Bill Burr plays Thunder Valley
Bill Burr‘s built a career on hard-to-swallow comedy
A lot of TV shows rely on gently eroding viewers’ standards before they get hooked—instead of the usual mediocrity, Bill Burr’s animated show F is for Family drops audiences into a harsh, vulgar world.
In the show’s first season, there’s a scene where Frank Murphy, the main character voiced by Burr, secretly sabotages his wife Sue’s career because he wants her to keep their household running smoothly. There’s no whiff of instant karma for Frank—there’s not even a hint of remorse or guilt you’d expect in a regular sitcom.
It’s a classic move from Burr’s stand-up repertoire, where he blindsides the audience with some abhorrent stance before he gets where he’s going. It’s his trademark, but seeing it animated really hits home. Sue, voiced by Laura Dern, eventually finds out and takes the job, but Frank doesn’t seem to have learned a lesson. If he’d gotten away with it at the expense of his wife, he’d be happy.
There’s a lot of these ethically sketchy situations, including violence and emotional abuse, presented in a strangely neutral light. It’ll leave you asking, “In this day and age, are these kinds of stories acceptable? Am I allowed to laugh at the jokes while there’s bad things happening?”
Those questions won’t be answered, and the show lets the audience figure out what lessons they should take. If you consider yourself politically correct, the show isn’t always an easy watch—but behind the laughs, there are critiques of society and some oddly compelling stories that make you think.
Burr often manages to do that, whether he specifically plans it or not. SN&R chatted with him about his comedy, his agenda (or lack of one) and some other nonsense we found funny.
Obviously you’re making people laugh a lot, but do you also think you’re making people reconsider the bubbles they’re living in?
No. No, I think people think for themselves. I just make people laugh, that’s all I do. … I mean, my jokes are good, but I can’t make people think things that they didn’t already kind of think. Y’know, I’m not a hypnotist, I’m a comedian.
I feel like you call out the typical thinking people have though. You called out both Trump and Clinton in this last special.
Yeah, if I was in L.A., I would make fun of Hillary, and if I would go to Oklahoma, I would make fun of Trump. But other than that, where’s the fun of it? To do Hillary jokes in Oklahoma is boring, and to do Trump jokes in L.A. is equally boring. Y’know, some of these daytime talk shows, that’s what they have to do, and I always feel bad for the host. At some point, he or she must want to put them in another direction just to break up the monotony of “Wooo!” “Yaaay!” the whole time, y’know?
Do you feel like F is for Family is supposed to challenge people at all?
Mm-mm. It’s just supposed to make 'em laugh. But we don’t dumb down anything we want to do. There’s a lot of times they’ll be like, “Do you think they’ll get that?” and then I’ll be like, “Well if they don’t, they’ll look it up.” Not like it’s that deep, but every once in a while we’ll do a reference, like there’s a reference this year to a jazz drummer from way back, one of my favorite drummers, Joe Morello, we use in a joke. Someone was like, “I’m concerned no one is going to know who Joe Morello is.” I’m like, “Well, that’s my concern, which is why I’m doing the joke, because people should know who he is.”
Have you wanted to do a cartoon for a while?
No, I just ended up doing a cartoon because we were beginning what we’re in right now, which is this phony “everybody pretending that they care,” “everybody pretending that they don’t have any issues.” It’s just this weird thing, like nobody wanting to get unliked on a social platform. So everybody then had to start behaving in this way where everything is so serious, everything is labeled, and you’re supposed to be totally open-minded unless someone thinks differently than you. Then you evidently go out and try and ruin their career. That’s what the Left has become, which is kinda funny to me. Which is how a lot of things become—a lot of things, they start out with a good goal and then it becomes McCarthyism.
So, what it was, I was doing stories about my family onstage that were getting laughs my entire career, then all of a sudden, it was getting sympathy rather than laughs. Like, “Oh, you poor dear!” And when I was just pitching shows, y’know, whenever I tried to do the humor that I grew up with, I just found a lot of, “Oh, but this will encourage kids to do this,” “Oh, what does this say about this people,” “This group will feel this way.”
One day I was just walking my dog and it just dawned on me: What if I just animated my childhood stories? … And it’s something if you animate the exact same story that you were talking about, the same people that groaned or felt bad now are free to enjoy it, which is fun.
F is for Family, I don’t want to say that it’s hard to take, but there’s a real kind of violence and also a lot of laughing going on.
Well, that’s kind of how life is. It is hard to take. And there is a lot of stuff that goes on that you want to look away and then there’s other stuff that you just laugh at. I mean, I’m actually going to take that as a high compliment that that was the reaction you had to it. I mean, that is weird. A lot of that stuff has made me who I am, but on the same token, I’m correcting a lot of it, hopefully, with my kids.
If there was a government department called the Comedy Force, would you join it?
No. That sounds like there would be a lot of meetings and extra shit that I have to go to that I don’t want to do. I like being at home with my family.
Do you eat at McDonalds a lot?
I can’t eat there any more. I ate there—they should have my picture on the wall. A signed headshot. That was my spot, man. … That billions and billions served? I put a dent in that number.
Did you ever look at a sponsorship?
No, but I can tell you, I like the double cheeseburger, I like the quarter pounder second. I love ordering a bunch of it, and at the end, when they go, “Will that be all?” I always throw in another cheeseburger. That’s a favorite of mine. I love their french fries, and I loved it back when it was that pink slime. There was nothing better than getting hammered and going to McDonalds afterwards. Y’know when you listen to Billy Crystal talk about baseball when he was a kid? My version of that, the tone that Billy Crystal gets in his voice when he talks about going into Yankee Stadium and watching Mickey Mantle, I have the same love and melancholy because it’s over now. About when I think back to getting hammered and going to McDonalds. I fucking loved it. And I swear to god, looking back, I would be eating like close to 3,000 calories. … I know it’s bad for you, but it’s perfect drunk food.
School is starting back up, do you have any advice for kids?
Yeah, talk to the pretty girl. What do ya got to lose?
Who would you want to play you in a biopic?
Do you have any new catchphrases you want to go viral?
Uh… I don’t think you can do that on purpose. I didn’t know I had anything that went viral.
That’s not a great catchphrase.
What, what I just said there? (Laughs.) OK: It is until it isn’t. That’s what I’ve learned in my life: It is until it isn’t.