You might recognize Bill Burr’s name because one of his jokes offended you. Or you might love that his jokes offend people. Regardless, the comedian has been proving himself to be a multihyphenate, dabbling in acting, podcasting, and scripted television. Burr ventured to Toronto this past weekend for the Just For Laughs comedy festival, which opened on Thursday, September 21. He spoke to The Varsity about his tour, parenting styles, and why Kim Jong Un is like a drunk guy on a weekend.
The Varsity (TV): How’s your tour been so far?
Bill Burr (BB): It’s been great, I mean it’s the most fun job, I do a bunch of different jobs in entertainment and this one’s the most fun. I still love it the way I loved it way back when when I started, and I’ve got a brand new hour of stuff since my last special… Toronto’s one of my favourite cities so I’ll have a good time.
TV: Do you find that people respond differently in Canadian cities and Canadian audiences in terms of taking offence and being sensitive? Canada has this reputation for being super polite and delicate.
BB: I know, but you guys aren’t though. You’re a bunch of animals. You lose the playoff series and you go burn down your city. There’s the popular version of what you guys are like and there’s what you guys are really like: you guys drink like animals, you love hockey, you know, you invented a sport where you skate around with a club and fighting is legal, so I mean… in a good way, I don’t find you guys to be polite. Thank god you’re not polite, so I have a lot of fun when I’m up there.
TV: Fair enough. I had a couple of questions about your last special. You filmed it right before the election and you talked about feeling like you had to just watch dumb daytime TV, the kind that, I think you said, soccer moms watch in the morning, just filling up on all this dumb stuff to disconnect from this terrible political reality that was emerging. How’s it been for you since the election in terms of that? Do you still feel like you need to disengage and sort of take the escapist route? Because it seems like things are getting worse.
BB: Well, I mean, that’s what watching the news will make you feel – news has always done that, it will always make you feel like things are getting worse. I don’t think – I think things are changing, obviously, I’d probably say obviously global warming’s the biggest issue, you know, that’s obviously gonna affect everybody else, but I have a faith in humanity.
BB: I think most people, yeah, because most people are decent human beings, it’s really just a small number of people with a tremendous amount of power, getting everybody all stirred up. I mean look how much Trump can get people stirred up, he talks about entire countries, callin’ em rapists and this and that… just has a complete inability to look at a big picture, and how we’re all connected, and what leads to certain things, and certain dynamics, and certain decisions that people make and, you know.
It is a really crazy guy there in North Korea shootin’ off his fireworks like it’s some drunk guy on the weekend. I mean just sittin’ there, shooting it over that…he said he shoots it over Japan, it’s a small island north of it, I thought it was like he’s shootin’ it over Tokyo, I was like this guy’s out of his mind. I can tell you right now, that guy is not long for this world.
What he is doing…I kind of respect it because the guy’s just thumbin’ his nose to everybody, so he definitely has some balls. He’s also a dictator’s son, so I think he lived like such a sheltered life and was probably called some sort of a God that he has no grasp on the devastating ass-kicking that he’s going to receive if he continues to do what he’s doing. But having said, that I just became a dad and I come home and my daughter’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.
TV: That’s incredible, congrats.
BB: I’m playing drums, I’ve got the new hour, I’ve got F is for Family [the animated Netflix sitcom Burr created and stars in], the sun is shining today, there’s all kinds of great things going on, that even if that fatty shot a missile over right now and killed me, I could die, yeah, yeah.
TV: I don’t wanna dwell too long on that stuff. You’ve got F is for Family. Do you think you could talk about the idea for that and how that came about?
BB: I was telling childhood stories on stage and everybody was laughing, but every time when I went to pitch a show that was even remotely like my childhood it was like like ‘Oh, that’s gonna be bad for kids to watch, that’s misogynistic, it’s this-opic, that-opic, this-ist, that-ist.’ But when I pitched, ‘it’s a fat dumb guy who can barely tie his shoes, married to some hottie who’s way smarter than him, and who rolls her eyes all the time about how dumb he is,’ they’re like ‘Oh that sounds funny!’, right? Yeah, can I make the guy have the intelligence level of a dog, you know what I mean.
