Bill Burr is a spoiled brat. Those are his words, but he’s not saying it like it’s a bad thing. The standup comedian and actor is simply living the life that he set out to make for himself, and he’s doing it all by his own rules and terms. Call him abrasive, edgy, offensive, mean, brutal, or vulgar, but he’ll point out that you’re leaving out the most important adjective of them all – harmless. That’s why in this era of instant outrage, with pearls being clutched 140 characters at a time, Burr is a comic who refuses to apologize to anyone who is offended by his jokes. His reason? Because they’re just jokes.
The comic’s new special, I’m Sorry You Feel That Way, launched on Netflix yesterday as part of the streaming giant’s steamroller of original content, and with it Burr’s Netflix catalog expands. Directed by Jay Karas and filmed at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, I’m Sorry You Feel That Way joins Burr’s well-received 2012 Netflix Original You People Are All the Same and two older specials that are available for his on-demand fans. He will even star in an animated series, F is for Family, which will be a Netflix exclusive. Long gone are the days of the cable network standup showcase, as Burr is one of the wise comedians realizing the true potential of the providing laughter for people through the Internet.
Burr is at his best in I’m Sorry You Feel That Way and there’s a bit in the opening five minutes about Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend after he was drafted that will put tears in your eyes. He touches on everything from domestic violence to Joel Osteen (“He’s so full of shit, he doesn’t even open his eyes when he talks”) and it’s as ruthless and honest as we’ve come to expect. However, devoted fans will immediately notice a difference between Burr’s new special and the last, or any others for that matter. For starters, I’m Sorry You Feel That Way was filmed in black and white, but from a comedy standpoint, he says that his 2012 was a transition of sorts, in that he’s trying to become better at a number of things, including his acting. But he also wanted to take his material in a different direction, because he was a little concerned that one specific topic in the last show was a little too much.
UPROXX: On appearance alone, I’m Sorry You Feel That Way is different from your previous specials. What is the story of this special?
Bill Burr: For this one, I wanted to try to do a special without trashing women, because I thought I overdid it on the last one. At least I exhausted the subject, and I looked at it like, ‘Jesus Christ, Bill, enough already. Go hug your dad or whatever the problem is.’ My last special was kind of a transition to this one, because instead of just putting out hours of the same thing, I’m trying to get better at some things and add a new layer. I’m really happy with this one, and I hope other people will be, too.
UPROXX: It used to be that the big stage for a comic was an HBO special or the network showcase. Why is Netflix the new choice for launching a special like this one?
Burr: First and foremost, it’s popular. People are subscribed, and at the end of the day, I don’t care how big your network is, because if nobody’s watching, it’s not going to help the career. We’re trying to pay for these specials and sell tickets. For me, the big thing is that it’s uncensored and international. I have always wanted to travel both as a comedian and tourist. Before Netflix, I was going over to Europe and trying to build a following over there, and in so many of the countries that I’ve visited, Netflix wasn’t there, but the next time I’ve gone, Netflix is there. For my last special that I wrote, I toured from Honolulu, Hawaii to Helsinki, Finland, and next month I’m doing a tour of all of Australia and New Zealand, followed by one city in Singapore, India, Vietnam and Hong Kong. I don’t even know if anybody even knows me out there, so I might lose some money, and it might be all ex-patriots and telemarketers, but who the hell doesn’t want to go to Saigon?
UPROXX: Beyond this, the question that most of your fans would probably ask right out of the gates is – are you going to be on Better Call Saul?
Burr: I’m not allowed to say yes or no. All I can tell you about that show is that I will be watching every single episode, because I owe Vince Gilligan for my acting career. I absolutely love the writing, the way they shoot stuff, and how they tell the story. I don’t even need to say this because you already know, but I’ll say it anyway because I love the guy – Vince set the bar so high. I look forward to him continuing to set the bar and I can’t wait to watch that show.
I’m actually watching a lot of TV right now and getting caught up on some series. I just watched the third season of The Killing. I just watched all of Silicon Valley, and I’ll tell you a comedian to watch – TJ Miller. He’s so good on that show. Fucking monster. He should win something. He’s so far ahead of everyone.
(On just the mention of Breaking Bad, Burr says, “That’s something that is not work. I’ve been really lucky.”)
