Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

What Do You Think of Bill Burr's Rant Against the Alternative Comedy Scene?

Whoa. Bill Burr took a controversial stance on alternative comedy on his Monday Morning Podcast, blaming The Office for the rise of "awkward" nerd humor and railing against babyfaced alt comics for being their lack of toughness.

“I resent the alternative comedy scene for one reason only,” he says. “That scene created a situation; it basically distilled all of the horror out of attempting to be a comedian. No heckling, no drunks, no obnoxious behavior, no aggressiveness [from the crowd]; every fucking reason it takes balls to be a comedian; every fucking reason that people wanted to be a comic but never fucking did it, they’ve removed [those things] from the situation and [they’ve] created this fucking comedy womb.”

It's certainly true that the club-comic ethos of fighting through a lonely road of trials to call oneself a comedian is much less prevalent now than in the past. But on the other hand, you don't have to be angry to be funny. What do you think – does Burr have a point?

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  • http://www.twitter.com/mattvisconage Matt Visconage

    So in order to be a great stand up you have to be angry and have a real shitty experience? I disagree with Burr but I guess I can see where he's coming because the scene has changed since he first started but I don't understand his level of anger towards alt comedy. Don't be hatin' Bill.

  • Robert Strawsburg@facebook

    If you do alt-comedy and you're not in a major city with a huge alt-comedy scene you can't even have this "friendly" experience he is talking about. Honestly you have to put up with more shit from the crowd if you are doing alt stuff in a normal club.

  • Ohmarie

    I don't think there's any way for a stand up to have a career without shitty gigs–I'm not in the industry or anything, but from what I understand the nicer alt environments (UCB and the like) don't tend to pay. The Improv road gig with the bachelorette party in the first row does. Seems like a strawman to me.

    And, for what it's worth, I really respect Bill Burr. He did a show at my very small college in 2002 in the middle of an ice storm. It was so bad that about 8 people showed up, but he WORKED for us like there were 100.

  • Dirk

    I just don't get what's wrong with what he says the results are: what's wrong with a comedy womb (whatever that is)? No one's going to get anywhere unless they're funny. So it's not like the kids nowadays are getting some kind of easy ride.

    The hardest thing for comedians is not getting laughs; not the heckling per se, or the obnoxious behavior per se, but what brings those about: not getting laughs. That aspect of things is now still just as difficult for comedians as it ever was. Getting silence and people averting their eyes after a show, even if there's no heckling, is just as hard as being outright heckled.

    • haf222
    • haf222

      @Dirk His view (that doesn't really carry over to people who aren't as familiar with him) is that he completely respects comedians who do both clubs and alt rooms. However, he doesn't respect those who blame the audience when they don't do well in a traditional comedy club; or those who don't venture outside of the "comedy womb" into the real world because they feel safe performing their act for a "supportive-from-the-jump" clique audience. It's akin to the comedian doing the act for friends who go into the experience already on the comedian's side, rather than taking the challenge of performing for strangers, who the comedian has to prove him/herself to. He doesn't like those who play it safe by performing in front of a predictable friendly crowd, but not in front of the "real world" of drunks and hecklers.

      He believes that the house is on the comedian's side in alt rooms, so it is much easier to NOT get the silent-treatment or get heckled.

      Bill is one of my top two comedians, but I see why his rant raises hackles. Bill is a purist and thinks a person has to pay "real world" dues to be a true comic. He is like Coltrane, and alt-only comedians are Kenny G.

  • anantp@twitter

    I can't agree with everything he says, But he is definitively right about his allusion to the NEW alt/nerd/hipster comic scene being like Glam Metal in 89 and Nirvana releasing Teen Spirit. The wave is at its peak now, and its going to start crashing.

    Very soon, fickle and cynical middle class young people will find something new and exclusive to become apart of, leaving behind the new comedy wave.

    • Cutter
  • http://twitter.com/joshung Joshua Ungerleider

    Well, I understand being resentful to people who had it easier than you did. I feel a pang of resent when I see a kid look up info on their smartphone for homework instead of head to the library to look up the info in an encycolpedia.

    He doesn't say the comedy isn't any good (at least not in the excerpt), just that the new alt-comics don't know the bad parts of comedy they he had to deal with.

