Up until 3 or 4 years ago, Bill Burr was pretty much ‘that guy from that thing’. Having bagged a role in Breaking Bad, he also popped up in The Heat and a few episodes of New Girl. Generally speaking, Burr was a cop, someone’s brother/cousin or, eh, a cop. You catch the drift…
But he has steadily been building a fanbase for a couple of decades at this point through his rant-driven audio opus, The Monday Morning Podcast (TMMP), and a series of increasingly popular stand-up specials. His acclaim has grown in a similar way to that of Louis C.K., and comparisons with him are probably inevitable. Not that he minds, “I mean I like it, I’m not sure Louis would feel the same way.”
I’ve spoken to Burr a couple of times over the years, and he’s extremely matter-of-fact about his success; this is what happens when you spend a couple of decades building a loyal fanbase and touring the country, as crowds grew with each passing tour.
That’s the kind of word-of-mouth that indicates a special kind of connection with an audience; people don’t just passively watch Bill Burr – they love him. They’ll pay for tickets to see his shows, watch them on Netflix, look up old clips on YouTube, and listen to every episode of his podcast, often writing him with their problems.
Burr obviously appreciates his success and seemed genuinely speechless on his show in the days following a sell-out gig at Madison Square Garden. The key to his success, apart from being an extremely funny man, is that he knows exactly what he is and doesn’t try to be anyone else.
While he occasionally might have a pal on to ‘hype’ a special or a movie, he has no interest in becoming a Marc Maron or Bill Simmons-style interviewer; he also doesn’t think he’s that interesting.
There’s something deeply personal about how he does his podcast, but his ‘one man and a mic’ approach isn’t that pre-meditated, he has said multiple times he just can’t be arsed chasing up guests and organising a time. As I spoke to him for an interview one morning a few years ago, he was literally lying on his couch, planning to record TMMP after he hung up.
In the years Bill Burr has been recording, it’s never felt like work, because he doesn’t structure it like work. However, he uses that unique comedian’s discipline to stick to his two shows a week – even as his first child was born and his beloved New England Patriots trounced their way to another Superbowl.
Burr doesn’t track listeners to his podcast, regularly rips the absolute piss out of his advertisers and gives listeners bluntly honest advice in an Agony Uncle section that often features some of his funniest moments. None of it is put on, he’s a genuine working class guy who has opinions, which he often pre-empts with: “Don’t listen to me, I don’t read.”
Aside from being arguably the best comedian working today, Bill Burr’s podcast is an exercise in work ethic and relatability. This has lead him to success, and shows that even if your talent is already evident, it’s not enough on its own.