Bill Burr tells it like it is. Sports, history, politics, entertainment: The acerbic comedian doesn't ever hold back and that's why his legions of fans love him. Burr is one of the most successful stand-up talents to have risen out of Boston in the last 20 years—we'll overlook the fact that he's lived in LA since the mid-’90s, because he still holds tightly to his East Coast heritage. In anticipation of his weeklong run at Boston's Wilbur Theater this May, we sat down for a chat with Burr to reflect on his career, his roots and where he's headed next.
Wikipedia tells me you once worked as a dental assistant. That’s interesting. Given your career trajectory, I imagine you found more pros to pursuing comedy than dentistry?
In a way they are kind of similar, in that both jobs entail trying to make somebody else’s day a little easier. But for whatever reason, a good comedian is appreciated much more than a good dentist.
Comedian; actor; unapologetic critic of the human condition. How does it feel to live the dream?
I feel lucky as hell.
You went to Emerson College, like fellow comedians Jay Leno, Denis Leary and Steven Wright. Other very famous funny people (Conan O’Brien, Amy Poehler, Louis C.K., Steve Carell and practically the entire cast and writing team of “The Office”) also went to school and/or started off in Boston. What is it about this city that makes it such a breeding ground for successful comics?
I have no idea. It’s just a really interesting place to grow up. The sports teams, the colleges, the racial tension, the state workers, the boozing, the anger. All of that stuff. I don’t think I ever appreciated the amount of maniacs that live in Massachusetts until I left. When I lived here, I took it for granted that everyone was kind of funny and a bit of a character. I thought everywhere else was going to be like it is here in Mass. Not the case.
In May, you’re hosting 14 shows over a week at the Wilbur Theater. Are you psyched to be performing for a hometown audience?
Yes I am. The response to the week of shows has been unreal. I hope I live up to it. I’m also psyched to go to my favorite Chinese restaurants, pizza places and pubs. I usually put on about 10 pounds whenever I come back to town. When I left here, I was a young man. So when I come back, I pick up where I left off and start eating like I’m still in my 20s.
Got any plans for your downtime while you’re here in Boston? Can we come, too?
Well hopefully the Bruins will be in the playoffs and maybe I can catch a game. My first Bruins game was a playoff game against the Habs back in '83. Last Bruins home game I went to was that Game 7 against the Leafs. One of the greatest nights of my life. Had an insane dinner in the North End. Watched the Bruins make one of the greatest comebacks in NHL history, and then we went back to the North End and hit Stanza Dei Sigari. Hoping to somehow duplicate that night.
Since you’re from here, can you give us some advice? What’s the best place in Boston or Cambridge to see live comedy?
I haven’t lived in Boston since 1995, so I don’t know if I’m the best person to ask. I know that the Comedy Studio in Cambridge always has some of the best talent in Boston on stage.
What up-and-coming comics should we be watching for?
“The Heat” is an absolutely hilarious movie. Was it hard to keep up with Melissa McCarthy while filming your scenes?
I don’t know that you can keep up with Melissa. It’s more like you try to survive the round. She is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and I ruined countless takes trying not to laugh at whatever she was doing. I hope I get a chance to work with her again. She’s amazing.
Born near Boston, current resident of LA. If you were a rapper in the 1990s, would you be East Coast or West Coast?
I would be an East Coast rapper. As much as I’ve tried, I can’t lose the accent.
Looking at your tour schedule this past winter, you traveled from Australia to Singapore to Mumbai. You must rack up some serious frequent flier miles?
One of the great things about the Internet is that comedians can now become international acts. I would’ve paid to have gone to any of those places. The fact that I get to travel the world and make a little money along the way is pretty cool.
Any tips for best airport hangouts/activities while caught in layover limbo?
Try to eat healthy, stretch and get plenty of magazines. Also get some earplugs, too. Someone around you will be annoying, and earplugs are priceless at that point.
Most awkward moment onstage in another country where a joke didn’t quite translate?
The first 20 minutes of my set in Helsinki was probably the worst. It was dead silence, and then I finally figured out that they were trying to solve the problem of each joke. Once I told them to stop thinking so much, they loosened up, or maybe I did, and everything went fine.
Is there something unique about Boston that you haven’t come across in other cities?
Everything about Boston is unique. It isn’t one thing. Boston is its own deal.
What do you miss most about Boston when you’re not here?
I miss going to a sporting event where my team is the home team.
You’re in Boston with a friend and you have the entire day free from obligation. What would you do?
I’d go for a walk along the Charles River. Hit a Bruins game. Go to the North End for dinner and a cigar. Everything else I love—Jack’s Drum Shop, The Tasty, Domenic’s—is gone.
What’s your dream vacation?
Five days at home with no phone calls, text messages or emails. Other than that, I would go to Italy for two weeks.
Where are you headed next?
I am headed back to Los Angeles to finish working on the [Netflix] animated series "F is for Family."