Undoubtedly funny, but some easy, outdated material too
And so to one of the two big daddies of this year’s Fringe, alongside Louis CK: Bill Burr. As a true angry man of comedy he’s not going to tone down his dials for anyone, and sure enough his show at the huge Pleasance Grand was as bullish as you’d expect.
Burr clearly gets his kicks from causing offence, and even though he says he agrees that there’s a still inequality between men and women, black people and white people, he still wants to come across like he’s being an uncompromising, post-PC comic who’s cutting through the bullshit. In other words he’s toying with any liberals out there.
When his comic antenna are switched on, this works brilliant: he sets up a routine about Kanye West’s raging ego as if it’s going to be out-right racist, then flips it brilliantly. It then morphs into a piece about how being a white male isn’t what it’s cracked up to be – again, it’s both funny and well-pitched. Burr is very careful to be punching up as much as possible, so that he’s on the right side of the line. The way the audience reacts to him is interesting though. I get the feeling that the nuances he introduces and the specifics of the routine aren’t always what people are laughing at. It felt like a lot of people were getting a transgressive thrill at laughing at jokes that sounded as if they were a bit sexist or a bit racist, but which technically weren’t – as if Burr passively allows people to indulge their inner arsehole (I say that as someone who has an inner arsehole). I don’t make that generalisation about the entire audience, obviously, but the atmosphere of the gig was … quite hard to describe … but it wasn’t great. It was as if people were throwing off the shackles of being decent and civilised, finally, and just being outright bigoted. And that was fine because the guy onstage said so, didn’t he?
Still, there were more strong sections, such as the one on how he would deal with the global population boom, if he were a dictator. It’s harsh, and brutal, of course, and he paints a hilarious picture of him tracking down and taking aim at cruise liners.
His comic antenna aren’t always fully functioning though. It might be that his desire to cause offence has dulled them a bit, as some of his material on gender was just easy. Saying that men pay entirely for drink dates and household trinkets is as old as the hills, I’m amazed it ended up in a Bill Burr set. It’s also probably just not true. In fact much of his material about him and his wife felt totally outdated.
Essentially it was a mixed bag. His routines on race were incisive and original, but there was some cruising going on – because being harsh is an easy laugh. It might be that, emboldened by his reputation as a controversial comic, Burr is making that fatal slip from being “useful corrective to the consensus” to “reactionary”. Subtle, but big, difference.
Review by Paul Fleckney