I love how women always complain like, ‘it’s always some fat guy married to a hottie,’ yeah it’s a fat moron! He’s a complete moron, he’s nothing to aspire to as a man! Yeah, so, I was seeing the whole South Park and Family Guy, seeing what they were getting away with and I thought, well, what if I just animated my childhood stories?
And I couldn’t offend anybody because these are animated people… what are they gonna do, influence animated children? But having said that, Beavis and Butthead got in trouble for it, Bart Simpson early on, early on when he was an underachiever and proud of it, people were like ‘I don’t want my kid wearing that.’
TV: We opened talking about millennials and F is for Family, there’s a lot to say about parenting styles and how they’ve changed, and it seems relevant now, especially since you just had a kid this year. My parents grew up with a parenting style that’s a lot closer to the show. My dad’s dad had some issues with alcohol, stay at home mom, he would get hit sometimes when he screwed up – basically, him and my mom, they had to sort of make it on their own. Kinda latchkey kids, and there wasn’t this super-involved, overbearing parenting style. What I feel like happened is parents who had that sort of parenting style sort of swung to the other end of the pendulum, where now they feel like they have to be perfect parents, to make up for what their parents weren’t —
BB: Yeah they gotta, they try to become friends with their kids. It’s like ‘I wanna be the cool mom,’ ‘I wanna be the cool dad,’ it’s like, no, you don’t. No, you don’t. You wanna be the one that’s making your kids be like ‘Mom! Dad! God!’ And kids will thank them for that when they get into their mid-to-late twenties, when they get out of college and into the real world and they start contemplating getting married and having a kid – once you have a kid, then you understand.
I’m still me. I’m still this idiot. And now I have this responsibility. And it’s like, wow, that’s what my parents must have thought of: who the hell am I? Who the hell am I… Becoming a parent is one of the most arrogant things you can do. I feel like, who the hell am I to be responsible for somebody else’s safety and life that’s like innocent, defenceless.
TV: I’ve noticed that a lot of comedians talk about how specifically college crowds are really tough to handle because audiences seem to take offence to just anything that seems a little bit unsafe or provocative or dangerous. Jerry Seinfeld said he doesn’t play colleges anymore for that reason, because nobody will laugh, they’ll just overreact. Do you think that the rise of Trump has made it more difficult to defend the sort of politically incorrect speech that people take offence to? Or do you think that we need more politically incorrect speech and that we need to push back on this oversensitivity and policing of language?
BB: I think that that whole thing politically incorrect language ‘should we use it, should we not use it,’… you can’t even answer that question, ‘cause there’s no context. My thing is basically, you can talk about whatever you wanna talk about onstage, so long as you don’t have any malice in your heart. Now, overly sensitive people will project malice on you because of their own life experience, and sometimes just because you’re famous enough that they can use you as a springboard to get attention on their cause, and they don’t care if they’re throwing somebody innocent to the wolves.
So as long as there’s no malice in your heart and you’re just joking around, you can talk about whatever you wanna talk about, and this whole thing that you’re literally through your words going to make somebody homophobic or make somebody racist… I always say to people like that if they truly believe that, I would say like you, are you racist? I’m asking you, are you racist?
TV: After watching your last special, on a basic, primitive level, maybe in certain situations I have racist fears.
BB: Then there you go, that’s completely informed, but the average liberal would say ‘no, I’m not.’ And then what I would say is, well, what could I say within an hour, give me an hour’s amount of time, what could I say that would change you and make you racist? Okay, and then if they say nothing, it’s then, so then what you’re saying to me is that you are this higher being compared to the average human being, you feel like the average human being is such a moron that in one joke I can undo 18 years of solid parenting.
The amount of times that I’ve said onstage…like everything that I say onstage, the second I say it and you listen to it, it isn’t what I said anymore. You hear it, and then it gets cut with all your memories and all of your experiences — I look at it, it’s like drugs that have been stepped on. People are so self-involved that they’re just sitting there trying to crucify you. They’re so goddamn self-involved that they feel like their experience is everybody’s experience and their interpretation is the only interpretation, and it isn’t. It’s bullshit. But you know, it gets people to watch these news programs so they entertain it. Because what are they really gonna do? Talk about pharmaceutical companies?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.