Bill Burr, human Molotov cocktail

A lot of comedians like to justify their edgier material with an arrogant disclaimer: "I'm actually up here sayin' what you only think." Veteran provocateur Bill Burr might as well offer an addendum to that: saying the stuff that gets thrown around in his material is quite possibly a sign of complete psychosis, and if you think it, maybe you should look into that before something bad happens. The veteran Burr, who's drawn fitting comparisons to splenetic masters of the craft like Lewis Black and Bill Hicks, likes to play up the idea of being a force of rampaging id that is not entirely all together in terms of normal social acceptance. And if his Friday night show at the Pantages was any indication, the audience is more than willing to let that uninhibited delirium wash over them like cleansing fire.

While Burr's subject matter had flashes of a certain precipice-of-wrongness to it on the surface -- one extended routine attempted to semantically dismantle the logic behind the statement "there's no reason to hit a woman" -- it was the way he presented himself physically on stage that really drove it home. Plenty of comedians have made their name on "jeez, those women, whaddyagonnado?" material, but getting it from this manic, jumpy, alternately snarling and giddy middle-aged walking Molotov cocktail draws you in because it's clearly coming from a place everyone knows is a bit fucked up. Any hack can draw gasps and groans with a Chris Brown joke, but depicting his assault on Rihanna as a ridiculous, cartoonish pantomime that eventually devolved into second-rate Chuck Norris choreography pushes Burr's M.O. past "check out how edgy I am" and into "what is wrong with my brain?" territory. And he didn't let up much, either -- stepping back to look smug or chortle a smarmy "am I right, fellas?" would have undercut his tone severely, and he trusted the audience to get where he was coming from without nudging them like that.

Burr's great with button-pushing big-picture stuff on relationships and social engineering, but some of his best material is personal and anecdotal on a somewhat smaller scale. That approach comprised a good chunk of his hour-plus set, the arguable high point of which was a simple story of fatherly deception of the kind you might get from vintage '60s Bill Cosby. (It involves his father "hearing on the radio" that a school vacation day got canceled, a ruse that culminated in the Burr brothers standing out at the bus stop for an hour and a half.) His stories of the rescue pit bull he adopted came across as funny, scary, and a little heartbreaking at the same time, thanks to a remarkable grasp of anxious-dog body language and a recognition of how disastrous animal logic can be. And the more tangential, somewhat goofier bits -- ranging from his goat-wrestling aspirations to the cinderblock cruddiness of Boston's TD Garden arena to a diatribe on how creepy raccoon hands are -- were evidence that he could make damn near any topic work in that high-energy approach of his.

He also had plenty of material for the locals from the get-go, kicking off with his declared decision to wear a purple shirt on account of the Vikings. (He later expressed some confusion on the "hermaphroditic" appearance of the Vikes' pigtails-and-beard aesthetic.) Most of the other observations he made about Minnesota were standard-issue -- it's cold all the time, the Mall of America is big and stupid, our white people are really white -- but the jokes kept flying so fast that the sheer volume of it all was enough to overcome the familiarity. Burr did come to a suitable conclusion on the Minnesota audience when his casual dismissal of Jesus' constantly postponed comeback ("Axl Rose times 200") earned a huge whoop from the audience. After tallying the biggest reactions from the crowd for certain jokes and namedrops, he pinpointed our state's three most passionate beliefs: yay drinking, go Vikings, and "fuck Jesus." I don't know if he's right on that last one, but there's no reason to correct him.

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