The comedy community is small, with familiar faces with familiar voices bumping into each other all of the time. Bill Burr appeared in a fantastic episode of the Judd Apatow-produced series Crashing, which aired for two seasons on HBO, and performs at the comedic director's benefit shows in Los Angeles. After taping an episode of Burr's podcast together, when Apatow told the 52-year old creator of F Is for Family and Season 1 guest star on The Mandalorian that he had a movie to pitch him, it was a no-brainer for Burr.
In The King of Staten Island, starring Pete Davidson (and loosely based on the Saturday Night Live star's real-life), Burr plays a firefighter who becomes something of a father figure for Davidson's character. In this exclusive Q&A with MovieWeb, scheduled to coincide with the release of the Certified-Fresh film on Blu-ray and DVD, the always comically outspoken comedian talked about the similarities between the left and the right; the hardest scene to film in The King of Staten Island; the state of comedy during COVID; how a Bill Burr action figure might look; and which metal songs he's learning to play in quarantine.
Back before civilization halted, I was going to Largo at the Coronet in Los Angeles regularly to see comedy. I saw you perform at one of Judd Apatow's events and I was wondering -
Bill Burr: I probably didn't have a good set, did I?
I thought you did! I've been in California for 20 years, but I grew up in Indiana. I did appreciate that you mocked the Largo audience.
I'm just amazed that they don't see the irony when they start trashing people on the other side of the fence for being so closed-minded. The extreme on the other side has the same outlook as you, where they are just 100% convinced that the way that they think is the only way to think. And if you don't think the way they do... One side's like, "Get the fuck out of this country." And I don't know what liberals say, "Stay in your flyover state." The most obnoxious thing. What's a flyover state? Oh, you mean the food supply? ... These last two presidential elections, it's like Sophie's Choice.
I brought up the Apatow show because I'm curious if that relationship is what led to you doing The King of Staten Island? How did that whole thing come about?
Yeah, it came about how most things come about in this business, just over the years of running into somebody. I did a couple of benefits with them. I had done standup on shows that [Judd] had been on, and then he and Pete Holmes did [the HBO series] Crashing together. I don't know how I ended up getting it if Pete wanted me to go on it or what. Greg Fitzsimmons wrote the episode, and I've been friends with him for, God, Jeez, almost 30 years. So, it's this business. If you hang around long enough, people get to know you. If you're not a jerk, eventually, they throw you a bone. And if you do a good job, then the bone starts to get a little bigger. So that's what has happened to me, my slow build over the years.
It's like a community, like anything else, like punk music, where enough people are doing similar things, that you eventually get to know one another.
Yes, it's exactly like that.
I'm also of Irish descent, so I'm well versed in withholding, vacant emotions, and all that sort of stuff. Playing a firefighter going through a divorce, did you tap into some of that Irish repression and anger?
What's weird is, I'm more German than I am Irish. As much as I'm from Massachusetts, all my relatives, other than my immediate family, they're all Midwest. So, growing up when I was visiting grandparents and everything, it was the Midwest. So, I think because I had that porthole out and that there was more of a Midwestern sensibility, that I have more of that mixed with -- Like Tex Mex food, I'm like that, like Midwest-Massachusetts infusion, whatever the restaurants are doing now. It's like that. I think that was a really big thing for me too when I was a kid to visit relatives in the Midwest and go to a Bob's Big Boy and taste what a chocolate malt tasted like. It was when you went someplace different, and it actually was different. It wasn't like, "Oh, wow! There's another Starbucks. And there's Applebee's. There's the Duane Reade. Where's the Apple store?" It's almost like those rich chicks when they get on a private plane, they bring their whole life with them, all their shoes, all their dresses. I feel like when you travel now, it's like you did that except with stores. If you're not careful, it really becomes the same as far as the look of it. I'm going off on a tangent here. A lot of my issues are more so from growing up in a big family, all this stuff we went through. That's where a lot of my stuff comes from. But we were like this Midwest family living in Massachusetts.
Do you remember which scene was the most challenging? If there was a day that you were going in, and you were like, "Ah, today is this scene. What am I going to do here? Am I going to pull this off?"
