Bill Burr's London show

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

It’s a good job visiting American comic Bill Burr has comedy as an outlet for his simmering frustrations. Without it, this highly-strung misanthropist would surely be only one minor irritation from a killing spree.

Indeed, he freely describes himself as a psycho, the sort of person who sidles up to you in a bar ‘seems all right for a few moments’ as he trades small-talk about the game on the TV – until he unleashes his vitriolic opinions and left-field theories. The ever-present annoyance with life means Burr tends to talk in short, pointed phrases, which gives his comedy a lean muscularity, efficiently packing in lots of sharp jabs to batter you down.

On his first visit to these shores, playing only London, Dublin and the Glasgow Comedy Festival, he proves himself to be a formidable comic. Hopefully it’s the first of many visits, as those lucky enough to catch him – the 400-seater Leicester Square Theatre was less than two-thirds full of a mixture of fans and the curious – will certainly be queuing for tickets should he ever return.

The only indication that he’s not been here before is his confusion over the audience’s reticence about talking back. But it’s not just shyness. The assumption would be that questions such as ‘You guys have squirrels here, right?’ are rhetorical – but they’re not, he really needs to know, having been too lazy to Google the reference before he came.

Such typically blokish slothfulness – that faithful comedy staple – is a central plank of his persona. He’s angry about everything from Seaworld theme parks to religion, the phoney media ‘outrage’ over Tiger Wood’s philandering to the banking crisis – but is too damn apathetic to do anything about other than spit impotent fury. But the swipes he takes at his targets are devastatingly accurate, and hilariously expressed.

If you thought something like ‘fat Americans’ was a hack subject, Burr conclusively proves you wrong – showing that if you attack from a new direction, with enough ferocity and tenacity, there are still original belly-laughs to be found in any topic.

But there’s a strong sense of fun as well as the passion, thanks largely to a playful self-awareness. His ill-informed intolerance is the butt of many jokes, while between his tighter routines, he’ll ease off the accelerator a bit to get more chatty, reveling, for instance, in Britain’s casual use of the c-word that’s so taboo in his homeland. And that;s even before he got to Glasgow.

Then we’re off again, on yet another powerful routine, building purposefully to a climax. Almost any one of them would be the untoppable closer in another comic’s repertoire, but Burr can keep them coming one after another.

The longest routine he has involves him reluctantly becoming a dog-owner – picking up a pitbull from the rescue centre, or ‘dog jail’ as he depicts it. This showcases another of his talents, for vivid metaphor. He humanises the pooches as hardened cons – a grittier version of those pups-playing-pool prints, perhaps – and although the idea seems straightforward, the execution is masterful.

He’s more often known for tackling more contentious issues such as racism, but largely stayed off such topics tonight. However, he proved he can make even the most domestic of tales a comedic tour de force, even without the extra edge of controversy.

Despite the usual role-call of TV credits, Burr has never quite hit the big time in the States, remaining a trusted road comic more than acclaimed great. His greatest success is probably the blurry YouTube clip showing him furiously berating a Philadelphia crowd for ten for booing the act before him, Dom Irrera. But if American audiences won’t appreciate him, Britain is surely ready to welcome him with open arms.

Review date: 19 Mar 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Leicester Square Theatre

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