Bill Burr on His New Netflix Animated Series, the 'Gross' PC Media and Tom Brady's Greatness

Bill Burr
Comedian Bill Burr's new Netflix animated series premieres December 18. Koury Angelo

Few comedians have occupied more corners of their discipline than Bill Burr. Not only has he been honing his blunt, unapologetic stand-up since the early '90s, but he hosts his own podcast, he's active on Twitter, he's made countless TV and film appearances—including memorable turns on Chappelle's Show and Breaking Bad—and he can even make a pretty mean pie crust. On December 18, he'll tick yet another box off the comedian's-career checklist when his own show, F Is for Family, premieres on Netflix. All six episodes of the animated series's first season will be available to stream at your leisure over the holidays.

F Is for Family is loosely based on Burr's New England upbringing, but more than it tells the story of Burr, it tells the story of what life was like in the '70s—and in the most hilarious, brutally honest way possible. Families fight, love is tough, answering machines are a luxury and TV is flooded with cop shows featuring dick-swinging protagonists. Pressure to be politically correct was also nonexistent, and the show illustrates the startlingly antiquated ways the decade dealt with gender, race and family values. Nothing is sugarcoated, just as it isn't in Burr's stand-up. Newsweek recently caught up with the comedian to discuss F Is for Family, the problem with PC media and, of course, Burr's hometown team, the New England Patriots.

You [were] a guest on The Tonight Show and Conan this week. Do you get excited to go on these late-night shows, or do you see them as more of an obligation?
No, they're a lot of fun. It's the tradition of comedians doing panel. I grew up for the tail end of Johnny Carson, and I got to see a lot of the greats that were total pros, so polished, coming out and doing panel and absolutely killing it. As a comedian, it's something I wanted to get good at, so I'm still working on that, of course.

Getting a TV show has always kind of been the Holy Grail for stand-up comedians, especially back when you were starting out. What has it been like producing this show at this point in your career? Did this feel like a big milestone for you?
To be honest, having my own TV show was not a goal; my goals were all stand-up-based. I wanted to try to get as good at stand-up as I could, and along the way I got some cool acting parts, which I did—Chappelle's Show, Breaking Bad, a couple of movies here and there—and that was sort of the game plan. Especially as I got more and more of a draw on the road, to have your own TV show actually takes away from your stand-up. It was something that I was a little apprehensive about, when all of a sudden Netflix greenlit it and I was going to be in this writers' room. It took me two or three days to get comfortable, and then I absolutely loved it. I loved being in the writers' room. I loved working with [co-creator] Mike Price and all the guys. With each episode just slowly getting the rock moving, moving it up the hill, and then after a couple of drafts the rock starts going downhill. The biggest payoff was doing the table read, listening to laughs and hopefully getting big laughs. I was very surprised. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought I was a comedian for too long and that I could never go into an office again. Had I known how much fun a writers' room could be, I probably would have done it sooner.

You mentioned Mike Price, who is known for his work on the The Simpsons. One of the things I really love about F Is for Family is how the show highlights what the family is watching on TV as a way to paint a portrait of the '70s. The Simpsons did this really well with the '​90s, of course. Considering Price's background working on the series, were there any other ways in which you looked to The Simpsons for cues?
Believe it or not, the story arc is more Honeymooners. With The Honeymooners, and with my family growing up, we're going to do this Norman Rockwell thing, and then all this dysfunction happens, and then at the end there's still the "Baby, you're the greatest" moment. It was like, "Hey, let's go get a Christmas tree!" and all the kids jump in the station wagon. It looks like it's a commercial for America. Then somebody spills something, the kids get into a fight, the parents start getting into it because somebody's going the wrong way and all these emotions and volatile stuff are happening. But in the end, you're decorating the Christmas tree and the fire is going. It was nice, but there was all the psychological fallout from whatever happened in the car. Just because it is an animated series, people will draw parallels—the neighborhood looks like King of the Hill, or this looks like that. I think that's just the result of doing a show in 2015. There are only so many ways to slice an apple, so you're going to have elements of stuff. But the template was more so The Honeymooners. We didn't just want it to be people screaming and yelling at each other. We wanted to give the show more believability. If everyone just yelled at each other, it'd be like, "Well, why are these people even together?"

You need some sort of heartwarming element.
Yeah, and it's done in that dysfunctional '70s way where there's no "I love you" or anything. It's at the end of the first episode where he's like, "Son, where are you going? Sit down and watch the fight with the fellas." And it's like, "Oh, I'm in Dad's good graces again. He doesn't want to put me through the wall." That's more of the way it was expressed.

Another thing the show does really well is show how far society has come since the '70s. Is there anything about that era that you think we could learn from today? What did that it have that we'​re missing now?
I don't want to make anybody learn anything. I just want to make people laugh and to entertain them. If they get something out of it, hopefully it's something good. It's just a cartoon. It's just supposed to make you laugh. I'm not trying to make any statement with this show; this stuff is just funny to me. It's funny to Mike Price. It's an animated show we're all into. Check it out and if you think it's funny too, laugh and have a good time and tell your friends about it. But as far as what society can learn, that's way too heavy for a cartoon.

