Bill Burr brings candid comedy style to NoHo

By Dave Coffey

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Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Last Thursday night, stand-up comedian Bill Burr played to a packed house at the Calvin Theater in Northampton.

Burr was supported by fellow comedian Doug Saulnier. Saulnier began his set by saying how great it was to be back in Northampton, remarking, “I haven’t been back here since I got kicked out of UMass Amherst.”

Saulnier’s routine proved to be a good warm-up act; he dove right into his anecdotal style from his cold opening. Between amusing stories about his student life at UMass, adventures at a tropical resort with his wife and the joys of drunk driving, coupled with his highly conversational interaction with the audience, Saulnier did a great job priming the pump for a night of comedy.

Immediately after Saulnier’s short opening set, he gave a warm introduction to Burr, who took the stage to roaring applause before he even picked up the microphone. Since Burr is from Canton, Mass., he began his set by describing how it felt to be back in his home state. One of his first jokes was a backhanded compliment to the new Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, likening it to a “poor man’s Epcot center.”

Burr’s dynamic and effective style is punctuated by his “everyman” stances on social issues that, when taken as a whole, make for a unique comedic perspective. As Burr put it, “I own a Prius, I own a pit bull, I don’t care if gays marry, and I want a gun. You can’t figure me out.”

Burr’s material, for the most part, stuck with the topics he usually prefers to riff on: observational humor about the often under-discussed minor lifestyle differences between ethnic groups and controversial rants about dating and relationships. On the former subject, Burr’s execution is effortlessly absurdist. For instance, he compared white people having terrible skin because of their general lack of knowledge about skin lotion to black people apparently lacking knowledge about registering handguns. He then proceeded to do an impression of a white person with incredibly itchy skin lecturing his black friend about registering his handgun. Leave it to Burr to make a 20-minute routine centered on skin lotion absolutely hilarious.

Burr’s rants on relationships were considerably more incendiary, plowing through heated subjects such as domestic abuse and adultery with a rapid-fire delivery and zero reservation. He flexed his cringe-comic abilities, asking the females in the audience with a straight face, “Can we admit that ass whoopings don’t just fall out of the sky, ladies?” As per Burr’s usual stylings, he deftly maneuvered through a plethora of dark material, the potential offensiveness of which only seemed to fuel the rousing laughs and applauses from the crowd.

Another notable routine was a lengthy rant on the recent Arnold Schwarzenegger adultery scandal. Burr took the relatively unpopular stance of defending Schwarzenegger and blasting his maid/mistress, claiming that it’s ridiculous to blame someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger as much as people have in the recent past.

“The height of this guy’s career should have been unloading trucks in Transylvania,” said Burr. “But instead, he came to America and got famous for lifting weights. I lift weights, too, but no one gives a sh*t.”

Burr’s performance was flawlessly funny, yet somewhat disjointed in structure. At a few points in the show, he stopped for a moment and reflected that he was in a “weird mood,” eventually admitting that he was in somewhat of a funk since fellow comedian’s comedian Patrice O’Neal’s death a few days prior. He even managed to turn a joke out of his sour mood, though, reflecting off the cuff that, “It’s like, all the great rock stars are dead, and Phil Collins just keeps on rolling.”

Burr seemed somewhat bothered by several hecklers in the audience, but handled them characteristically well. One woman kept shouting, “Did you ever make that pie?” in reference to one of Burr’s more famous jokes in his stand-up special “Why Do I Do This?” Burr, without missing a beat, responded, “Lady, has anyone ever just plastered you right in the f*cking face?” and immediately silenced the woman with an uproar of laughs from the crowd.

Another heckler kept shouting when Burr stated he enjoys his new home in L.A., with Burr responding by asking the man what city is better than L.A. When the man answered back with “Boston,” Burr countered with, “Oh yeah, they’ll give you a really good price on construction in Boston. People from Boston will look you in the eye when they f*ck you.”

Burr closed the show not with a joke, but on a more serious note. He asked the audience, as a favor to him, to purchase Patrice O’Neal’s posthumous stand-up album on iTunes, stating the all the proceeds go to the late comic’s wife and mother.

Dave Coffey can be reached at [email protected]