Bill Burr has a bag of comedic gold bits about women, men, dogs, and the domestic challenges that ensue when you mix them all together. As a result, and as often happens in the wacky world of the Internet, people label him with things like "men's rights" — a misnomer based on perhaps one line of a joke, not the whole thing.
"So much of what I do gets reshaped," Burr tells Metro Times. "Everyone's trying to make money and spin it the way they can. I have no affiliation with men's rights. If something seems silly and I can make a joke of it, I do."
He said he did a bit that someone renamed online "women ruin everything" — "that wasn't the point of the joke," he said. "That's always bugged me, that they didn't have the decency to look at the track name. They changed it."
Still, as irritating as that can be as an artist, he says, "I don't concern myself when people get offended by what I say. The second I'm done saying it, it goes into their ears, and their childhood, and it can mean something entirely different. As long as I know what I meant. There's a whole culture of that, of people apologizing for something that they didn't mean. It's one of those deals where just because you decide to take a joke seriously doesn't mean I meant it. You don't get to define my intention. But you're free to take it any way you want."
It's a nice reminder for anyone producing for public consumption. "I've seen so many people apologize for things they didn't mean," he continued. "And the person accusing them knows they didn't mean it that way," and they're just latching on to further their own cause. "Publicists say, 'Just apologize and get it behind you.' It creates the social norm of what you're supposed to do when that kind of thing goes on. I will apologize when I am out of line. I am a human being. I've apologized, when I was in a bad mood and sliced their head off, I'll definitely apologize then. I don't if they had a bad morning. What they need to do is see where their thought came from. I didn't ruin your morning, or your childhood."
Listening to Burr talk with a working-class honesty, it's easy to see how some might be uncomfortable with what he says. "It's hard to be controversial when you don't have a TV show or a movie career. The cause has to hitch their wagon to someone big enough to get attention," he explains. "I'm self-employed, so you can't pressure my bosses. It's like a fire that never gets going."
Burr doesn't have a TV show, or a movie career — and he's good with that. Maybe even better because of it. It's "that whole flying just underneath that bullshit of those people on split screens," he says. "You wanna fly just below that. That's the sweet spot."
Burr is delightfully in that special place. "I definitely try to keep myself in a position. If you're self-employed, you're not gonna get fired, but you work a lot more. There's always a phone call or something you gotta do. It's a blessing. Everyone's working for free time, and I have it."
The way he rocks his comedy career isn't "one of those things where they don't qualify you till they make money off you. You can buy into that mindfuck — 'I'm not valid because I don't have this logo behind me or this TV show.' I go out. I do my gigs. I go to a ballgame. I smoke a cigar. People know me and I get booked again. I got a wife, a dog, and the NFL package. That's beautiful. I'm not gonna lie. It is."
And "the comfort in that is knowing that I'm creating most of my own problems," he adds.
Burr lives in Los Angeles, and, at 46, still goes on the road. "No matter where you're at, when you're in Iowa, you just gotta figure out what they do for fun, and do it. As long as it's not cooking meth. It might be a gun range. I did that with a silencer [down South]. Do you know what shooting with a silencer means in New York? Down there it just means you got a gator in your yard and you don't wanna wake your neighbors." Burr genuinely appreciates the nuances of different cultures. "I choose to like it. ... To get in there and hang out with people and see how they look at shit ... it's interesting."
"Detroit is a very sad place to go to," he continues. "All those sort of Rust Belt towns, you see the beauty, what it was, and what it could be. I hope it'll come back. I love all those places. Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland, I love all those cities. I like old shit. And because they don't have a lot of money, the old buildings are still there. I like the sports history," he adds.
He also appreciates that, in the Rust Belt, "you get outta the Starbucks-Verizon vortex. I'm in Cleveland, and I know I'm in Cleveland. I'm not sitting in a fucking mall at a Cheesecake Factory."
Burr is also aware that, in addition to his self-employed status, "I am a white male heterosexual who does stand-up in America. I am about as free of an individual as is allowed."
Indeed. — mt
You can see Bill Burr live Friday, Aug. 29, at DTE Energy Music Theatre, billburr.com; @billburr.