US comedian Bill Burr set for Glasgow Theatre Royal date
Dragging a heavyweight reputation across with him from the USA, world-weary Bill Burr tells Brian Donaldson that all he wants to be is a better person
For a man who insists that ‘reading makes me sleepy’, US comic Bill Burr still has pretty definite opinions on the state of the planet. Whether these have really been formed simply through his own kneejerk reactions to the mad, mad world around him is unclear, but he has little doubt about who he is. ‘I’m basically the loud guy in the bar you realise did horribly in school but you sit back and laugh at me,’ he says. ‘It’s not a character, it’s pretty much who I am. But I’m trying to become more informed so I’ve been brushing up on my European geography. I know the expectations you people will have on how fat and stupid we are, so I don’t want to add to that rumour.’
Making three pit-stops in the UK and Ireland during his debut on these shores, Burr began stand-up in the early 90s, becoming a staple on the late-night chat shows of Conan O’Brien and David Letterman. How his Glasgow Comedy Festival date came about is something of a blur to Burr, recalling meeting ‘some guy connected to the festival’ in a bar after several too many light beers, but he is clear-headed when it comes to shaping his material for non-American crowds. ‘There’s always an adjustment you have to make, but I pretty much talk about my life, so I think it’s relatable stuff. I’ll have to take some sports references but I can still tell a story about my behaviour at a football game.’
Although his brother Robert is deep in US political life as a Massachusetts Republican, such a career has never appealed to Bill. ‘Some people can name senators the way I can name my football team. But I find it frustrating when I watch politics, it’s all just complete bullshit. A lot of our politicians are just spokespersons for the corporations.’ The core cause of the current global problems are pretty clear to Burr and we can expect plenty material in his show about the state of the economy and the repercussions to the banker-led recession. ‘I don’t really have faith in humanity at this point; I think we’re all on a bullet train headed towards the fucking wall. I’m just trying to be a better person, get on the subway and try not to be a dick to the next person. That’s the only thing I can control.’
Although a renowned rabble-rouser (his YouTube highlight is a visceral and prolonged verbal attack on an audience in Philadelphia for being rude to the previous comedian), Burr acknowledges a delicate area that he won’t stagger into. ‘I won’t make fun of handicapped or mentally challenged or retarded kids or whatever you’re supposed to say. I did a joke about it one time and I ended up making some woman in the crowd cry but as I didn’t know her story, I did the comedian thing of defending my position. My parents used to work in hospitals and they know firsthand what those parents go through and I just felt I was ignorant. Of all the things you can attack as a comedian and of all the things that need to be made fun of, children with mental problems is not one of them.’
Kings Theatre, Glasgow, Sat 20 Mar.