Bill Burr: Paper Tiger, Netflix

★★★★☆
credit: Brian Friedman

US comic offers some empathy-filled insights to balance out the bile

With a mischievous glint in his eye, Bill Burr leans towards the microphone and announces that this might be his last stand-up special. At that point, he's in the middle of eviscerating the very notion of 'male feminism' and taking a prod at aspects of #MeToo that are deeply uncomfortable to hear while retaining nuggets of truth. This has always been where the Burr onstage fault line has operated: offering unpalatable opinions that he probably doesn't have 100% faith in, but within which he has carefully worked out where the humour lies.

Paper Tiger is arguably his most personal and intimate show, at least for UK audiences (this special was filmed at the Royal Albert Hall, a venue, he notes, so prestigious that it might not be used to hearing an hour or so of 'dick and shit jokes'). Burr gets the sabre-rattling out of the way early with some oddly old-fashioned targets being lashed by his harsh tongue ('No Means No' and Sting's affiliation towards tantric sex) while he wonders why Michelle Obama is on an arena book tour, comparing and contrasting her eight-year role in the White House to a hypothetical future 'First Lady' of a female US president.

Burr inserts a number of caveats as evidence that he's 'not a complete asshole', and offers up stories from his own life that aim to reveal the man behind the malice. He rails at the 'demon in his family tree' that has left him with shelves of bottled-up emotions just waiting for a trigger to offload some bile. But now he's the father of a two-year-old girl who has already identified character flaws in her dad which he's determined not to pass on: 'this rage has to end with me'.

There are sections on sex robots and why 'real men' prefer showers to baths that are palate-dirtying bridges towards the heart of Paper Tiger, as he reveals his own humanity and the sacrifices he has made to give his daughter a good start in life. It might not be wholly accurate to state that Bill Burr is going soft, but his brasher comedy edges have been smoothed over by a slightly more empathetic worldview.

Bill Burr: Paper Tiger is available now on Netflix.

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