  • http://favstar.fm/users/ryan_gunther Ryan Gunther

    I don't know how to read this other than jealousy, because using the phrase "comedy womb" as a pejorative makes no sense. To me, this just comes across as a guy saying "new comics have it so easy today, back in my day you got heckled your first time on stage and you either learned out to deal with that or you quit."

    Comedy is still really hard to do and has a high barrier to entry. The only way to learn how to do it is by doing it, and you still have to get up in front of a crowd of people that first time and do it without having any idea how bad you're going to suck. Getting started in comedy in an alt room is still WAY harder than your first experience learning how to dance or paint or write. Just about every other craft or art-form has some sort of well-defined education system to prepare new people and teach them the craft. Nobody just picks up a paint brush, does five paintings and then invites all their friends to an art show without ever learning how to hold the paint brush.

    Anyone who wants to become a working comic is going to have to learn to deal with tough rooms and hecklers. However, I really don't see the harm in that happening a year or two down the road when they've gotten a little more comfortable with telling jokes on stage and actually have some material that usually gets laughs.

  • http://favstar.fm/users/ryan_gunther Ryan Gunther

    Ok, I just read the listened to the rest of the podcast and I want to change my answer, because the excerpt really doesn't capture his point. He's talking about alt comics who aren't any good, and when they do a non-hipster crowd and eat it, they blame the crowd. And he's totally right about that, if you can't make a regular comedy club crowd laugh, you're not a comic.

    Here's a better quote: "it's like stand-up comedy with training wheels, and you never take them off." The second part is the point. Alt rooms are a great place to learn to ride the bike without seriously injuring yourself, but at some point you have to take the training wheels off. If you don't, Burr is absolutely right, you don't deserve to call yourself a comic. Because just hanging out with people who already like you isn't comedy. Comedy is about making a room full of people who you know nothing about, laugh.

    • theBULL

      @Ryan Gunther Absolutely great point and clarification, Ryan. Another point that I loved he made, but it's a personal thing that I get annoyed at, is the "30 somethings acting like they're 14 on their first date." It's just embarrassing to watch grown men acting like children. I see it from friends, and I see it on shows. The biggest ones being The Office and Community. I enjoy the humor, but sometimes, when I'm by myself, I can't help but feel the men need to "man up." Jeez, start acting like men. It's just embarrassing.

  • Ralph Haygood

    "Also, you damn kids get off my lawn!"

    • Matt

      holy shit, people really need to stop saying this. this might be my least favorite, uh, cliche or whatever you call it.

  • Mike Cabellon@twitter
  • http://videoshare.tumblr.com Firas Alexander

    I like Bill Burr and I think he's welcome to his opinion. I still enjoy awkward comedy, especially in the original British office. To each their own. But I think he's mixing up two things when he says its about these comics joking about comic-con and this "acting like a 14 year old comedy". I think nerd referential humor like the comic-con stuff, Robot Chicken, and Family Guy is going to eventually hit its limit. The awkward thing is easy to relate with for a lot of people, so I think that means it will be around for the foreseeable future.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Parker/12800386 Jeff Parker

    Did most commenters watch the video, or just read the excerpt? Ryan Gunther has the right idea, and the pullquote did not really represent the whole podcast segment.

    Bill Burr is entirely correct that awkward alt comedy is oversaturated. He never said that alt comedy is BAD, it's just past its prime. I suspect it's difficult for hipster/alt-comedy folks to respond positively to criticism like this from Burr because it's difficult to be genuinely introspective while also being ironic.

  • AmericanBoi@twitter

    I only listened to half of this because I had to stop and watch porn. From what I did hear, I understand the perception of someone having it easy causes anger in those that struggled to succeed. There is something for everyone so these nerds have a place. They work in the "comedy womb" while you Bill Burr bang the "comedy womb" everyone wins.

  • Comedy Groupie@twitter

    Basically, doing comedy requires a set of skills – good writing, good stage presence, a voice, the ability to connect with a crowd and the ability to take that connected crowd on a journey with you. If you only go up in front of one type of crowd as you develop, you'll usually have trouble when you move up and start playing different types of venues. And the hard, shitty gigs he talks about give comedians an amazing arsenal of tools for connecting with & controlling the energy of the crowd that translates to any kind of room.

