Five things we learned at Bill Burr’s New York Comedy Festival show

In two sold-out shows at the Beacon, the grinning Burr works his magic as he questions the existence of God, and compares Hitler to Hootie and the Blowfish

Bill Burr

Bill Burr Photograph: Koury Angelo

It’s especially tasty to watch Burr bait the crowd when you know what he’s doing. Burr’s opening bit was about his inability to respect anyone over the age of eight who believes in ghosts; everyone in the audience, except the quiet few unwilling to embarrass themselves, agreed. This topic, however, brought him right to the existence of God. As he started wondering if his bad behavior is an omnipotent God’s fuckup, the sold-out crowd at the Beacon Theatre clammed up a bit. Smiling cheerfully, leaning back, one foot on the base of the mike stand, one arm draped over the top, Burr asked, “Oh, is this a religious crowd?”

Burr’s scene-painting can get weird fast. He said that if anyone were ever able to prove ghosts existed, empirically, there'd be trouble. Black vans would show up in this person’s driveway immediately, and he or she would wake up in “the basement of the Pentagon with shape-shifters and lizard men.” A weird vision, but as Burr acted it out, it all seemed weirdly plausible. Maybe it’s the shit-eating grin, which always seems like he’s just happy to have an audience to hear this thought that has been bottled up in him for years, and that he just found a way to articulate.

The difference between a hotel and a motel is life and death. The somewhat paranoid Burr loves hotels because of their lobbies, elevators and everything else that puts distance between him and the outside world (“It’s like a safe-deposit box for people”). He hates motels because the bed is feet away from the door, and sleeping bodies are completely unprepared to defend themselves against psychopaths bursting in the room. He checks under beds and behind shower curtains, just in case, knowing full well that a psycho with a knife would never say, “All right, you got me. You ruined my night, but I’m a fair man. You looked; most people don’t look.”

Burr’s comebacks never fail to impress. Every time we’ve seen Burr, he’s transformed an innocuous comment or yelp from the crowd into something wonderful. A woman called something out from the balcony a couple of times, but her words were incoherent in the big room. “The female voice doesn’t carry,” he announced, “From here, it just sounds like a couple of birds fighting over a french fry.”

Stalin is to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, as Hitler is to Hootie and the Blowfish’s Cracked Rear View. Ever the provocateur, Burr worked to convince the crowd that Stalin should be considered at least as evil as Hitler in the general cultural consciousness. Hitler had “the look,” and had “the Cobain thing” because he died young, but after killing more than 20 million people to Hitler’s 8 million, Stalin deserved more consideration. “I know, it’s ridiculous,” Burr said. “But it’s the things I think about.”

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Editor: Marley Lynch (@marleyasinbob)

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