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Bill Burr's top 5 stand ups

Bill Burr's top 5 stand ups

Bill Burr's top 5 stand ups
02 October 2013

The label "comedian's comedian" suggests a stand-up who hasn't quite had mainstream success. But Bill Burr is the exception. After more than 20 years of solid gigging and sheer graft, the pride of Boston has blown up on stage, in cinemas and on television.

His Monday Morning Podcast is one of the most downloaded on the internet, he's bagged roles in Breaking Bad, The Heat and Stand Up Guys and as a stand-up he goes from strength to strength, touring the world and releasing specials every other year.

Burr's appeal lies in the fact that he's your intelligent blue-collar friend, the everyman who knows how to put an argument together and, as a result - although he'd hate to hear this himself - he's become one of the greatest stand-ups of his generation. If you haven't seen him live, do yourself a favour and buy a ticket to one of his two London shows at the Forum. And, once you've bought your tickets, enjoy his five greatest stand-ups of all-time:

5. Patrice O'Neal

"He was the Michael Jordan of my generation. The gap that you have between a professional stand-up comedian and the funniest guy in the office, Patrice had that gap between himself and the best comics in the country. He was that funny and that original. He was just an experience to be around. His biggest challenge was that he was so talented, it was trying to figure out how to do what he did in this business. In this business, they want you to develop their first impression of you.

"People who didn't know who he was, they saw this big black guy, they thought, "Who is this big black guy? Is he going to scream and yell and freak out the white people?" But within two minutes he brought you into Patrice.

"His death is devastating and is still something I haven't accepted. I still can't believe that that's it. I still laugh at the things he would do - he would blow people's minds. They saw this big black guy and were expecting him to be a certain way; he would get into debates with people and they'd think he'd use his physical size. When he saw he was going cerebral they'd think, 'Oh, this is a home game. He's going cerebral, this is my territory.' And he would wipe the floor with them without even moving and by just using his brain. There was nothing better than when some arrogant jackass would try challenge him. It was awesome. We're doing a benefit for him on February 18. I know the dollar is pretty weak: you could fly over for nothing.

Bill explains his choice of clip: "You have to listen to his laugh. He had the greatest laugh. You have to hear him laughing - he nearly passes out. He doesn't say much in it - he just starts laughing. Just imagine getting to hang out with a guy like that."


4. Bill Cosby

"'Bill Cosby: Himself', I would put that right up there with 'Richard Pryor: Live In Concert'. You watch both of those, and you have the entire range of stand-up. To totally working clean to just being raw and the genius in both of them is incredible.

"There is not one wasted word in Bill Cosby: Himself. Not one wasted word. He says "asshole" once, and the only reason he said it is because it needed to be said in the bit. His command of the crowd, his charisma and the fact he can sit down in a chair for two hours and to this day he can still just destroy - then you've got a guy like me who has to use the whole stage and jump around and act like an idiot - it's pretty impressive."


3. Sam Kinison

"I know the clip. There's a clip before he got famous, before he did the Dangerfield special, before the hat and the long coat. He had a leather jacket and he's up there doing his thing and it's before he has command - I feel - of the power that he had on-stage. By the time he had command over when to scream and when to bring it down low. In this clip you see him in that development phase. That's just my interpretation.

"He could bring stand-up into uncomfortable and scary areas. It was almost a Black Sabbath approach; those first Sabbath albums blew your mind and were also scary and disturbing. [Burr sings Sabbath] There's elements of that in Kinison's comedy; when he sets up a piece, the picture he's painting is a combination of disturbing and he's allowing you to insert yourself into it. Then, somehow, within the minute he has you on this roller-coaster ride dying laughing. He was a true original. I wouldn't watch his later stuff, when he was consumed by the lifestyle and the fame. That's what's sad about his death: he'd got sober and he'd turned it around. I was looking forward to the next thing he was coming out with. I was looking forward to him going back to stand-up and not coming out with whores and leashes and jamming with the band and stuff."


2. George Carlin

"George was an absolute master. The big thing I liked about him, which people never seemed to talk about, was his voice. He had this amazing voice. He would bring it down low, talk about stuff, and then maybe bring it back to the middle register. Other than his writing, movement and facial expressions, I loved his voice. If I had to pick a bit, I'd pick 'Save The Planet'. "The planet isn't going anywhere - we are." He said the Earth would shake us off like a common cold. He shook his shoulder and the sound effect he did was one of those moments that gave me chills - it was scary the way he painted how insignificant we are. That's inspiring: just one shoulder movement and a sound puts everything I've ever written to shame. And it took him a second to do it.

"Right until he died, I loved the stuff he was doing. Some people were like, 'Oh, he sounds like an angry old man.' I'd say, 'You're not listening to him. He has been warning you about all of this sh*t for more than 30 years. You're not f*cking listening.'


1. Richard Pryor

"He is the king of kings and I don't think anyone on the list would argue. There I go! Speaking for other people again! I would like to think they wouldn't.

"You're delving into that Patrice O'Neal area where you're trying to sum someone up who cannot be summed up. There's no way. He transcended comedy. He had a way of making fun of white people that was inclusive: you'd laugh along saying, 'Yes, very good, that was right.' Whereas I feel that after 15 years of people being influenced by him, by the time Def Comedy Jam came around, it became reduced to 'Black guys do this. White guys do this.' And the white guy was a complete moron. Towards the end of the Nineties, there were a lot of [acts] that made me, as a white person, upset. They weren't making a point. They were just saying they don't like white people. If you approached it the other way, I'd be considered a racist.

"Whenever something great comes along you have a bunch of people get influenced by it and the fallout is a bunch of copycats. It's like when Nirvana and Pearl Jam came along and changed music - there then comes along a bunch of bastardised versions of it. With each copy of it, it gets more distilled down to its most basic thing.

"Pryor was such an influence so that now when young people go back and watch it, they say, "I don't get what the big deal is." Like when people listen to The Beatles, you have to somehow make yourself forget everything from the past 40 years.

"After two generations [of people distilling it] it became hacky material, and Pryor was so much more than that. You were rooting for him. He was talking about his life and he was messing up and he had problems staying sober and you were rooting for the guy. His act had such heart.

"I think you did it, dude. I don't think I know anything else about comedy."

To see Bill Burr when he comes to the UK in December, visit

(Image: Rex Features)