    Doing shitty gigs doesn't just prepare you for more shitty gigs, it prepares you to CRUSH when you finally get to start doing good gigs. Doing easy gigs in front of a warm crowd, especially if that crowd is already on your wavelength, does not prepare you to deal with a bunch of drunk Marines or rednecks or an urban room. I've seen "club comics" fail miserably in alt rooms, but not as often as the reverse.

    Pete Holmes makes a great point on the Kinane episode of YMIW that now there are comedy nerds across the country, but a lot of the time a crowd in Kansas City or even the Laugh Factory or Comedy Store in LA is not going to be as primed for the type of comedy labeled "alt" right now as a self-selecting crowd at UCB or Meltdown. When you're talking about guys at the level of Holmes, Kinane, Moshe Kasher, Ian Edwards or Brody Stevens, they can do anything. But it's often glaringly obvious for guys 2-3 or 5-6 years in. I've seen shows where some of the comedians clearly had better written jokes but just bombed compared with someone who knew how to feel the room and go with it.

  • Kinane

    Not sure if I'm an "alt" comic or not, but I know that the reason I avoided clubs is because admittedly I didn't want to deal with drunk assholes and hecklers. I didn't enjoy that jock/frat shit when I was in high school, so why should I deal with it in my creative pursuits? Why fight the assholes when I could just do something else…an "alternative" perhaps?

    I think Bill Burr is one of the funniest working comedians today, and I think he couldn't be more short-sighted with this rant.

    Nirvana came in and destroyed glam metal. Great comparison, but used incorrectly. Everything Bill's pissed at is the result of that very sea change. Mr. Show is the reason there's awkward men doing comedy, the same way Kobain made pimply dirty teenagers pick up guitars in '93. Nirvana showed kids you didn't have to be Motley Crue to be a band, same as Comedians of Comedy showed kids you didn't have to be Jeff Foxworthy to be a comedian. You could do it on your terms–that's exactly what is happening. So what if the nerds want to have their backroom fun and Star Wars references? They're not attacking club comics. They created an environment where they could play around with different approaches without a 9 to 5 crowd that just dumped $25+2drinks bitching about it.

    Bill seems to be saying "alternative" when he means to say "amateur." Sorry, bud. Standup is popular now, and you're going to be exposed to a lot more comics, alt or club. And let's not forget that Nirvana allowed Creed and Bush to exist.

    And a lot of comics blame the crowd when they do poorly, not just alt ones. Flat out weak shot with that one. That shit's been going on forever. It's not a scene-exclusive excuse.

    • heckler

      dude, that wasn't funny at all. are you sure you're a comedian?

    • Ireadcomicstoo

      The awkward shtick is hacky though.

  • Hunter Boyette@facebook

    Ha. Cunty Redhead.

  • Todd Rush@facebook

    Ha. Cunty Hunty.

  • Marymackcomedy

    I knew I should have tried harder at video games.  I guess that Inherit the Earth thing is happening, and we should all be saving up on food and batteries. 

  • Ramon Gonzalez

    its also just bill burr's style of comedy he is great at taking all the stuff that annoys him and bitches about it like only he can hilarious.George Carlin had a similar style (not comparing) a lot of stuff got on George Carlin's nerves and he talked shit about it and it was funny Bill has that same ability I love to hear him bitch about shit that pisses him off

  • SlimKatxO

    I love Tim and Eric, Neil Hamburger, Maria Bamford, Scott Aukerman Paul F. Tompkins, Andy Daly, Patton Oswald, Reggie Watts, and many other alternative comedians. I have one question: Who the fuck is Bill Burr?

    • bliz

      Right. Bill burr is a "nobody"….all the above comedians view bill burr as new ck at carlin level…but yea, u know comedy…press buttons and sing dumb songs…talk like a mouse and make weird drawn out faces…u can keep watts and bamford…thompkins and oswalt are great tho..as for aukerman and daly, theyre hilarious ACTORS AND WRITERS not stand up…and all of those comedians HAVE TAKEN THE TRAINING WHEELS OFF AND BEEN ON ROAD AND OUT OF ELEMENTS SO THOSE ARENT THE PPL BURR IS TALKING ABOUT MORON