Bill Burr

Review by Steve Bennett

There were a lot of young comedians in the audience for Bill Burr’s late show last night. As well there should be, for this is a masterclass in comic technique that almost any stand-up could learn from.

His compelling delivery also shows the dominance of method over message. Burr’s views – at least as stated – often do not conform to the consensus of the liberal Edinburgh Fringe, though he’s more than skilled enough to play that tension to his advantage.

Taken at face value, he is the Donald Trump of stand-up; using the language of the blue-collar bar-room philosopher to rail against imagined threats to an essentially privileged life as a white American male. Shut your whining that you’re paid less than men, he tells women in one extended routine, it levels out ‘cos we have to pay for everything on dates.

’I’m aware I’m coming across as a caveman,’ he acknowledges a couple of times, as a sop to today’s offence-sensitive climate. He also claims to be a feminist, despite the evidence he presents, along with describing himself as a ‘nice psycho’. It is testament to his skill as a stand-up, with a conversational yet forceful style, that he gets both sides laughing: both those who hope the sexism is steeped in irony and those who hail him as finally saying it like it is. Superficially, acting the misogynistic jerk is an easy path to winding people up, but there’s (usually) more layers to Burr’s approach than simple provocation.

He’s not politically correct on Caitlin Jenner, either, being suspicious of her decision not to undergo full gender reassignment surgery. Or ‘keeping his dick’ as Burr less sensitively puts it. The attitude is impolite, but that it’s so outlandish is precisely what makes it funny, and it’s backed up with some great lines.

Still with the intolerance, Burr also has no time for fat people portraying themselves as victims, leading to talk of how no one’s visiting McDonald’s for health food. This section’s a little more generic in its thought process, at least until it gets going, though even this is enlivened by Burr’s uncompromising, animated delivery and laser-guided bullshit destroyer.

None of this is in line with his assertion at the top of the show that the world frets about the trivial while the major issues – for him, genetically modified food and our evil Illuminati overlords – get swept under the carpet, since he, too, largely ignores the big stuff, or at best dismisses it. But actually this opening statement serves a different purpose: to place the whole ensuing 75 minutes or so in giant ironic quotation marks. You can’t take seriously anything that he’s saying: this is a moron who believes in conspiracy theories.

While his social commentary is entertaining and provocative, worth the price of admission alone is his silly bit about Koko, the gorilla who has been taught sign language in California. This is a tour-de-force routine showing an absolute commitment to an idea and running with it. Burr’s physicality is sublime, from acting out both sides of the communication in his cack-handed way, to imagining the ape being taught to walk like a human, getting frustrated by his early failings. It’s an entirely fabricated scenario, but feels so hilariously real.

The story is spun out into a fanciful tale, imagining the motives and actions of both gorilla and trainer way beyond what was contained YouTube video which alerted him to Koko in the first place. Yet Burr insists e still hasn’t got an ending he’s happy with, so incredible to think that this brilliant routine is still work in progress.

It could be enough to make a lot of those young comics quit in the sure knowledge they’ll never be this good.

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Published: 9 Aug 2016

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