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Bill Burr vs. Boise

Prepare your feathers to be ruffled

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If you pay even the slightest attention to stand-up comedy, you've probably heard the name Bill Burr. He packs large auditoriums worldwide and sits at the top of cracked.com's list of heckler takedowns in a video titled Bill Burr Tells Philly the Truth.

"Fuck you and fuck the Liberty Bell," Burr told an unruly Philadelphia audience that had booed the previous acts. "Shove it up Ben Franklin's ass."

Burr then insulted all of Philly's sports teams, audience members' mothers and more, counting down his full stage time as the acid flowed from his tongue.

For those who haven't heard of Burr, know that if you catch his performance at Boise State University's Morrison Center Friday, July 26, there's a decent chance your feathers will be ruffled. Not because he regularly drops N-bombs and dishes out the Philadelphia treatment, but because his travels have taught him that sacred cows are even tastier than Kobe beef. In Burr's world, childhood obesity might be a defense against pedophiles because it makes kids "unfuckable," and mothers who refer to child care as the "hardest job out there" really ought to have a conversation with coal miners.

"I thought roofing in the middle of July as a redhead, I thought that that was difficult, but these mothers are bending over at the waist putting DVDs into DVD players," Burr cracked in Why Do I Do This, his 2008 comedy special. "You're 35 years old and playing hide-and-go-seek. You're living the dream."

Burr's musings are not about insulting people so much as they are telling his sharp-tongued version of the truth. And he is forward about potentially being dead wrong.

"None of his opinions are based on any sort of reliable information. He tends to go with his first thought, because reading makes him sleepy," reads his profile on Comedy Central.

What that means is that no offense is intended, even if it is the takeaway.

"I'm not being malicious, I don't mean anything malicious by them. They're jokes," Burr told Bostonist website. "If I didn't mean anything malicious, I would never apologize. ... The only apology I would make is, 'I'm sorry you didn't understand you were watching a comedian and that you thought you were watching Meet the Press."

The only thing seemingly sacred to Burr is the act of comedy itself. While making people laugh always came naturally to Burr, he had to work at stand-up.

"It didn't seem possible," Burr told BW in a phone interview from the set of the upcoming film Black and White. "It was on TV, which was like a million miles away. Kids today can't understand that. There was two people in town with a video camera. There was no Internet."

He even talks about it with a slightly transcendental tone.

"When you first become a stand-up comedian, it's like an out-of-body experience," Burr said. "There's a microphone, you can't see anything, there's a room full of people and lights in your eyes. Now you're not you anymore, you're you doing stand-up."

Burr said it took him a decade of going through existential questions about what kind of comic he wanted to be to get back to being himself, to feeling as comfortable on stage as he would cracking jokes in a locker room.

"People talk about it like it's a big mystery. Am I the political guy? Am I the ranting guy? Well, I say, whatever you do backstage, that's you," Burr said. "The number of people you talk to offstage that are totally different, I have empathy for them."

And now he's dropped the act: "I don't write material," Burr said. "I haven't done that for 12 years. I just go on stage and start talking. Hopefully, I remember it the next night."

That approach has made Burr a so-called "comedian's comedian," a performer whom rising comedians often list as one of their influences, though Burr said they don't often tell him that.

"People say nice things to me about my act but that 'comedian's comedian' thing, I usually hear that from people like yourself doing interviews," he said. "Out on the road, doing stand-up is a very solitary thing because you're by yourself. You're not in a band. When you travel, maybe you travel with one other guy. A lot of time, you go into town and the local guy opens up for you. You meet him and talk to him 20 minutes before and after, then on to the next city."

Another thing Burr seems to revere is the craft of acting, something he's been doing more of lately.

"You go to the Montreal comedy festival, then they say, 'Do you have an idea for a TV show?' and I did. And I didn't want to stink in it, so I started taking acting classes," Burr said.

He quickly discovered that acting also required a serious artistic journey.

"I don't think acting gets enough credit," Burr said. "I think everybody thinks they can act. I mean, Shaq has starred in movies. But an actor can't just go play some games for The Lakers. And it's one of those things where if you have some natural ability for it, and you can play a character that's like yourself, people can say, 'Oh, it's easy.' And it's not. Think about Anthony Hopkins. Most actors if they gave a performance like Hannibal Lecter, they'd be typecast for the rest of their career. People can't see them as anyone else. But he's literally becoming someone else in a role."

Though he has had roles in films like Date Night and on TV shows like Breaking Bad and Chapelle's Show, Burr says acting remains more of a bonus than his actual career.

"Acting is just like stand-up comedy. It's just endless. It's just how far you want to take it, how good you want to get at it. But my goals are all as a stand-up comedian. I am working to get better, but there are only so many hours in the day," he said.

Based on his current success, however, at least one goal is certainly attainable.

"I'd like to see how far up the list [of Comedy Central's greatest comics of all time] I can get, knowing full well that the top 25 are all unpassable. But I'd like to be number 26."

And to get there, Burr might have to offend your delicate sensibilities a smidgen. If he does, know that he did so with the best intentions and nothing but joy in his heart.