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Bill Burr: People Taking Offense Is Ruining Comedy

Stand-up comedian says he realizes he’s been censoring himself on stage

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October 6, 2020

Headlining comedian Bill Burr wasn’t having his best set.

It was one of his first two stand-up spots since the pandemic started, and he was rusty. The venue was also less than ideal: the parking lot of the Magic Castle in Hollywood, where people watched while sitting in their cars, like at a drive-in movie.

After spending a few minutes riffing but unable find the right timing and rhythm, Burr said he went to some of his old tried-and-true material (“I just started trashing women” he laughed), when a woman in the audience who was apparently offended started screaming at him, and then the guy who was with her started heckling Burr as well.

When Burr then started making fun of the hecklers (like comedians do to hecklers), the car drove away.

Burr told the story on his August 17 episode of his “Monday Morning Podcast.” (Story begins at about the 7-minute mark.) He said the experience was one of the few times in his comedy career that he was truly left speechless.

“I guess I was hoping that this white woman f—ing act was going to be done, and we could actually get to the truly oppressed people – people of color that started the Woke movement – but nope they picked up right where they left off,” Burr said.

Burr did say, in defense of the people who drove away, that it was not his best set. But the incident left him feeling depressed afterward for a larger reason than just having a bad show: “I get it – I’m the older comic now, and I get that younger people aren’t going to understand me,” Burr said before correcting himself. “It’s not that they don’t understand you, it’s that they’re getting offended.”

“They’re acting like they’re old, and you’re some young punk up there like f—ing shooting heroin into your arm, and all I’m doing is telling a f—ing joke,” Burr said.

Burr then complained about how he keeps seeing comedians on social media attacking other comedians for making offensive jokes. 

“Guys, like you’re literally playing into the hands of people who are trying to censor us,” Burr said. “You don’t trash other f—ing comics.” 

He said the situation is making comedy “not fun anymore.”

Burr said heckling has turned into a whole politicized “we need to end your career now because of this joke vibe,” and pointed out that stand-ups went to jail in the past over things they said on stage, so he can’t understand why comedians would now try to censor other comedians. “It’s really bizarre.” 

In November, Burr commented on a tweet from comedian Jena Freidman, who wrote on Twitter: “Hey headlining comics, if you take a younger comic on the road with you, don’t try to f— them… comedy clubs are work environments, extend an employment opportunity to that younger comic but don’t be creepy about it. Also, if you are, they will probably tell us. We all talk.”

Burr took umbrage at the way she used a broad brush to refer to all headliners and spent several minutes riffing about it.  

Friedman later directed several tweets at Burr, but he never replied. 

“The hateful bulls— men like @billburr spew on their podcasts matters. He’s stoking misogynistic trolls and abusive men who already harass us to keep doing it. He may have no idea how his words can actually harm women more vulnerable than me, but they really do. What a coward.” she wrote.

It’s not the only time Friedman has accused people of things on Twitter.

Following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Freidman tweeted that: “Clarence Thomas should have been disqualified for workplace sexual harassment and Kavanaugh should have been disqualified for attempted rape.” (The Tweet has since been deleted.)

A screenshot of a deleted Tweet from Jena Friedman
Jena Friedman’s Tweet calling out Justice Thomas and Justice Kavanaugh

It’s a good thing Freidman is a comedian and not a judge, given that she does not seem willing to extend due process or the presumption of innocence to either Thomas or Kavanaugh. An accusation does not automatically mean a person is guilty.

Burr: “I do censor myself when I’m on stage” 

In his Aug. 24 podcast episode, Burr told about having a better time performing during comedian Dave Chapelle’s “summer camp” in Ohio.

He said that it felt great because phones were locked and, “I actually felt like, as an American, I could go on stage and say whatever I wanted, which I remember fondly, oh all the way back last time maybe six, seven years ago.” 

“This is progressive people: fellow comics censoring and making you afraid to say what you want to say on stage. I don’t – I don’t get it.” 

Burr said it’s funny that now even female comedians are tweeting about how they are afraid to tweet. “You helped build this f—ing house of horrors,” Burr said. 

He returned to the subject later in the same podcast episode: “They had a great setup for doing like the standup and everything,” Burr said. “It was awesome and it also made me sad thinking like this is how standup used to be, it used to be so much fun where you could just like just empty your brain and say the craziest s—, you know, digging holes, trying to get out of it, f—ing with people, being absurd, all of that stuff.” 

Burr said that it made him want to go back to the way he used to be on stage before he gave ground. 

“I realized this week how much I do censor myself when I’m on stage, and I think I’ve been doing it for so long over the years it’s now become this subconscious thing. ‘Don’t say that – might get in trouble.’” 

Then he joked, “It is funny watching white women call other white women Karens.” 

Burr said that he didn’t care how many people left at his next performance; he was going to try to hold onto the freedom he had while performing at Chapelle’s camp. 

“It’s just unbelievable that in America you have to actually be careful when you’re not even being serious – you’re joking around and you have to be careful.” 

Burr is known mostly for his live stand-up comedy and Netflix specials, but he’s had acting roles on Breaking Bad, the Mandalorian, and the movie “The King of Staten Island.” 

As one of the top-performing comics, he’s able to set the tone for other comedians by fighting back against the spreading ‘Wokeness’ that is ruining comedy. Let’s hope he does.

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