You're a comedian who has been known to push boundaries and who has kind of been in the middle of the back-and-forth between PC culture and comedians. There's a lot of stuff in the show that toes that line in one way or another—
Are you nervous that other animated people who watch it are going to get offended?

Well, my question is: In the past, there have been times when you'​ve gotten flak—
Let me ask you something: What have I gotten flak for?

It felt like a lot of people were upset over the Caitlyn Jenner comments you made on Conan a few months ago.
There wasn't, though. All of that is just perceived. People forget how many people are in this country. There's 400 million people in this country, and I swear to God if 30 people don't like something, mainstream media, for whatever reason, starts saying, "Everybody's saying this; you've gotten a ton of flak." It's Chicken Little stuff. They act like the sky is falling. It's fine. Ninety-nine percent of people are adults, and they understand that they're watching an animated show. They get it. You'll do a show in front of 1,500 people, night after night after night after night, and nobody has a problem. Then one night you do the show and one person has a problem. Now, at that point, you've done the show in front of over 10,000 people, and one person has a problem and all of a sudden the media picks up on it, and they try to say it's a controversy.

I've never had that problem in my… I've had people in the media try to create one, taking a clip of what I said out of context and then reading it to somebody that they know it's going to strike a chord with because it happened to them. Just hoping to get a quote. They basically manufacture a controversy. I'm in comedy clubs every night… That whole angle and that whole story is so completely blown out of proportion. It's like McCarthyism, when they thought there was a Communist behind every tree. They're making it seem like you're a comedian now and you're looking over your shoulder after every joke. I'm having more fun now as a comedian than I ever have. I go onstage, I still say what I want to say. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of people leave the show and they had a great time. Occasionally do I get a stick in the mud that didn't like the show? I mean, yeah, shit. There are musicians that can sell out giant stadiums and I'm not a fan of them. I think they stink. Does that mean they stink? It just means I don't like them. Do they owe me an apology for their music?

To be honest, this whole angle is so completely ridiculous and overplayed. For the life of me I don't understand it, and I don't understand why people respond to it like you offended a country, like you went in and defaced their embassy. You told a joke at a comedy club. You did what you're supposed to do. You're guilty of telling a joke, and then for some reason you have to apologize. It'd be like a plumber apologizing for fixing a sink.

The reaction to the Conan appearance stood out to me because a few weeks earlier I'd seen you at Just for Laughs in Montreal, and you did maybe 10 minutes on Caitlyn Jenner. It killed. Everyone loved it. You just articulated what I think a lot of people found confusing about it in a really funny way—
This is the thing. If you go back and watch what I was talking about, I didn't say anything bad. What it was was this social thing where you were only allowed to say one thing. Caitlyn Jenner, that's terrific! If you said anything else, they said you're a bad person. And even then, when I say "they," I was talking about this 0.1 percent of the population. It's an easy story. It's clickbait. They stick it on there and say look at all the hits they got. Well, who doesn't want to see someone getting yelled at? Who doesn't want to see someone in trouble? Some sites come across like a ref, like they're doing this hard-core journalism, and they give into that. It's just so easy. Ah, c'mon, it will give us a bunch of hits. You know?

Yeah, that part of it is a shame.
Yes, it is, and I would like to not perpetuate it by telling you anything that I'm telling you right now, which is that I really believe in the maturity of adults, that you can sit down and watch six episodes of a cartoon and your entire world as a parent is not going to implode.

But I think when people watch the show, they're going to find parts of it striking and kind of think, ​Wow, that's something that would never fly today. Seeing as how the show is kind of like a snapshot of the '70s, though, I don't think people are going to—
Yeah, nobody's going to get hurt. I wish bankers got the scrutiny… I just think it's a safe thing to go after and a way to just shine a light on your cause. They bully people. You better apologize, or we'll try to take away your TV show. What it is, is it's gross. It's gross.

All right, last question: As it stands now, how confident are you that the Pats are going to win the Super Bowl? They got a little lucky on Sunday with the Bengals losing and Andy Dalton going out, and the Broncos losing as well. How are you feeling as we head down the home stretch?
How did we get lucky when another team fails to win? Isn't that on the team?

Well, the quarterback of maybe your main competition in the AFC could be out for the rest of the season now.
Have you seen the Patriots?!

OK, fair enough.
Tom Brady is driving a rental car. Everybody was acting like they were beating the Patriots. You weren't. The Lamborghini was in the shop. He was driving a rented Dodge Neon. All of our top players other than Tom Brady were out, and we lost two offensive lineman. I love that we lost a couple of games. I didn't want to have the albatross of being undefeated. But I think what a lot of people do. I think Seattle, they've gone the last two years. They started off slow, but they've got enough of their team left. The Giants are always dangerous, but their defense stinks. And I believe in Cam Newton. I don't think it's going to be one of those guys who goes to the playoffs and realizes it's different. The Panthers have a monster team.

Bill Burr on His New Netflix Animated Series, the 'Gross' PC Media and Tom Brady's Greatness | Culture