Bill Burr – Palace Theater (Albany, NY), 4/27/14

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Back when I saw Anthony Jeselnik perform live, he ended his show with a Q&A from the audience – always a dicey proposition in my book. One of the questions that he received asked about what comedians that he liked and Jeselnik turned it around and asked us who we thought he would say. There were lots of interesting guesses – and some ridiculous ones – and while I didn’t shout out because one does not draw attention to oneself at an Anthony Jeselnik show, I had a pretty good idea of who he was going to say.

Bill Burr.

It turns out that my instincts were right; I may not know Anthony Jeselnik, but I have read enough about the stand-up comedy world to know that Burr is a comedian’s comedian. He tours a ton and is well respected by his peers, which is enough for me. Surprisingly, I wasn’t all that familiar with Bill Burr the comedian; I knew Bill Burr, the actor, from his minor supporting role on Breaking Bad, but couldn’t remember catching any of his specials on Comedy Central. Despite my general unfamiliarity with his stand-up work, when I heard that he was coming to town I immediately snatched up tickets. I purposely didn’t do any research before the show, preferring to be surprised by his set and his on stage persona. For some reason, I assumed that he would be very similar to Louis C.K. – an assumption that presumably was rooted solely in the fact that both comedians are redheads. I guess I profile comedians based on their hair color.

Though their styles vary quite a bit, Louis C.K. and Bill Burr are similar in that both of them are very smart and talented comedians. I thoroughly enjoyed Burr’s set and while he didn’t crack the upper echelon of my stand-up comedy experiences – to the best of my knowledge no one was arrested after this show – it was a pretty spectacular way to end my Sunday night. I’ll absolutely be seeking out Burr’s previous stand-up work online so that I can enjoy his previous sets.

The biggest surprise for me was how much Bill Burr yelled; he isn’t really an angry comedian, per se, but a lot about life clearly exasperates Burr. He does not suffer fools lightly and early on in his set he took an audience member to task for recording the show with his cell phone. I think that Burr was more annoyed that the guy wasn’t experiencing the show than he was about the bootlegging of his material. Burr frequently went off on tangents within his prepared material, but they were welcome diversions and only enhanced the overall experience. There is a long line of comedians that are annoyed by the daily experiences of life, but Burr didn’t seem like a rehash of previous comedians. He was animated and shouted from time to time, but he also laughed at himself and the absurdity of it all. He really seemed to be having a good time up on stage.

His material covered a range of well-worn topics – religion, guns, feminism, and marriage – but he was able to mine these areas for new and interesting innovations. I particularly enjoyed his discussion of how he could defend his home with a BB gun – “you might not kill the guy, but at the very least you force him to go outside and regroup.” He touched on some recent events, such as the controversy over Duck Dynasty and gay marriage – Burr wasn’t at all shocked that a man in his seventies with a ZZ Top beard who sits in the swamp all day with ducks might not be a person from whom you expect progressive thought. My favorite segment by far was his retelling of the time that he decided to blow passed a police office at the airport that was trying to flag him down, just for the fun of it. He painted a vivid picture of his exhilaration at defying authority followed by his panic over what he did and his attempt to stay out of trouble when he realized what he did. Burr was animated throughout his set, but he was particularly alive during this segment. The sold-out crowd ate it all up, enthusiastically howling with laughter throughout his entire show. Burr was on stage close to 90 minutes by my calculation, which is a fairly long set for a headliner. Usually these sets seem to clock in at a little over an hour, so we more than got our money’s worth from Burr.

Burr liberally uses the F-word, so it’s definitely not a show for the easily offended or for children. Content wise, I’d put him in the middle of the edgy spectrum; it was certainly adult material, but it was not nearly as explicit or racy as some other comedians that I’ve seen. He does cover some sensitive topics, but they are all in good fun; if you can pull of material about guns in upstate NY, you’re doing something right. The only thing that really threw me off was Burr’s appearance; he’s shaved his head and lost his goatee, so for the first few moments that he was on stage I had trouble adjusting to this new visual.

Burr’s opening act, Paul Virzi, was also very funny. He did a brief 20 minute set to warm up the crowd that focused primarily on parenting and drinking. I was laughing particularly at his portion of the set that focused on the morning after a night of drinking, when you have to call your friends for them to fill in the details of what exactly you did the night before and assess the damage. I think most people have been there and his re-enactment of the conversation was spot on. There was an additional warm-up guy (Thomas Attilla Lewis) who did about ten minutes and seemed like a likable enough guy, but wasn’t quite in the same league as Virzi and Burr. Almost all the comedians made some joke at the expense of the neighboring city Troy, though I would argue that they should have substituted Schenectady for the punch line instead. Troy has come a long way.

A great night of comedy overall and I now know what all the hullabaloo is about. I would definitely consider going to see Burr again if he comes through town in the future. He doesn’t crack my top five stand-up experiences, but he’s solidly in the top ten. I am looking forward to digging into his achieves to see what else he has done. Burr also routinely does mini-videos from his time on the road and we were promised that Albany would be featured in an upcoming one; I can’t wait to hear his thoughts after driving around my fair city.

For more information about Bill Burr or to find his upcoming tour dates, check out his website.

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