Comedian Bill Burr has had a top-tier run of late. His animated Netflix series, F is for Family, is coming to an end after a successful four season victory lap. He earned critical plaudits for his role in Judd Apatow and Pete Davidson’s dramedy The King of Staten Island, and notched up some nerd cred with his turn as Imperial-turned-criminal Mayfeld in The Mandalorian. Now, he’s coming to Australia and New Zealand – digitally, at least – with a live virtual show this Saturday, March 27. Before he gets in position for lights/camera/action, he took half an hour to chat to Blunt Mag.
Whereabouts are you?
Los Angeles, LA.
How’s it all going, man? I understand that COVID is being pretty rough on that town. How have you been handling it?
It’s fine. I think everything’s going to be fine. You know, these doctors, they figured it out. They got a vaccine, people will hopefully take it. You know, I don’t watch the news. It’s just all negative. You can feel stuff’s opening up, it’ll be all right. We just all need to get on the same page. It’s been a strange time of people with no medical degrees “questioning” and “doing their own research”. You have no medical degree, and then you’re going to go seek out somebody that agrees with you, who is somehow in the medical field? I don’t know.
That’s the funny thing about the internet: there’s an answer to every question. There’s a million answers to every question, so people just sort of seek out the answer they want. I’m lazy; I just listened to the people in charge.
Tell me about this virtual show you’re doing for Australia and New Zealand. What’s the go?
It’s really cool. I can somehow stand in somebody’s garage in the Valley in Los Angeles and do a show in Australia, New Zealand or wherever. And I’ve done one before, which I was really sort of leery about doing, being like, “Well, how am I going to connect with these people?” And it was actually amazing because they have these three big screens and upwards of 30 people on each screen and they’re constantly changing them. And then they have everybody’s little name there, whatever you go by, so you can sorta freak people out. You’re like, “Mike, where you going? You in the purple shirt?” They get all startled and stuff. It freaks them out, but it makes it oddly intimate. As detached as it is, it’s just a really oddly intimate thing. And you can actually get on a roll, like you would at a club. It’s pretty amazing.
So, I guess this is in lieu of an Australian and New Zealand tour?
I haven’t been to Australia in too long. I haven’t been there since 2015, so it kind of stinks that I’m not going to go over there. Me and my wife, it’s one of our favourite places to go. Arguably the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. I’m terrified at the ocean and whenever I go there, I go in the water there. And of course, you guys have a zillion sharks, so it’s probably not a smart idea.
What kind of topics are we circling for this show? What are you going to broach with us?
I don’t know. I’ve changed a lot since I’ve been down there, you know: had a couple of kids and I’m trying to figure out what the hell I’ve been so damn angry about my whole life. It basically took me 30 years to undo the first 20 years of my life, but I think I’m starting to figure it out. And then there’s also a lot of observational stuff: all these experts during this pandemic who have no background whatsoever? I’m making fun of them, people who steadfastly refused to wear a mask because they’re concerned about breathing in their own breath, but have no problem blowing lines every weekend and vaping and all the other shit and eating crap food. I think they just don’t want to be told what to do. So just sort of skating around areas like that, but mainly making fun of myself.
How have you found the past year professionally? From a career and working perspective, how has it affected you?
Oh yeah, I lost a ton of money, like most people. I had a whole tour disintegrate. My last special did the best numbers of any special I had, and I had all these dates lined up, so I lost all of those. I was able to keep my head above water with the podcast, a little bit advertising on that, but you know, if people aren’t working, they’re not going to buy the shit that I’m advertising and then the advertisers aren’t going to pay.
Last year was the first year I lost money since, I don’t know, probably, ‘97 or ‘98? I had a paper route when I was like in third grade. From ‘78 to ‘98, I had nothing but plus years, then in ‘97 I had a losing year, and then I’ve been grinding it out ever since. Through my stand-up specials I was able to make a nice living since about 2012. So, you know, the same thing that happened to everybody else kind of happened to me and my business. So, I’m hoping that I can get back to work out there.
I am happy that I was smart enough to not go out and buy a bunch of stupid shit. When I was making money over the last seven or eight years, I paid down my house and I didn’t buy a bunch of flashy shit. A good friend of mine taught me a long time ago that money can either set you free or put you in prison – it’s all how you use it. He told me true wealth is walking into a mall, being able to buy anything, and then you don’t buy anything. I try to earn money so I don’t have to work.
You’ve been doing some interesting work lately on screen. I really liked King of Staten Island with Pete Davidson; that really hit me hard as someone who was a tumbling fuck-up in their 20s and was raised by a single mother. What was that experience like?
[Director] Judd Apatow approached Pete and Pete had this idea for a movie and then they worked their asses off on it and then, late in the game, they added me. Luckily, I’ve known Pete for a long time since he was a kid and he wanted me for this part. So, it’s not like I had to book the part, they offered it to me. It’s an Apatow: what am I going to say? No? So, I said yes. Had I known I was going to work with someone as good as Marisa Tomei I probably would have got scared away, but I signed on and then they got Marisa and I was like, “Oh no, I am in way over my head!”. But fortunately, she was a sweetheart to work with and she really helped me out and everything.
And you got to do some fun stuff in The Mandalorian playing ex-Imperial Mayfeld. On the one hand you’ve got this low-key comedy drama, and then you’ve got this Disney/Lucasfilm spectacular with effects and guns and costumes. How’d you find that?
It all comes down to the same thing: no matter how big the soundstages are, wherever you work, you’ve got to listen to the other person that’s talking to you in the scene. I can’t believe I somehow have fallen in love with acting the same way I did with stand-up. I’m just trying to get better at it.
You must be doing something right because they got you back for a second episode.
The fact that they got into the “why” the second time, which is my favourite thing. When people write, you know, it’s not the “why”, it’s “what”, I’m more into the “why”? Why is this guy doing it? And when you’re acting those are the questions you kind of ask yourself rather than cause; then what you’re doing becomes three-dimensional as opposed to just two-dimensional. It’s not “He’s going in and he’s robbing a bank because he’s a bad guy, blah, blah, blah”. It’s just like more of like, “Well, how did this guy get like this?” and that’s not an easy thing to do. Yeah, they gave me a lot to do there. It was so much fun. I had so much fun doing that gig.
And people want you back, man. A lot of people are talking about the further adventures of Mayfeld. Is that something you’d be open to?
Hey, you know, what else am I going to do? You know? I wouldn’t say no to anything, man, at this point, sitting on my ass for a year, you know?
The other thing you’ve got coming up is the final season of the animated series F is for Family. Is there a plan to have some kind of resolution? Or is it just like Netflix going, “You’ve had a good run. It’s time to time to wrap it up.”
I think it’s all of that. I don’t know how they use their algorithm over there, they obviously know what they’re doing, so they felt like it was time. And we appreciate the fact that we knew, so we had an opportunity to write towards some sort of resolution. I can’t give away anything, you know? Frank sits in a diner and he listens to Journey. That’s how we’re going to end.