Hundreds of thousands of people have seen the YouTube video of Bill Burr telling off a booing crowd in Philadelphia during last summer’s Opie and Anthony comedy tour. It’s certainly a sight to behold. But you really should make time to catch Burr onstage in a regular stand-up gig.
He has come a long way since Emotionally Unavailable, his CD of material that dates back to 2002 and only recently became available last month in stores via What Are Records.
Last weekend, he taped his first DVD special at the Skirball center at NYU and tore the roof off the place. I saw him steal the show last fall in Boston at an Emerson College gala that included performances by Steven Wright, Denis Leary, Tom Shillue, Anthony Clark and Eddie Brill. Here, alone, he proved that there are few working stand-ups who can steal the show from him. Why? Burr, like Louis CK, has reached a level of honesty and depth that makes his punchlines so much more potent than most observational comics. Take his opening bit on pedophiles, for instance. You can find plenty of stand-ups in any city right now making a "To Catch a Predator" reference. Burr, however, cuts to the emotional core and reveals how much differently we all relate to children because of it. He similarly takes a joke about the relentlessness of women and turns it around on himself. And he’s one of very few comedians, black or white, to honestly dissect racial relations without falling into that trap of "white people do this, while black people do that." About 45 minutes into his act, Burr tripped over his words on a bit about Hitler and broke into a hilarious tangent about a guy in my row who kept nodding off. "Any other show, I’d say something right off the bat, but tonight, I just kept thinking, ‘I’m taping! I’m taping!’" Burr told the audience, then addressed the guy for the next several minutes before getting back to his regularly scheduled routine. He had everyone howling. In fact, the hourlong set will be interesting to see and hear on DVD, because in person, the audience’s applause and laughter was so loud so often that at times, at least from the front rows, you couldn’t hear Burr’s next punchline. And if that’s his biggest concern, then Burr shouldn’t have to worry about finding a network to air his special.