In this ongoing epoch of never-before-seen comic saturation that finds Netflix and iTunes releasing new stand-up specials at an astounding rate, every person who has ever told a joke beginning a podcast to talk to other self-described comedians about the craft, and no shortage of great comedic commodities all vying for a finite number of laughs from an increasingly segmented audience, few stand-up comics are capable of eliciting enough interest to cause 2,500 people to form lines that extend a few blocks down a city’s streets. Even fewer can do it twice in the same night. But Bill Burr isn’t your average comedian.
With more than 20 years of stage time, a handful of well-received specials—including last year’s lauded I’m Sorry You Feel That Way—and his distinctly-unapologetic material, Burr has cultivated a massive and intensely loyal fanbase who will turn out en masse to hear the veteran comedian’s acerbic rants on whatever topics catch his ire. Tuesday night, in the first of two Riverside Theater shows, the man who took on the city of Philadelphia (and won) unleashed 75 minutes of perfectly-articulated anger directed at McDonald’s, mass murder stats, America’s wage gap, and much more. Though not all factions of the crowd followed Burr’s logic down every controversial rabbit hole, everyone left laughing.
As the standing ovation following his entrance dissipated, Burr quickly sprinkled in some local color by singing some of the Laverne & Shirley theme and reminiscing about a buxom Bonnie Brewer sliding into a beer mug in the 1970s. “It wasn’t even considered remotely sexist,” Burr started. “It was a job women desired.” Tone set, he unfurled a medley of material about the “traffic jam of shitfaced people” in the McDonald’s parking lot after bar close, the ordering process, the drive home, and false promises the next morning. Identifiable bits about fast food and weight gain having landed, he then calibrated the crowd’s devotion by veering sharply into thoughts on politics and an assertion “[Bruce Jenner] became a woman to get out of that manslaughter charge,” which elicited a mixture of laughs, groans, and uncomfortable silence.
From that point, Burr firmly dug in his heels and embraced the role of polarizing pundit. He outlined his detailed plan to sink cruise ships if were to become dictator. “It’s a good group to get rid of. You wouldn’t miss ’em,” Burr said. “I’d hunt those fuckers from my own sub.” He justified it by saying each 2,500- to 3,000-casualty attack would clear room on the roads, bring more jobs into the economy, and help restore (and feed) the dwindling fish population. He continued on the brazen path of brutal honesty by discussing how Kanye West “has a World War in him” and how Adolf Hitler is unfairly considered “The Michael Jordan of racism” when Joseph Stalin was responsible for so many more deaths.
Whether speaking in support of the New England Patriots in Deflate Gate (“What the fuck did we ever do to you, you cheese-eating cunts?!”) or coaxing shouts from female fans he’d angered during his feigned justification of the wage gap between men and women, Burr expertly tiptoed the line of insightful commentary and flat-out offensiveness, all the while keeping the vast majority of the audience utterly entertained every step of the way. “I’m fucking with you. It’s just so easy,” he explained, before stumping for women in a well-intentioned (albeit graphic) take down of the NFL’s handling of domestic abuse cases.
Fittingly, Burr took his turbulent and altogether fun set in for a solid landing with a physical and impassioned bit about being on four flights that aborted their landings. Like the drunken McDonald’s material he’d told an hour earlier, the tales of flight fright served as a relatable bookened to an otherwise erratic, white-knuckle ride through the inner psyche of one of the most fearless and respected names in contemporary comedy. If there wasn’t already another winding line of fans along the sidewalk, it wouldn’t be shocking to see most of the early show crowd cue up along Wisconsin Avenue to let Burr take them on a wild ride all over again.