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Should we #BelieveAllWomen? Bill Burr is skeptical. People will say, “You can’t make something like that up,” he notes. “Well, did you see Star Wars? Somebody made that up.” He adds, “If women ran the world there’d be no war. Evidently there’d be no due process either.” As for “male feminists,” he isn’t sold on them, either. “What kind of a man who still has his balls is walking around saying that he’s a male feminist?” He asks. “You can’t do it any more than I can stand here and be like, ‘I’m a Black Panther!’”
Burr’s latest Netflix special Paper Tiger is brilliant in spots, taking many of the same contrarian stances struck by other top comics such as Dave Chappelle and Aziz Ansari. The more PC platitudes come to dominate the discourse, the more important the comic antidote becomes. Burr’s funniest bits are way out there, amazing leaps of the comic imagination. A dirty joke about Michelle Obama is hilarious because it’s so unexpected and absurd, setting up a loud crash of expectation by contrasting the former first lady’s agreeable public elegance with an imagined erotic opportunism. An extended sex joke about Sting is even funnier. Burr has the gift of being surprising, of resuscitating a done-to-death subject.
Some of the bits are a bit hackish, though. “I mean, what the f*** is goin’ on?” he asks. This seems to be the new “What’s the deal with . . .?” These days such a query often provokes banalities about the safe spaces where the snowflakes fret about trigger warnings. “I don’t know what the f*** is going on, but I think white women started it,” Burr says, in a performance taped at the Royal Albert Hall in London. “That’s all they do is bitch, moan, and complain. . . . What happened to you today, sweetheart, did they not chill your rosé? Was the trolley not running down at the mall? . . . One of my fantasies is I wanna drive by a women’s rally and just say the most sexist s*** I can think of just to watch them lose their minds.”
Burr has an energetic, mock-angry delivery that makes lines like the above work much better in his act than they look on paper, but I can hear some readers’ teeth grinding even as others bust a gut. Based on the social-media reaction to Chappelle’s Sticks & Stones, there is a lot of comedy schadenfreude happening: This must be triggering the libs, therefore it’s great! Conversely, on the left there is a defensiveness that, carried to an extreme, would be lethal to comedy: “Anyone who carries a membership card in the Club of the Oppressed can’t be made fun of.”
I grade comedy based on whether it’s funny, which in turn usually depends on whether it rings true (unless the intent is the opposite: absolute absurdity). Let’s not measure a bit by whether we think it’s making the right people angry. This is not an argument from political correctness — let’s bend over backwards to make sure no one’s feelings are hurt. By all means, Bill Burr, be offensive. But giving offense must serve the goal of being funny. Being offensive isn’t a goal in itself, or shouldn’t be. When your object is to be outrageous, you might just get mired in a cliché. Clichés tend to be unfunny.
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