Bill Burr On The State Of The News Media, Comedy Under Trump, And His New Stand-Up Special

Comedian Bill Burr wasn’t too worried about president-elect Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election when Conan O’Brien asked him about the matter in November. Nearly three months later, the Massachusetts native pretty much felt the same way when we spoke with him about his new Netflix stand-up special, Walk Your Way Out. Of course, this was the day before Trump signed an executive order barring immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries and spurred nationwide protests at major airports, but judging by the comic’s politics-free Twitter feed, he still probably feels the same way.

Not because he doesn’t care, as Burr proved when everyone was angry about Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to kneel during the national anthem in September. At the time, he told his Monday Morning Podcast listeners that, as a “white male heterosexual,” he and others like him should probably recognize their privilege and “listen to what [Kaepernick] has to say.” Or as Burr explained to us in a positive manner unlike his typically brutish onstage demeanor, “if everybody tried to work on themselves and be better people, that would really be amazing.”

Maybe Burr only just realized that one of the two candidates he disliked is now the President of the United States. Or maybe the 48-year-old comic’s new baby finally softened him up a bit. Both could be a factor, but as most comedy audiences aren’t always aware, what performers like Burr do on stage doesn’t always reflect who they really are as a person. Though as Burr quickly corrects us below, he knows he’s “being an idiot.”

Congratulations on the new baby. Losing any sleep?

No. It’s been fun. I don’t know, I’m actually kind of surprised at how quickly I settled into it. Like today, I was just walking around with the baby and I wasn’t like, “Oh my God I have a baby!” I think I’ve gotten older. I don’t know.

Walk Your Way Out includes a sizable chunk of audience interaction, even some heckling, and you’re really good at it.

Thanks. It’s more of a technique. It’s like you’re herding over to the punchline. If too many start running away, the others will follow so you have to grab their attention and tell them to go this way. “The field is greener over here!”

Are you ever tempted to leave these things be and just move on with the show as planned?

I know that I’m being an idiot. It’s not fun to watch somebody onstage who feels they have all the answers. I don’t like watching people who are amazed by themselves, which is why I’ve always loved Will Ferrell. He’s played so many characters like that. I think he described it one time… he said he likes playing people with unearned arrogance. It’s one of my favorites. It’s funny if somebody’s joking around, but if you’re actually up there thinking you’re… and believe me, I’ve seen it. It’s really horrible to watch.

It’s arguably worse than watching someone who isn’t good, because at least they’re trying. To watch somebody up there who’s just decent — they’re getting the job done — and yet they’re carrying themselves as though they can’t even believe what they’re doing. They’re in awe of their dick jokes. The only way that’s enjoyable is if you’re with another comedian that you’re friends with, and you’re both watching it laughing from the back of the club. Then it’s fun.

What about your election material? You filmed Walk Your Way Out ahead of November 8, knowing it wouldn’t be seen until months later. Was that discrepancy ever a concern?

I don’t buy into the belief that a comedy special should be timeless. What you wear should never go out of style and all that. I view shooting a special as documenting where you were at as a comedian. This is what I was talking about in October of 2016, and this is how the jokes came out that night. I leave mistakes in. I leave heckles in. I leave all that stuff in. It’s like a documentary. This is where my act was at at this time in my life, or my career. I also felt, because I was equally trashing both of them — Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump — because I didn’t like either one of them, I wasn’t really worried about it. Plus, Hillary came back for the inauguration and she was getting choked up. So she was back in the news again.

It’s all kind of hard to ignore.

I love that clip they show of Bill Clinton looking at Trump’s wife, Melania, and you don’t see her at all. You just see him looking at something and everybody reacts, “He’s such a pussy hound!” They don’t know what he’s looking at! They don’t even know if Hillary turns around to look at him, looking for somebody else, or looking at him and shaking her head because she’s listening to Trump say something and she’s trying to catch Bill’s eye to say, “Do you believe this fucking moron?” People just took this clip and said, “No. He was checking out Melania.”

The news media hasn’t received the best press the past year.

News is in a bad place. CNN started it, then Fox News, and now it’s just become the Red Sox and the Yankees all over again. You know what I mean? The Red Sox fans can never give it up to the Yankees, and the Yankees fans can never get it up to them. It’s cartoonish. Everybody’s wearing their blue or red ties and dresses, like they’re wearing uniforms. I don’t know. The whole thing is silly.

Then again, I just love the belief that people have. There’s that picture of Obama’s inauguration compared with Trump’s. How do I know what those are photos of? That could have been the women’s parade or whatever the fuck they did. I don’t know. They’re just telling me what that is and then I go off and ask people, “Hey did you see the photos?” I become this vessel of information and I’ve done nothing to confirm that those pictures are even real. That they’re what they say they are.

There’s this idea that Trump’s presidency will make comedy, music and the arts “better.” I don’t buy it, and many comedians I’ve talked to since don’t either. Is this something you’ve thought about going forward?

I just talk about what I want to talk about. If I feel like I have something to say, I say it. If I look at it and think it’s kind of hacky, I won’t do it. Like right now, to not talk about a president is… it’s going to come up. The level of panic that people are having is intense. The whole way the world is feeling it, or at least that’s what they’re reporting. I just feel like this is a time to go inward, instead of going on television to scream and yell about everything. They can’t affect who you are, so if you really think this or that person — whatever color tie they’re wearing — is really going to do all this horrible shit, then you should just… If everybody tried to work on themselves and be better people, that would really be amazing. If these people up top were having their temper tantrums to try and scare the shit out of everybody about everybody else out there, and everybody who’s supposed to sit there and listen was instead just cool with their neighbors, it would deflate most of what they were doing.

Considering your onstage persona, that is an uncharacteristically positive outlook.

I’m a victim of travel. I travel too much and I’ve met too many people, and everywhere I go it’s the same thing. People just want to feel safe. They want to find love, get a sandwich and be alright. They don’t have any desire to take over other countries or force other people to have their religion or whatever. It’s just these fucking lunatics at the top that get everybody stirred up. That’s why I stay away from it, because it gets depressing, so I just try in my day to day to be less of an asshole — which is not an easy thing with me.

I talked to Josh Adam Meyers about Goddamn Comedy Jam, which is now Comedy Jam on Comedy Central. You used to do the live show a lot with him in Los Angeles. Any plans on joining the new series?

They’ve asked me to do it and as much as I love playing drums — I was playing right before I talked to you, I try to play an hour a day since it’s so therapeutic — I was a little wary about doing my hobby on television. There’s just something about it. It’s just this goofy thing that I do, and it brings me happiness. My rule is, if I go to see some people in a band I would never ask them to sit in. If they ask me, I’m going to say yes. I almost say that as a threat to all of my musician friends. “If you ask me, I’ll say yes. I’ll go up there and then you’ll have to deal with the way I play.” I’m doing the live show again in March. As for the televised one, I’m gradually warming up to it.

Sounds like it’d be a welcome break.

It’s a great time. It’s so much fun, but I don’t know. There’s no way for me to do the comparison because then it’ll seem like I’m comparing myself to this person. But the people I like, I don’t want to see them cook or do whatever other thing. That seems more like a quick clip on a Barbara Walters special when they go over to some entertainer’s house. “Oh, you make you’re own wine?” And there’s the guy out back, stepping on grapes and shit. So I’m not saying I won’t do it, but every time I think about it, I can’t figure out how I’d do it without coming off as totally cheesy.

Bill Burr: Walk Your Way Out streams today exclusively on Netflix.