Massachusetts native and professional comedian Bill Burr is known for his acerbic wit and willingness to venture into controversial topics and opinions during his standup routines and on his podcast.
Audiences might know Burr from performances in movies like “The Heat” and “Date Night,” and TV shows like “Chappelle’s Show,” “New Girl” and recent Emmy winner “Breaking Bad,” where he plays henchman Kuby.
Burr will perform Oct. 5 at Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix.
Q: You do a podcast every Monday morning. What do you like about the podcast when compared to standup?
A: I just like making people laugh. The podcast is a different twist because I’m interacting with people in a different way: They write in and ask me questions knowing I’ll give a silly answer or give an answer and try to make it funny. I do it on Mondays because people go to work, they hate their job, and it gives them something to look forward to for the beginning of the work week.
Q: One of the things you’re known for is a performance in Philadelphia in 2006 where you responded to a crowd of hecklers by insulting the audience. What would you target if that happened in Phoenix?
A: I don’t really have a game plan. Responding to a heckler, for me, is an in-the-moment thing, and it’s whatever strikes me. Usually, it starts with what they just said, and if I can see them, I might go into Hannibal Lecter, where you look at their shoes and you try to figure out what their apartment looks like. That silly thing (Philadelphia performance) was to attack things I know they love. It was a simple thing.
Q. What I found impressive was how you were able to turn it around and use your vitriol to turn the audience in your favor.
A: That says a lot about my own dysfunction and the City of Philadelphia, because they like you more if you do that. That’s the vibe I got — not to speak for that city — than if you actually came out going like “Oh, this is a beautiful city you have here.”
Q. You have a reputation for tackling contentious topics, but is there any area you’re uncomfortable going into?
A: I don’t make fun of people with special needs. I try not to be malicious; as moronic as I can be onstage, even when I’m going off on women, it’s more my frustration with not understanding them. People who get offended, they really just take it at face value.
Remember when I was saying earlier looking at a heckler’s shoes and shirt and trying to figure out what their apartment looks like? They (people who get offended) don’t do that; they just look at you as this one-dimensional thing. (Like) ‘You said that, and I’m going to decide you meant it, despite the fact I’ve been laughing for 40 minutes about every other topic knowing you were just joking.’
The only way I would ever apologize to someone after a show is if I was really being mean, if I really meant it. But if I was joking, and someone decides to take something I said seriously, they have a right to do that. But just because someone took it seriously doesn’t mean I now meant it when I said it.
Q. So there can be a gap between what a comedian says on stage and what he or she really thinks?
A. Take the Tony Clifton character that Andy Kaufman used to do. That guy said mean, straight up racist stuff. But he was playing this character; if you decided to take this seriously, you’d decide Andy Kaufman was a racist. It’s like no, he’s doing this racist character.
There’s absurd comedy, there’s shock. It’s just like music; there are different styles of music, and within those styles, there are people who are doing it right and people who need to put the guitar down.
The few topics that I try to stay away from, I would never tell anybody to stay away from them. I’m not the Grand Poobah of comedy who decides what topics should be discussed, and that’s something people who don’t do standup comedy like to do a lot.
If you go
What: Comedian Bill Burr
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5
Where: Celebrity Theatre: 440 N. 32nd St., Phoenix