Bill Burr is a comedian on the rise, thanks to his appearances on the ever-controversial Opie and Anthony radio show, Chappelle’s Show, and most recently Breaking Bad, as Kuby.
On Saturday, Oct. 11, he’ll be performing at Spotlight 29 Casino.
During a recent phone interview, Burr discussed growing up in Canton, Mass.
“I don’t think I ever thought I’d be a comedian,” Burr said. “Show business seemed really far away. It always looked like something I wanted to do, but when I was growing up in the ’70s, we had three channels on the television, and even if you had cable, you had four channels. There wasn’t any Internet, YouTube or any of that crap.
“I definitely made people laugh, and that’s how I made friends. I have to admit, I came from a really funny town. I remember all my friends were funny; everyone I went to high school with was funny … and we would just laugh all the time.”
He said he got his first taste of comedy when he signed up for a talent show, just to see how he’d do.
“They had this contest, ‘Find Boston’s Funniest College Student,’ Burr said. “It was just a big marketing plan to get a bunch of college students to buy booze, get drunk and watch their friends go bomb on stage. I signed up for that. I didn’t win the contest, and I didn’t suck. I was in the middle of the pack, and I did all right. I decided, ‘All right, I’m going to keep doing this.’ All I really wanted was the balls to go up there and do it when they called my name. Afterward, I was euphoric. I drove home in my piece-of-shit car listening to Motley Crue’s ‘Kickstart My Heart.’ I was screaming the lyrics, and I was absolutely elated.”
However, a comedy career did not come easily to Burr.
“It was a growth period in my life where I went from being really shy and dreading getting up in front of the class, to transferring to Emerson College and deliberately taking classes, one after another, where I had to go up in front of a class—and my fear got smaller and smaller each time I did it,” Burr said. “The joy of doing it was growing exponentially. The brass ring of public speaking to me was having the nerve to try to do stand-up. I already did some reports at school where I threw some jokes in and I got laughs, so I was baby-stepping my way into doing stand-up.”
He received a couple of big breaks about a decade ago: He made some appearances on the legendary Chappelle’s Show, and became a frequent guest on Opie and Anthony.
“I was in New York struggling for about seven or eight years, and then thankfully, I met Opie and Anthony,” Burr said. “I met them thanks to two things: (comedian and longtime Opie and Anthony contributor) Jim Norton, and they had gotten fired from WNEW after ‘Sex for Sam’ and those people had sex in the church,” he said.
After the ”Sex for Sam” public-sex scandal, Opie and Anthony was off the air for two years before XM Satellite Radio began broadcasting the show in October 2004.
“Opie had come down to the Comedy Cellar and was dealing with a weird sort of limbo in his career. Contractually, (his radio station) still had to give him some money, so he was able to survive, but he wanted to work and wasn’t allowed to. I just got to know him, and it was a cool way to get to know him, because we were able to be human beings and be out of the business. Jim Norton ultimately brought me in while I was doing Chappelle’s Show.”
Working with Dave Chappelle was also an unforgettable experience, Burr said.
“Some people are just so good that you just enjoy them like a fan, and Dave is just on such a different plane artistically,” Burr said. “I was always an audience member watching him; I never felt like a peer around that guy. On Chappelle’s Show, I felt like some guy who had won a radio contest and was brought in to do a couple of lines in a sketch.”
This summer, Anthony Cumia of Opie and Anthony was fired after racially charged posts on his Twitter account after an altercation with a black woman on the street. The satellite-radio show remains on the air as Opie With Jim Norton, and now stars Gregg “Opie” Hughes and Jim Norton.
“The whole thing was unfortunate,” Burr said. “That show was a legendary show, and everything has a beginning, middle and an end. I guess in the back of my head, I knew at some point the show would come to an end. I just wish it didn’t end that way.”
Even for a now-seasoned and successful comedian, actor and podcaster like Burr, there are good nights, and there are not-so-good nights. Burr explained how he handled an off-night he suffered through not too long ago.
“I went out there and kind of struggled a bit at first, and heard a couple of people boo, and I thought, ‘Oh, shit, here we go again.’ I’ve learned through all of the years of doing it how to turn it around, and I just went a little bit more mainstream with my shit. It’s kind of like shooting your way out of a slump when you give them a few mainstream jokes. And then you start talking about Ray Rice,” he said with a laugh.
Bill Burr will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 11, at Spotlight 29, 46200 Harrison Place, in Coachella. Tickets are $45 to $75. For tickets or more information, call 760-775-5566, or visit www.spotlight29.com.