Bill Burr: “Making It”, Pissing People Off & Being Yourself

In Self-Made Case Studies

Bill Burr: “Making It”, Pissing People Off & Being Yourself

Learn how Bill Burr positions himself as uniquely qualified to make it in standup comedy- and how to achieve your goals applying his methods.


bill burr

Intro- Bill Burr

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Bill Burr is an American stand-up comedian, actor, writer and podcaster.

His Monday Morning Podcast is a sounding board for his rants. For example, this episode from 1/22/18 talks about the New England Patriots, children, and self-preservation.

His best specials are listed here in order of their release:

He’s also the creator of F is For Family on Netflix and has appeared on shows like Breaking Bad and New Girl.

Habits

Here are some of Bill Burr’s key traits he’s carried with him over the years.

A Temper That Won’t Quit

Consider: Your impulses and struggles aren’t going anywhere.

Being described by Rolling Stone as “the undisputed king of rage-fueled humor” obviously has its perks. But of the topics Bill regularly covers, his own temper tops the list.

Many of his angles cover his approach to ridding himself of these volatile tendencies. Below, you can hear a 90-second bit on his experience with going to therapy.

Bill has found success while dealing with his temper. He didn’t wait to pursue his dream until it was under control. The takeaway is that he found success despite his flaws.

Losing the Audience…Then Getting It Back

Consider: Being bold and brash pays off sometimes.

Early in his career, Bill admits to making excessively brash or bold claims to gain the audience’s attention. In his words, this was his way of getting people to “put their forks down” and pay attention to his act.

In stand-up comedy and any other pursuit, you must find ways to stand out when no one knows you who are. This technique, although imperfect in it’s application, paid off for him.

Even though he’s found success, he still does this on occasion. For example, in his 2014 Netflix special I’m Sorry You Feel That Way, he kicks his Atlanta-based showed off by stating, “It’s ridiculously hot out here…Just miserable, horrible. That kind of heat, you understand the racism down here, ya know?

In this interview with Tim Ferriss (51:42), you can hear him talk more about this strategy.

bill burr patriots

A Love For Boston Sports

Consider: You can be yourself. Don’t rewrite your story.

Bill is known as “the comedian’s comedian“, which means that many other stand-up professionals follow and enjoy his work. High praise, considering most comedians express endearment towards one other through beratement.

Burr is this way partially because he paints himself as an everyman and covers topics relevant to everyday life. He also routinely mentions how his blue-collar New England upbringing shaped his perspective.

This is all to say that he doesn’t shy away from his roots or try to be something he’s not. And for that, he’s celebrated.

The reversal of this (and a surefire way to crash out of your industry) is someone like Carlos Mencia. Popular for a few years, Joe Rogan famously called him out on-stage for stealing jokes from other comedians. Here’s the 10-minute clip of that altercation. Mencia’s career never recovered.

Specific Descriptions and Strange Angles

Consider: People value good stories and unique life experiences.

Bill Burr’s delivery is memorable because of how specific he is, and because of his ability to tie points together. He’ll start by throwing out a basic observation (example: a woman walking down the street), and won’t get to the actual point he’s trying to make about the woman until several minutes thereafter.

He douses his experience of “the woman” with acute descriptions of her (clothes, facial expressions, body language) that make you feel like you were there.

This 7-minute bit on getting a dog is a good example.

In the first 10 seconds of the bit, he mentions that he got a dog. As he tells the story over the next 6 minutes, he finds a way to connect (and rant about) his relationship, P90X, self-defense, paying rent, and being a kid to the original point of getting the dog.*Note: video is not NWFS

What makes Bill Burr memorable is his ability to tie together points, and that ability applies to more than the arena of stand-up comedy.

Quirks

Values Money, But Doesn’t Need It

Consider: Whether you make excuses about having money or not.

