Despite the morning radio zoos across the nation, most comedians are not “morning people.” In fact, as a class of performer, they are more likely to dodge wakefulness before noon entirely.
This appeared to be the case when we reached comic and sometime dramatic actor Bill Burr by phone in the early hours of his California morning.
“There’s just something funny about rolling out of bed when you’re on the West Coast…,” Burr trailed off. “And those morning shows are always, like, a real name and an animal, ‘Hey, it’s Eddie and the Bulldog lookin’ for Bill Burr. What’ve ya got for us?’ All of a sudden you have to go from being dead asleep to funny.”
With notable TV appearances on Comedy Central, three standup recordings, and several film roles under his belt, Burr is on track to become the next household name in comedy. Not to be overlooked is his work as a dramatic actor, like his role as Patrick Kuby on “Breaking Bad.”
“I liked playing that guy cause he has the nerve to do a bunch of stuff that I would never do,” said Burr.
Burr has also appeared on the big screen in Stand Up Guys and The Heat, and will have a dramatic starring role to his credit when the Mike Binder/Kevin Costner project Black and White (pegged for release this year) hits theaters.
Whether it was caffeine or the sunrise, Burr came to life during our conversation and shared his observations on acting, marriage, and Southern culture before his February 20 gig at The Paramount.
What inspired your interest in comedy? Were you always funny?
I don’t know if I was always funny, but I liked that I could make people laugh. It was how I made friends, and how I kept people from beatin’ the crap out of me. It was sort of what I did.
Tell us about your first gig.
I got started in college. The local comedy club had a contest to find Boston’s funniest college student. I had made a new year’s resolution that I was going to try standup comedy that year, so I signed up.
I knew that I loved it, and that I was going to be coming back.
You’ve had recent success in “Breaking Bad” and The Heat. How do you prepare for dramatic work, and how is it different than comedy?
You’re now working in a team situation with at least one other person, if not two or three other actors, so it requires listening in a different way.
When you’re doing standup, you’re listening to the crowd and it becomes second nature after a while. You’re kind of guiding the wave of noise for an hour or so.
[In dramatic work], you’re not totally in control of everything; you’re not in control of the rhythm.
Is it hard to hold the energy when filming because you don’t have a crowd to feed off of?
You just walk in with whoever you’re talking to… It’s like when you walk in to Staples and you’re like, ‘What aisle are the pens in?’ You have this on your mind: ‘I wanna get some pens.’ That’s your vibe, and when you walk in and the other person’s talking to you, you’re listening, ‘cause you really want something.
That’s what acting is to me—you want something. You’re trying to achieve something in every scene. Be it a drama or a comedy.
The best way to be funny in a comedy is to not try to be funny. Sometimes I’ll see somebody walking down the street and they’re not even trying to be funny and they’ll do somethin’ and I’ll be like, ‘That’s hilarious and I’m stealin’ that for when I get an acting gig.’
Who did you follow in comedy?
I liked everyone from Kinison to Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy. Dice Clay I loved.
I liked everyone from the Def Jam guys to the squeaky clean guys as long as they were funny. If I felt they were original and had their own style. I liked everyone from Martin Lawrence to “In Living Color. “
You’ve got an upcoming role on “The Kroll Show.” Tell us about it.
I play a cop who is investigating a character, Dr. Armond, who is a plastic surgeon for pets. He’s on his third marriage…and let’s just say his wives keep mysteriously dying and there’s a lot of red flags.
Nick Kroll is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my life. He makes me laugh—very few people can make me laugh the way he does. I don’t throw the word genius around that often, but he definitely is.
One of my favorite things is people who are highly intelligent, but they’re also silly. He has that in spades. He absolutely kills me. I love him.
You do a lot of comedy bits about relationships. Do you think men need equal rights these days?
Well, we’re still kind of running stuff in the job community. I would say the great equalizer is divorce, and alimony and the bizarre way where it’s set up in a lot of states. Two people are in a relationship and it fails, and one person gets to keep the lifestyle like it didn’t fail. It’s unbelievable.
Somebody sent me something the other day about a woman…she became a big time writer in Hollywood, and she got a divorce. She had to pay this guy alimony because he was used to a certain lifestyle.
Go out and get a job, you bum! Why does she have to sit there and buy your Cheerios for the next five years or whatever?
What really annoyed me about the article is that she was warning women only. She really had an opportunity…she actually could affect change.
If you’re a guy and you’re paying alimony, then you’re just one of a zillion guys payin’ alimony. If I was married to Oprah, and I was making my money as a standup and she bought me a new car, I’d tell her to take it back.
Are you married?
Yes, I am.
Do you have a pre-nup?
No, I didn’t get one and I’m probably stupid not to get one.
The way I look at it as a guy is I’ve already resigned myself to the fact that if I get divorced, I’ll be like ‘Ya know what? Take everything. I don’t care. Let me have my old truck and I’ll take my guitars and get out of here.’
What do I really need? I need a bed, a couch, and a TV, one fork, one knife, one spoon and a glass and a bowl and a plate.
I gotta be honest—as much as that sucks, to lose your stuff, is there any better feeling than taking a whole big bag full of shit down to Goodwill?
I love it.
Yeah, it makes you light in your chest. I would totally go poverty.
You throw around the word redneck, talking about the South in your stage act. Will you take that into consideration in your show here?
No, I love the South. I think the South gets a bad rap.
First of all, they act like racist white people are only down in the South, which has not been my experience. Unfortunately, I find that ignorance everywhere. For some reason, the South, maybe because of The Civil War, gets called out on it.
I love the lifestyle. I love the old cars that can survive down there. I love the food. I love the scenery. I did a mini tour and we just had the best time.
People that know how to hunt, I think that’s really smart. I still don’t know if I could do it. I’d have to be a ridiculous level of hungry before I could shoot a deer. But once I crossed that threshold I would probably be gnawing on its neck like a wolf.
Do you have any good stories from shooting “Breaking Bad?”
Everybody on the show was great. I owe my entire acting career to Vince Gilligan and that show and all the writers, because I’ve always wanted to play a guy like Patrick Kuby, but I look like Ron Howard. So a lot of times I couldn’t get an audition to play a guy like that.
Has anything funny happened to you today?
Yeah. I just had to do a phoner for Minneapolis and they woke me up. And they wanted to know if I had anything they could set me up with and I had nothing. I know I was bombing, so I don’t know how ticket sales are gonna be up there.
I was being loud and unfunny, so that’s the first funny thing that happened to me today.