered a lot of the stars from the NBA, and the Lakers had a stacked team. I mean, 33 wins is 33 wins and that's nothing to sneeze at, but there's a reason why even the '83 76ers or the '86 Boston Celtics or the '87 Lakers or even the friggin' '96 Bulls didn't win 33 in a row -- 'cause there wasn't another league competing with the NBA, taking out their stars. So I really wanted to see Miami do it...I don't hate the Heat the way most Celtics fans do. I grew up watching the Celtics in the '80s, so I will forever hate the Lakers...I hope the Heat win it again. As long as the Lakers don't win, I'm fine.
Bill Burr will be performing at the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater as a part of the South Beach Comedy Festival at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 17. Visit southbeachcomedyfestival.com.
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