UPROXX: On your recent episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, in regarding to acting, you told Jerry Seinfeld that it’s better to be the guy whose friend owns a yacht than the guy who owns the yacht. Are you really saying that you wouldn’t want the starring role in a sitcom or movie?
Burr: I love that you’re entertaining the fact that I’m going to be a lead in a movie. I don’t think Hollywood is clamoring for a balding, redheaded comic. A major goal in my life is to not be in a situation that I don’t want to be in. The downside to it is that I have very little patience now. I’m a spoiled brat when it comes to my free time, because I’ve had so much of it. I have to grow up a little bit if I’m going to do a show.
I just did six episodes of a sitcom (F is for Family) with Mike Price from The Simpsons and Vince Vaughn’s company, Wild West, and that’s going to Netflix. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had doing anything. And I’m doing a pilot (Pariah) for FXX with the Always Sunny guys. I just want to be in stuff that’s good. If you’re a comedian and you’re just doing standup and specials, and you’re selling tickets, that’s about as free of a human being as you can be. You have your days to yourself, work when you want to work, travel when you want to travel. You can indulge in all your hobbies. You can become a raging alcoholic. I got used to that lifestyle, so sitting in a writer’s room or going to an office every day after the lifestyle that I had gave me a little panic attack. I did Comedians in Cars before I got in the writer’s room for F is for Family, and it took me two or three days to get my day job legs back, and by the end of it I absolutely loved it.
There are certain roles that I’ve always wanted to do. I want to do the scene where I’m getting chased by a cop into an alley, and I get to the chain link fence and climb halfway up and he drags me back down. I’ve already been killed in a movie and killed by Al Pacino, so I checked that off the list. I act when they let me. If someone wants me to be in a movie, I’ll be in a movie. Who doesn’t want to be in a movie?
UPROXX: Just as there’s more opportunity than ever for comics to produce their own specials and release them online, there seems to be plenty of “outrage” as well. How is it that a guy like you, so abrasive, bluntly honest, offensive, colorful and vulgar, has managed to steer clear of the Internet’s wrath?
Burr: Of all the dumb shit I’ve ever said, I’ve never gotten in trouble. That’s funny to me, but I don’t have anything they can attach it to. I’m self-employed. You know what word you left out? Harmless. My act is harmless. I’m telling jokes. I’m a clown. I’m entertaining people and acting like an idiot. Sometimes it’s silly, sometimes it’s angry, sometimes it’s absurd, sometimes it’s dark – it’s comedy. At no point should you take it seriously. You could decide to take it seriously, but that doesn’t mean that I now mean it and owe you a fucking apology. It’s stupid.
I just hope that other comics don’t apologize. I know a couple guys who have gotten into that and they’ve told their publicists that they won’t apologize. It goes away because there’s nothing there.
UPROXX: In some cases, though, it’s hard to ignore, or at least the comics being attacked need a Zen-like focus to not take the bait. Why are the so-called Twitter activists and morality brigade going after standup comics like they’re the problem?
Burr: It’s the emperor’s new clothes. There’s absolutely nothing behind it. It is manufactured outrage. They try to get outraged at a comic that has a lot of followers or a big enough TV show so they can get some attention off of it for their cause or their website or blog. When they show a clip from a comedy club of some controversial thing, you watch it and everyone’s laughing because the joke worked. The comic didn’t upload the joke, someone in the crowd uploaded the joke, and suddenly it’s on the news. Most jokes that you hear in a night club, you don’t want to see on the nightly news. It’s not appropriate. The comic doesn’t owe anyone an apology.
Furthermore, when you go to a comedy club… it’s a comedy club! You decided to go there, nobody asked you or told you that you had to go. You made the decision. They advertised the show and you said, ‘Yes, I want to go.’ Now if you hire a comedian for a private party and you say, ‘Perform within these parameters’ and then the comic doesn’t, you have the right to be offended. But if you go to a comedy club, what the fuck? Shut up!
The whole thing is just manufactured, marketed outrage, and it’s an easy story for the news, and it’s lazy journalism because they pick it up and act like it’s a big fucking problem. Meanwhile, you’ve got people poisoning our fucking food supply – fruits and vegetables can cause cancer – but let’s go after some guy telling a dick joke at the Laugh Factory. I don’t think that comics should apologize, and I feel like you’re hurting performance by apologizing. It’s like a frivolous lawsuit. The first thing you do is you don’t respond to it. You should just ignore it.