In the conversation with Tim Ferriss on Fear{less}, Bill tells a story about his girlfriend giving him a hard time for being excited about driving 2 hours to make less than $10 at a standup gig when he first started out. These experiences, he explains, helped shape his perception of money and gave him a “want to have it, but don’t need it” mentality.

This is probably a good perspective to adopt for anyone that considers themselves to be self-made.

Deeply Introspective and Self-Aware

Consider: Doing the inside work will help you figure yourself out.

While many modern stand-up professionals have found success through observational comedy (Sebastian Maniscalco, Louis CK), Bill Burr can simultaneously observe a situation and his reaction to it. He has mastered the ability to momentarily step back from his emotions and detail the reactive side of human experience.

While many observational comedians focus on making the details of a story funny, Bill creates an almost verbal boxing match between the details and his immediate response to an event.

This makes his experience unique and allows him to tie in a million other points that stem from one reaction. Most importantly, it makes him uniquely qualified to tell his story. No one else can do what he does because no one else is inside his head.

At this point in his career, he’s playing a game against himself.

Through therapy, Bill discovered his inner voice. One of his most notable quotes for making it in stand-up was that therapy helped him to, “see the world a little differently“, which was the seedling for many of the bits that gave him notoriety.

Key Quote From Bill Burr on “Making It”

bill burr quote

“Realize that sleeping on a futon when you’re 30 is not the worst thing. You know what’s worse? Sleeping in a king bed next to a wife you’re not really in love with but for some reason, you married, and you got a couple kids, and a wife you hate. You’ll be laying there fantasizing about sleeping on a futon. There’s no risk when you go after a dream. There’s a tremendous amount to risk when you play it safe.”

Self-Made Strategy

Strategy: Don’t let age cloud your judgment on what’s right.

In a world where 22-year old techies routinely acquire millions in seed funding, it can be difficult for someone with life experience to feel like time is still on their side.

If you didn’t, read the quote above. Life is not just a sequence of age milestones. You can arrive at something at any time, but the most important thing is to keep showing up. Focus on today, and eventually, you will reach the destination.

History shows us this is true. Sam Walton was 44 when he opened the first Walmart and JK Rowling had failed to get published several times when the first Harry Potter book was finally picked up.

Bill Burr, Applied

Here’s one specific strategy from Bill Burr you can apply to work, sport, and life.

Work

Strategy: Do what you love, even if the pay is small at first.

If you have a dream, it’s your job to find a way to get paid for it. Real artists don’t starve. Don’t romanticize your “side-hustle” as some glorious thing that other people should feel proud of you for. Do it for you, or don’t do it at all.

To master your craft, you must go through an apprenticeship. Even if the pay is small, get the ball rolling with whatever you can find. Do the work and the sum will slowly grow to match your capabilities.

Sport

Strategy: Be yourself in the face of competition.

Focus on yourself- what you are and your present capabilities- when facing highly-skilled opponents. Consider what you have or can do that the other person cannot. How can you use your uniqueness to your advantage? How can it help you win?

We tend to default to strategies outside of ourselves when we’re removed from our comfort zone. Resist this temptation by looking inside of yourself.

Life

Strategy: Tie together points when telling stories.

As old as time, people love stories. Whenever possible, weave together insights from life’s different arenas. Use analogies and metaphors to connect points that aren’t obvious.

You will be perceived as being a good teacher. The skill of teaching is highly sought after in families, work environments, and social circles.

Reversal

When absorbing information, it’s useful to consider the exact opposite of the thing you’re studying. In the reversal section, I try to pick someone who has found success in the same industry.

The opposite of Bill Burr in stand-up comedy is Demetri Martin. Where Bill is passionate, Demetri remains indifferent. Bill engages you with details. Demetri lures you in only to shift the direction of the joke without warning. Bill’s style is long-form observational. Demetri’s punch lines are quick.

Where Bill wins by painting himself as the extreme “guy at the bar with flawed logic“, Demetri wins with subtlety, wit, and monotone analysis.

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