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Bill Burr: Comedy’s Future

To paraphrase Jon Landau’s famous review of Bruce Springsteen in the early 1970s, I have seen comedy future and its name is Bill Burr. (Burr's new special, "Why Do I Do This?" airs August 31 on Comedy Central.)

Stacking up appearances on various shows (such as small roles on “Chappelle’s Show,”) where he’s only gotten to show a tiny bit of what he can do, Burr does stand-up on a much higher level than any of those pieces.

Burr’s got the dark edge necessary to be great as a comedian. That may come from growing up with somewhat less-than-loving parents as he describes or too many difficult girlfriends. Wherever it comes from, it’s given him the kind of comedic take on life that produces real gut-felt laughs you get from a comedian totally compelled and committed to what he’s writing and delivering.

It’s admirable to see that in two separate 30-minute TV specials (on HBO and Comedy Central) and in live performance recently at Caroline’s in New York, Burr hardly ever repeated any of the same jokes or material, so he must be working from a pretty deep reservoir, unlike some comics who do the same 45 minutes for years on end. In that Caroline’s show Burr was energized to keep going, ignoring the blinking red light telling him time was up (he did two shows a night there), only stopping once he really had to.

A lot of Burr’s material is sheer personal perspective, but when he gets inspired by current events, he invents his own outlandish spins that produce that gut feeling only masters can get. Talking about a bar conversation about prima donna football player Terrell Owens, he makes an aria out of describing a southern white guy’s use of the racial slur -- “He didn’t end it with an ‘a.’ He ended it with a clear ‘r.’ He did a triple axel and stuck the landing on that ‘r.’” And recalling another controversial sports incident -- the Indiana Pacers “basket brawl” of last year, Burr remembers footage of a crying little kid in the stands, saying “I would tell him that’s what life really is, not a guy in a bear suit throwing you a T-shirt!”

Burr is self-aware, and can be just as cutting on himself, as in recalling being at a strip club as part of a bit about people who don’t like their jobs, in this case one of the strippers. Burr makes a creepy face, saying “It’s not like I want to be here either -- I’m thinking more about my parents being ashamed of me and so on.” Another bit of his, talking about crazy thoughts, Burr handles in unique fashion, slamming himself because he can’t explain to a girlfriend why he thinks one of those thoughts is funny.

It’s this self-deprecating thread underneath Burr’s bravado, like Richard Pryor often had, that makes Burr’s mastery of comedy clear. One could cite lots more of Burr’s material, but it suffices to say that judging by the edge of his material and the volume of material he apparently has, Burr is more than ready to play large theaters, have hour-long HBO specials, and command a much larger audience.




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