Bill Burr at Leicester Square Theatre

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

Imagine a short-tempered American man who owns a pitbull, advocates gun ownership and can think of plenty of good reasons to hit a woman.

Now think again. Bill Burr is all of these things, yet is so gifted a comedian that even the most liberal-minded audience member is likely to concede that maybe he’s got a point. His skill is in acknowledging he’s a moron for thinking such things, but having the honesty to confess to his more basic instincts. The best comedy makes us tacitly acknowledge life’s dark side and laugh in its face, and this is where Burr – making a rare one-off appearance in the UK – is in his element.

For all the aggression underpinning his arguments, he’s no dumb-ass redneck, but actually occupies a low-status position, a regular Joe beaten down by life’s frustrations. The standpoint is therefore sympathetic, making his annoyance easy to identify with. From there, he can make his exaggerated responses seem if not reasonable, then at least justifiable – and all delivered with a Everyman charm and subtle irony that allows him to waltz around the controversy his hot topics might otherwise provoke.

He doesn’t, of course, start with the domestic violence material. That is something to build up to, after establishing what manner of man he is. Yet even his ice-breaker gags, about how awful facelifts look or how he, like most white people, managed to avoid the most rudimentary of skincare tips, is as funny as it is identifiable, with deft punchlines packed tightly together. First and foremost, he is a technically faultless comedian, with perfectly-engineered architecture that ensures opinion, observation and gags are tightly intertwined, with the occasional underplayed callback to give just a hint of the structure beneath.

There’s very little wasted. Sometimes when comics act out a little scene, for example, it just reinforces the point they already made, adding little new – but Burr’s depiction of a man losing his temper with a DIY project adds value in the close attention to detail, meaning the familiar scene is recreated with hilarious accuracy, and an unfolding mini-drama. No wonder there are so many laughs of recognition.

Much of his comedy reflects domestic life. In his case, he’s unmarried, 43 and childless, which preys on his mind. But he has a partner, and the niggling arguments they have are a mainstay of this brisk 75-minute set. Yes, it’s another stand-up addressing the difference between the genders, but when you do so with insight, and take even familiar tropes in new directions, no topic is hack.

With some of his more outlandish statements, he’s being deliberately provocative, yet he argues with a cheeky confidence and an attitude which says: ‘you all think it even though you shouldn’t’. It picks away at polite behaviour and addresses more primal responses, far from the realm of the politically correct.

His boldness on stage is what makes him so appealing, while the suspicion that he would never be so forthright in real life lets him get away with it. This was a welcome visit from a gifted comedy artisan – if only his British visit wasn’t so fleeting.

Review date: 17 Oct 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Leicester Square Theatre

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