Published on April 8th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Comedian Bill Burr Rocks the Mic (And the Drums, Too)
Bill Burr is a busy man. On top of touring comedy clubs and theaters, the New York-based stand-up comedian and actor has been acting in films and television shows and hosting his popular weekly comedy podcast Bill’s Monday Morning Podcast.
Burr is due in town for a big stand-up show at the Charleston Music Hall this week (Thurs. April 11). It’s his first-ever performance in the Palmetto State.
When Metronome Charleston chatted with Burr last week, he was in great spirits at home, laying on his floor, spooning his pit bull, and rubbing her belly. The conversation touched on his current U.S. tour, his latest one-hour stand-up special, and his career in comedy, but it also veered into rock ‘n’ roll territory. Here are a few highlights:
Metronome Charleston: So this first time you’ve ever performed in Charleston?
Bill Burr: I’ve driven through South Carolina one time before when I was heading up to Raleigh. This will my first time doing stand-up. I’m a big fan or old ballparks and everything, and I’m always mad when they tear them down. I love old theaters, too. I like figuring out who’s performed there before and the history behind them. So did Stonewall Jackson ever do stand-up there, or what?
Metronome Charleston: It looks like you’re playing some big halls and auditoriums on this trip with a few smaller clubs thrown in. Is that the usual routine?
Bill Burr: I always thought that I’d get to this point where I’m performing at theaters, but I will admit that I’d sometimes lay awake at night wondering if I’m that guy who’ll play in half-filled clubs forever — I mean a half-filled club where they didn’t pay to see you.
Metronome Charleston: You recorded your most recent concert special You People Are All The Same at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington D.C. to a full house. How difficult is it to perform a good show when cameras and production teams are in your face and under your nose?
Bill Burr: Not much. You just focus on the crowd that’s there. And there are little games you can play to loosen yourself up. It’s really just knowing how your brain works, knowing what keeps you loose, and knowing what thoughts bog you down. And don’t forget to have fun, and don’t put pressure on yourself. I don’t look at it as if I have to document every joke, hit every tag, and hit every punchline perfectly. I throw all of that out the window and simply document my performance on that hour that night.
Metronome Charleston: Is it a challenge to prepare fresh material for a new long-form set after working on previous specials?
Bill Burr: In the short tun, I am hard on myself, but not to the point where it’s a detriment. I push myself, and I definitely try to top each special — or, at the very least, add a new color or something different. I’m avoiding talking about women on this new one, because I did 20 minutes on the last one. But the worst thing you can do is try to break down what you do and why it works. I love joke writers and everything, but there’s nothing better than seeing somebody riffing when they’re in the zone. It’s captivating.
Metronome Charleston: Do you prefer to play theatres and big rooms to doing rock clubs?
Bill Burr: Well, I don’t play too many rock clubs. I’m not trashing them or anything, I just never really do them.
Metronome Charleston: We understand that you have some experience as a musician on the side.
Bill Burr: I play drums as a hobby. I’m a big fan of the instrument, It’s phenomenal.
Metronome Charleston: Do you think performing comedy in clubs and theaters on tour is similar to being a working, independent musician?
Bill Burr: You guys [musicians] have it harder. With me, I only have to deal with my own issues. You musicians have to deal with two, three, four other guys all at once. I’m not jammed in a van, splitting the money four ways. I don’t have to deal with that pay-to-play crap that’s going. I don’t have to lug around drums. I don’t have to do anything, other bring clothes so that I don’t go on naked to tell jokes.
Metronome Charleston: How often do you play with bands on stage?
Bill Burr: I’ve only played live a couple of times, but they were the most terrifying experiences I ever had. I remember playing one time and getting lost in the song. The bassist looked over at me with this look of confusion, anger, and panic — like, ‘What are you doing?’
Metronome Charleston: You’ve mentioned the late Sam Kinison as one of your big influences. He certainly had a rebellious rock star quality about him in the 1980s and ’90s. And then he actually released albums and music videos later in his career.
Bill Burr: Kinison was a monster. His first spot on Letterman in 1985 is unbelievable. There was a feeling of anticipation and fear with him coming out there, and he did not disappoint. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comedic force like Sam Kinison.
I really wish that I could have seen him live in the early and mid ’80s. He had harnessed the whole screaming thing, and he could go back and be really small, and then he’d come back and unleash a tirade. He really had something say. He’s still brutally under-appreciated. I think he’s still one of the top comics who’ve ever done it — right up there with Cosby, Pryor, Carlin, Bruce, and Joan Rivers. That’s basically what I’m working for as a comedian — to be somewhere near that top list.
Metronome Charleston: Some artists are certainly on a different level from all the others — a level most of their peers will never reach.
Bill Burr: It’s like Kobe Bryant; for all of the amazing things he does, he can never surpass Michael Jordan. It’s one of those things. Once people show what’s possible, a bunch of people go out and try to imitate it.
How many times have you been on YouTube and seen people try to play Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’ stuff? But Hendrix came up with it. I saw someone on YouTube trashing Eddie Van Halen, and I was like, “Dude, do you understand that when he showed up, it was like a Hendrix thing” — like he was from outer space. He used to turn his back and face the amps on stage because he didn’t want people stealing from him. So nobody could figure out what he was doing. But all those hair metal and all those tapping guitar solos were just misinterpretations of what Eddie was doing. And then it became about playing a zillion notes, and then Kurt Cobain came along and made fun of it.
Bill Burr and guests perform at the Charleston Music Hall at 6 p.m. on Thurs. April 11. Admission is $29.50 (plus fees). Visit billburr.com and charlestonmusichall.com for more.
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