The Interview: Bill Burr

The foul-mouthed funnyman is starring in two of this season’s most anticipated Netflix shows. But will Bill Burr’s next role—fatherhood—be his toughest yet?

Who’s the greatest comedian alive right now?

Oh man, that’s too hard. The reality is that if Eddie Murphy ever gave a shit to go back to doing standup, everybody out there would take a giant, giant step backward.

You were way ahead of the curve on the podcast trend and launched your Monday Morning Podcast in 2007. Did you think the medium would become so popular?

No, no, no. I didn’t.

You’ve been known to trash your advertisers on your podcast. Do you think they’re listening?

I don’t trash them as much as I keep the jokes going. They absolutely listen—they listen every time and we’ve lost advertisers because of it. But the cool ones understand that because I keep making jokes right through the advertising, people don’t want to miss the jokes so they listen to the ads.

Do you think there’s a podcast bubble that will eventually burst?

No. It’s just radio on the Internet. And comedians, generally speaking, are really good at radio because when we go on the road and we’re not selling tickets, we call in to radio shows. You have to show up at 7 in the morning and be on like it’s 9 at night. It’s a skill. Some comics run from it and they hate doing it, but the comics that are pros understand how important it is, and they get good at it.

Does it ever feel weird if you’re just sitting in a room alone ranting into a microphone for the podcast?

If you do live shows long enough as a comedian, you can still hear that rhythm of laughing. It’s ingrained in you and it’s not something you can really teach somebody. It comes from doing hours and hours and hours and years and decades on stage, performing in front of live crowds. You get to a point where you can walk into a room and be there for, like, three seconds and understand if the crowd is good or not, if something crazy just happened, if the crowd is all one group. You can feel when it’s wild—you walk in and there’s an energy. It’s almost like developing your musical ear—when you can play by ear, you start to hear the notes. It’s the same thing with a comedian.

When you come back to Boston, are there any old haunts that you insist on visiting?

The challenge now with my advanced age is trying to find a place that hasn’t been torn down or turned into a Forever 21. If I drive up from New York, the second I get on the Mass. Pike there’s a D’Angelo and I always stop at that and get a steak and cheese—every time, because for whatever reason, they don’t make steak and cheese in L.A. There’s a bunch of pizza places I go to. My spot was always either Town Spa Pizza, in Stoughton, or the Lynwood Café. Somebody just introduced me to that recently. I’m actually trying to get a buddy of mine to send me frozen pizzas right now because the pizza out here sucks.

You once said, “Eating a doughnut is the easiest way to tell the world you don’t give a fuck.” Do you have any crazy diet restrictions?

It all depends on how out of control I’ve gotten. I always try to make sure I’m doing some cardio, but I haven’t done that in a couple of weeks, and I gotta get back to it. So I’m just going to do a half-hour of cardio every day and try to stop eating around 6, you know? I never let it get more than 10, 15 pounds in the wrong direction.

The New York Times once wrote that you are baffled by the “tyranny of nerds.” Did growing up near the land of Harvard and MIT expose you to this tyranny?

I don’t even know what “tyranny of nerds” means. That was their phrase. But it had nothing to do with Harvard and MIT. When I was a kid, if you were a nerd or a geek, and I was more of a geek, you were trying to be cool. Then there just became this embracing of it, which was cool, then somewhere in the embracing of it, it became obnoxious. It’s like when a cool guy is trying too hard to be cool; nerds were trying extra hard to be nerds. Literally, they were doing everything but using pocket protectors and taping the middle of their glasses and shit. That’s around the time of the hipster-nerd overlap. It got to be a little redundant after a while. It’s like anything. It starts off cool, but once it becomes mainstream it becomes oversaturated and then you make fun of it.

But you do have some strong views on nerds.

People used to think I was nuts. Ten years ago I said the NBA was fixed and I was talking about robots taking over the world. We found out that the NBA had a corrupt ref, and I thought I was vindicated. Then a few months ago, I’m watching 60 Minutes, and Charlie Rose is talking to a robot. And he says, “What is your goal in life?” And the robot goes, “My goal is to become smarter than humans. And immortal.” I used to say, I don’t care how smart you make those robots, the failsafe is that if I tip it over, it can’t get back up again. But they want to make robots as good as human beings, because it’s a bunch of nerds in the lab that want to fuck them because they don’t know how to talk to real women. And these fucking nerds are going to be the end of all of us.


Chris Sweeney Chris Sweeney, Senior Editor at Boston Magazine csweeney@bostonmagazine.com