The first time I had to kiss on screen. I've done like, "Hey, honey, how are you doing?" You know, "dad's home" kind of kiss. I've been doing that forever. But I was nervous. I just find it to be like, "Bill. You're married. You've kissed a woman before. Just do that." It was the funniest thing. Like most things that you stress out about, the scene was over. I remember [thinking] afterward, 'that felt like doing any other scene.' I was really relieved. It still felt like part of the job. It's the hardest thing to explain to somebody who doesn't do this. I get all those creepy morning radio guys going, "I saw you got to kiss Marisa [Tomei]! What was that like?" What was that like? Well, right over her shoulder were the neighbors sitting on their stoop because they weren't in the shot, and they're all sitting there staring at me. Then five feet away was Judd Apatow, sitting there with his frigging microphone and his speaker. It is acting because you're acting like you're having this alone romantic thing, and there are 800 people, it feels like, watching the thing. I had so much fun with those guys, those morning guys, because I knew that they were going to ask me that. Back in the day, making them out to be a creep wasn't as fun as it is now because guys are all scared now. [Now] if somebody says something, the wrong thing, your career is over. I really got them to backpedal, 'Oh no, I'm not saying that! She's a great actor, and da, da, da, da.' Well, what were you saying, you weirdo?
'I would ask her what it was like to kiss you.'
Oh, don't ask her that. Or at least don't tell me the answer.
It reminds me of that SNL sketch with Natalie Portman, where Chris Parnell was like, "If you could steal a smooch from anyone in Hollywood..." and she just flips the table over.
I don't think I've seen that.
I'm glad to know that era of canned banter, it seems to be going away, or it's at least not as prevalent.
Yes, but what is it being replaced by? That's the thing. Metal and disco went away, and everybody was like, "Yeah, metal music, man. Disco sucks." And then within ten years, [sings the Warrant song "Heaven Isn't Too Far"], power ballads, and these guys wearing lipstick. Are you going to sit there and tell me that was better than disco? It's pop music. That's my favorite thing about all of this progressive stuff and everything. It's just that they feel that they're actually going to build a better world... There's going to be new open seats of power, and power attracts lunatics. It doesn't seem to attract nice people.
The scariest legislation to me is when you start legislating thought crimes.
What is a thought crime? You just think about things?
You become an enemy of the state by just expressing an opinion that's outside of the orthodoxy.
Oh, God, yeah. That's half the fun of doing standup out here in LA. It's also half the fun of doing standup in Wyoming because when I go to Wyoming, people think I voted for Hillary. When I'm in LA, they think I voted for Trump.
Welcome to my life. You just described my life.
Yeah, you go back to Indiana, "What's it like out there in Holly-weird?"
What are you going to do, right?
I don't know. Smile and walk away.
If there were a Bill Burr action figure, what accessories would that have?
[Pauses] Just a mic and a mic stand. Yeah, I'm a comedian. That's what it would be.
That and a little curtain behind me.
Perfect. You and a little backdrop.
That's it. It's like those Barbies where she had the little set there-Barbie in her living room. For me, it'd be at some Funny Bone [comedy club].
Recently I attended a Zoom comedy show featuring Iliza Shlesinger, Todd Glass, and a few other comedians. They were on a small soundstage with giant monitors all around them, like a wall of TV screens. It looked like the set of The Mandalorian. The audience's faces are on the screens via Zoom.
That is so weird.
It was fun but super weird. The Improv is doing a drive-in standup show, where you park on the top of a mall parking garage, the comedians broadcast on a giant screen, like a drive-in movie.
They're a business. They've got to survive, and we're going to be the last one to go back to work. I'm looking into trying to do some shows on the East Coast, maybe where it seems like they've got it more under control. But I won't do one unless the promoter can show me that no one in the crowd is going to get infected because I don't want to be selfish here. I'm also slitting my own throat, where in the short run, I get some money, but then I'm not going to be able to work in the long run because I kept it going.
I've seen you talk about Meshuggah and Pantera. What are you listening to drumming-wise right now? In quarantine, I would imagine you're discovering new stuff or going back to the old stuff.
I am sitting down trying to be able to play "Good Times finally, Bad Times" [by] John Bonham [and Led Zeppelin] finally. I went back there, but I'm still messing with some Pantera. Pantera, "Primal Concrete Sledge." I'm trying to get that one down.
Nice. There's a great cover of "Good Times, Bad Times" by Nuclear Assault if you haven't heard that.
There's also a great one by a little girl. She's like eight years old, a Japanese girl or something like that. She just crushes it, so that was the inspiration.
The King of Staten Island is available to own on digital today and is coming to Blu-ray and DVD on August 25th.