Given the SAG-AFTRA strike at the time Burr spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last month, he declined to discuss the semi-autobiographical “Old Dads” but was happy to go after the producers in general (though not Netflix in particular.)
“It’s out-of-control greed,” Burr said. “I stand by the union on this one. I am on the side of the workers. They’re the ones getting screwed.”
Artificial intelligence, an issue the two sides are grappling with, sounds like nirvana for corporations looking to minimize human jobs, he said: “It’s their dream workforce. They want actors to show up once, digitize us and then never pay us again. None of that [expletive] is for us.”
He is confident AI can’t replicate his ability to make people laugh.
“I’ll be in Atlanta to do jokes,” he said. “It isn’t hard for me. I’m having the best shows of my life. I feel the crowd out. I see what direction to go and give them their money’s worth.”
“When my agent first suggested I do arenas, I thought he was crazy,” Burr said. “I didn’t think I could sell. He told me I was there. He convinced me to do theaters. He was certain when he booked Fenway Park [in 2022.] I never thought that would happen. It was unbelievable.”
Back in the 2000s, he began headlining the original Punchline Comedy Club in Sandy Springs before it moved to Buckhead and loved it. “That was one of my favorite gigs,” he said. “It had this great green room. If the crowd was too drunk, I’d stay in that foyer. The staff treated me like a million dollars.”
Jamie Bendall, who owns the Punchline, said he isn’t shocked by Burr’s rise in the ranks based on how he worked even in the early days, noting his respect for the craft of comedy and his generosity to his friends and peers. “He’s very old school in that respect,” Bendall said. “He’s relatable in the sense that a lot of people grew up knowing somebody like Bill and he doesn’t pull any punches.”
Burr doesn’t consider himself a technology guru or an early adopter, but he was one of the first comedians to embrace streaming comedy specials going back to 2012 before Netflix had even released “House of Cards.” He has shot five hour-long specials for Netflix, which of course became the largest streaming service in the world.
“Netflix has been huge for me,” Burr said. “Early on, I saw them for what they were going to be. I saw what we could do if we worked together.”
He also began podcasting in 2007 before Joe Rogan, before Adam Carolla, before Marc Maron. “Podcasting was pure luck,” Burr said. “As far as being ahead of the curve, I’ve always felt like I’ve been behind. I was held back in first grade. I didn’t get my college degree until I was 25. I didn’t start standup until I was almost 24. I married late. I had kids late.”
He said the stand-up business doesn’t exactly encourage quick maturation.
“You can live this Peter Pan lifestyle,” Burr said. “It took me a long time to figure things out. I didn’t always control my temper. I’ve had to work on it.”
He readily admitted he used to make terrible jokes about women back in the day. He said he’s evolved.
“I have empathy which I didn’t have before,” Burr said. “Before, I was more defensive and lashing out. I now try to not take things so personally. I’ve carried a lot of pain from childhood trauma.”
Doing stand up in different countries has also given him more hope about mankind, at least more than he does watching cable news. He was able to do 9/11 and drug jokes in Abu Dhabi and still get laughs. He realized people can be voyeurs and find humor in things they don’t do themselves.
He also has learned that everyone, no matter what culture, “wants to feel safe, wants to find love, wants to have money to take care of their family. At the end of the week, they want to laugh and forget about their own problems. It could be Mumbai, India or Hong Kong. I feel we have way more similarities than differences.”
IF YOU GO
8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8. State Farm Arena, 1 State Farm Drive, Atlanta. ticketmaster.com.
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution including TV, radio, film, comedy and all things in between. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years. He loves tennis, pop culture & seeing live events.