Bill Burr: A Safe Space for Standup?

Maybe I’ve been watching too many political debates or reading too many articles that pop up as newsworthy on my social media newsfeed (i.e. Starbucks’ Cupgate) – either way, I’ve been craving some authenticity lately and jumped at the chance to see comedian Bill Burr and his borderline-obnoxious-yet-refreshingly-honest standup last week.

My affinity for Bill Burr started years ago when I stumbled upon Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast. Since 2007, Burr has relied heavily on material about sports, food, stereotypes, and even consumer complaints to air out his grievances in his weekly podcast, a part of the All Things Comedy network. During a recent episode on a Thursday night, Burr discussed his upcoming trip to Philadelphia, home of the world’s best cheesesteaks, where I saw him at the Wells Fargo Center, his largest live crowd ever, the following evening. If you’re not familiar with Bill Burr, his role during the second season of Chappelle’s Show might be worth a watch. Or you can catch the Massachusetts native on one of his specials – 2014’s I’m Sorry You Feel That Way being the most recent. Burr’s newest project, F is For Family, airs on Netflix next month.

As I was leaving the show, a group of 3 or 4 women in front of me lamented about giving up a Friday night to attend a show highlighting “another sexist comedian.” They cited his shtick about women’s takeover of the NFL as proof of their supposition. Below, a sample:

As I am coincidentally reading a book about the offensive nature of comedy, I was sensitive to the subject and became immediately interested in their conversation about the offending party. As a fellow woman who had just actively watched and even relished Burr’s show, I wondered how we had reached such different conclusions. I enjoy Burr’s unabashed and cynical humor, even at my own expense. As a comedian of the twenty-first century, he pulls from his comedic influences (Pryor, Carlin, Murphy, Seinfeld) in radio, film, and standup while also staying true to himself and what he knows. There is a legitimacy to comedians such as Bill Burr that is refreshing, and perhaps the reason why I turn to standup comedy, oftentimes, to make sense of the absurdities and sensitivities in real life.

Many interviewers ask Burr if he worries about offending his audience, a question I’m sure comedians, including Burr, are sick of answering. Rich Tupica’s Q&A with the comedian in Revue is one example. He asks, “One of my favorite Burr bits is the one where you go off about stay-at-home moms — and how they spend all day putting in DVDs and playing hide-and-go seek. Did that offend anyone at your shows?” Burr’s response: “Some people got offended. The biggest kick I got out of that joke was when women would come up to me and tell me they thought it was hilarious. They’d say, “That was totally me.” Obviously, I don’t think it’s an easy job. It’s just a joke. There’s nothing better than a person who comes up to me and tells me they enjoyed a joke about them. I love meeting people like that, they’re always cool and have a sense of humor about themselves. And, conversely, the worst people to me are the ones who sat there and listened to me for an hour and a half blow through 70 subjects, 69 of which they thought were funny — all except the one that pertained to their life and they then decided to take it seriously.” Right – it’s just a joke.

My inquisitive mind often leads me to some great discourse about difference, and that evening was no exception. I pardoned myself for interrupting and earnestly asked the women about our contradictory views of the same show and comedian. They explained that Burr reminded them of their past boyfriends, implying that these men had not treated them with the respect they rightly deserved. Taken out of context, Burr, and many other comedians, would sound like sexist, racist, and blasphemous beings, but, as I reminded these women, this was a comedy show. “It doesn’t matter when or where it occurs,” they told me, “ . . . sexism is sexism.” I thanked them for their responses and hurried to draft this very post.

To be honest, I’m still not quite sure what to make of their insistence of irreverence. Who am I to tell these women what is and is not offensive? Maybe it is the necessity of open dialogue when an offense occurs that I found refreshing and authentic. Although we strongly disagreed, the five of us stood in the Wells Fargo Center at 10:30pm for a few minutes, discussing our oppositional views. I wonder if Burr’s standup provided the perfect backdrop for this tête-à-tête to transpire.

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3 responses

  1. Maybe the women are not in a position to enjoy the humor because their are still hurting from their past and the comedy hit a raw spot?

    1. I agree with ansumani. Bill’s comments are controversial and guaranteed to hit people’s emotional triggers. I wouldn’t say it’s his fault, it’s merely a point of view. One which has helped him to get incredibly successful. I’d say it’s wrong to accuse someone of being ‘sexist’ just because they made you feel bad. Find away to get over it.

  2. Hey! Just found your post and your site and I think it’s absolutely fantastic. I’m doing something similar myself and I love your dedication to it. Thanks!

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