• Daniel Ethan Finneran

On Bill Burr

October 2019


The slaughter of the sacred cows is continuing apace. From the trenchant hand of Dave Chappelle to that of Bill Burr, the comedic sword—at which, it might be noted, those phlegmatic cows have seldom flinched—has been passed from the one to the other and put to rib-splitting good use.


Chappelle, the quintessence of a comedian on stage and a giggling demigod in his own peculiar sky, initiated from above the assault on this protected species, this tranquil herd of beasts. This, by all available evidence, came to the cows as a shock. Thinking themselves inviolate, why would it not? That which they were about to receive came with no forewarning at all. They merely sat there on their haunches, slowly chewing the cud and ruminating their life, as the storm of Chappelle gathered just overhead.


These bovines having been bombarded, Chappelle’s routine likewise came to the American soul as a surprise. However, it was, at least for us humans, a happy one from which we’re sure to walk away much improved; it brought us back to life. One must perish for the other to live. It enlivened our spirit as if it were life-sustaining infusion of mirth. The laughter of which we’ve been restored will lead us on our way. All the while, the haughty formalities and the minute sensitives by which we’ve long been impeded will fall away.


It nearly goes without saying, but in the humorless span of the past few years, these sanctified cows have become somewhat complacent. They’ve transformed into an animal at whose heightened pedestal and golden footprints we’ve become accustomed to genuflect and pray. They’ve involved themselves monstrously and, what’s worse, censoriously into our world and have become a burden against which no ungenial comment might be made. These sacred cows are, of course, the thoughts, the sentiments, the doctrines and dogmas, the accepted or coerced truths of the age against whose alleged goodness and utility we haven’t the option of speaking out. At least among the nine-to-five workaday masses, this is the frustrating truth of which the intelligentsia has convinced us.


It was left to Chappelle to break this silence and to liberate our fun. A few weeks ago, he released his Sticks and Stones comedy special on Netflix—an eristic event about which the American public hasn’t yet ceased talking. This special, a sequel to his hour-long Equanimity released to great tumult in the summer of 2017, is now the second in as many years on which he and the platform have collaborated. As deserving of your attention as it is demanding of your laughs, Sticks and Stones was a performance on which I commented in a previous article. To recapitulate in but a word, it’s an absolute pleasure to which you should dedicate your time, if only to witness the genius of Chappelle and the cruel but necessary treatment of these cows.


Once the silence is broken, however, the chatter and the laughter refuse to quit. Others, sensing that the door is open, the lights are on, and the microphone is still plugged in, feel it appropriate to step up and to speak out for themselves. Continuing that which Chappelle had started (and, perhaps, exacerbating the controversy by which this Saturnine figure of stand-up was surrounded), Bill Burr released his own Netflix special entitled Paper Tiger.


It was, as expected, a massive and reverberative hit. Burr, taking from Chappelle the comedian’s sharpened blade, expanded on some of the issues to which the latter first brought our attention. The topics about which Burr joked included his inability to cope with his own and growing anger, the effects of this inability on his lovely and devoted wife, the racial disparity that exists between him and her, the racial sensitives that exist more broadly, the possible automation of the practice of sex, the fatuity of the feminist movement as we know it, the blatant discrepancies between the wants and needs of women and men, and the fortuitous sexual, marital circumstances by which Michelle Obama was made to become estimable and famous, and many more.


To call his routine scathing would be to commit too large an understatement for my taste. He didn’t merely scathe, but flayed alive those sacred cows through which blunter objects too often fail to cut. He was caught, awash in their bovine blood, in flagrante delicto—as only a deliciously funny stand-up can be. Likewise, to call his demeanor perfectly unapologetic (after having said what he did and persisting in standing by it) would be to laud too little his comportment and his approach. Burr, like Chappelle, is within the ever-shrinking minority of comedians from whom apologies for hurt-feelings shouldn’t be expected. Nor, frankly, should they be tolerated. If you’re at all a defender of the sanctity and the liberty of speech, if you’re a warrior for even the least generous of words to be spoken, then even the coarsest of epigrams and the most lurid of aperçus should be allowed to be spoken and heard.


Above, almost in passing, I referred to Chappelle as being “Saturnine”. I think I’m not wrong in having done so. Though hilarious, he tends toward gloominess. He certainly has no inhibition in looking at the solemn side of life. That said, he never fails to temper this outlook with the hilarity of his insight nor the profundity of his thought. He hasn’t the constant vivacity of, say, a Joe Rogan nor the pleasing and now highly commercialized positivity of a Kevin Hart. He is, in contrast to those other two comedians to whom the name “Olympian” also applies, far more measured and far grimmer.


The peculiarity of Burr, I think, joins that of Chappelle in defying easy characterization, but I would venture to call him Promethean. Yes—that’s the figure with whom he shares his wings. A Titanic comedic presence, he’s the creative and dauntless artist upon whose upward reach we continue to rely. He’s a wild star, an uncouth astrologer whose enjoyment is in blasting his gravity-shaking message across the quiet firmament under which we live—across the internet by which we’re numbed. He’s an uninhibited, ascendant entertainer to whose audacious endeavors we owe so many of our heartiest laughs. He grabs for things that we ourselves wouldn’t dare touch, and he brings them down to tangible, risible use.


But society, such as we know it, is procrustean. Without a consideration of an individual’s size, without an appreciation of the breadth of his genius, without an ability to accommodate to its narrowing standards his outsized and deviant thought, it demands of him his conformity. Not only he, but all of us must fall in line with the prescribed wisdom of the age. There’s a particular, politically-correct outline into which we all must fit, a shape of officiously-demanding proportions with which we must all comply—or else be cast out. And so, many are the names that’ve been banished. Overly populated is the land of the persona non-grata within whose boundaries there always seems to be room for one more. Propriety, in this world as conceived by the “woke” enlightenment of the “cancel-culture” Left, is the priority above all else. It’s the chief concern over whose importance no other daring hero can leap.


Yet still, Burr flies. We watch in wonder and chuckle with involuntary glee as his fire-red beard, and his equally-heated temper, and his piquant puns, and his dazzling performance illuminate the dark and “woke” sky. He defies those who’d rather clip his wings and keep him grounded where the lot of us sit in quiet wait. He scorns those who’d prefer his silence and who’d judge him harshly for the crime of being funny, and he tells his jokes all the louder in spite of their censorious zeal. More importantly, though, he carries on the noble fight, the swelling sortie against the sacred cows. Chappelle and Burr have struck at their hides. Hopefully, more comics— and even some of us professedly un-funny combatants—will do the same.

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