Cinema: Bill Burr’s Paper Tiger A Roaring Success

Bill Burr is back and he’s better than ever. Well, that’s debatable. According to Burr himself, he’s still got the temper to work on - and a new set of observations and concerns about the fate of the world - but he’s doing alright. In his newest Netflix special, Paper Tiger, Burr opens in London at the Royal Albert Hall, host to legendary performers and acts ranging from The Beatles to Muhammad Ali. Now, it’s Burr’s turn.

As with all of Burr’s stand up specials, he is NOT politically correct, but unapologetically hilarious. Some may be offended by his blunt or crude nature, but let it be said that Burr is equal and magnanimous in his chosen targets. His comedy is not for the faint of heart of the sensitive of mind. Part of makes Burr’s brand of humor so (self-proclaimed) outrageous, is that he takes no prisoners. Everyone is fair game to be mocked. Young, old, male, female, white, minority, Democrat, or Republican; it doesn’t matter. Burr can and will make fun of you. In this special, Burr pokes fun at enraged feminists, Steven Hawking, and hipsters during Armageddon.  It sounds like it would be all over the place, but, in actuality, feels over far too soon.

The candidness and broadness of Burr’s comedy is what makes him such a unique character, but also such a targeted comedian. For every fan or positive feedback, there is an equally distressed or fed-up criticizer.

Burr’s humor is mostly observational or commentary. It’s his opinions and rather skewed thought-process on the way the world works. Probably more so in Paper Tiger than Burr’s I’m Sorry You Feel That Way (Jay Karas 2014) or Walk Your Way Out (Jay Karas 2017), there are a few cringe-worthy moments hidden away in this special. When Burr pokes fun at Michelle Obama’s national book tour and her time as First Lady, a tense and silent hush falls over the crowd. The same occurs a little later in his routine when Burr makes a joke about women who “like it rough”. Burr, a quick thinker if there ever was one, is always fast to either move onto the next bit or reel back in the audience’s attention.

Burr himself is even aware of his bluntness. In the aftermath of his “rough women” joke, an audience member misunderstands the joke and replies that Burr should, “ask for consent”. The next thirty seconds are spent by Burr laughing at the counter and joking about how there is always the problem of someone misinterpreting humor. It’s not done in an offensive or defensive way. It’s Burr making another observation; this time at the expense of an audience member. Almost midway into his routine, Burr even makes mention that the audience doesn’t have to cheer or whistle if they like a particular joke. “If it’s funny…laugh. If it isn’t, just…sit there” he says, “and I’ll know it’s time to move on”.

Since Paper Tiger is a comedy special, there isn’t much to say in terms of traditional film elements like mise-en-scene or editing. The most notable critic for these elements would be in terms of cinematography. During Burr’s spiel about blow-up dolls and sex robots, the camera is on stage facing Burr at a side profile. It then switches to a long shot from within the audience. It does nothing to take away from the hilarity of Burr’s jokes, only registers as an odd choice for camera placement.

 Burr is like a more entertaining version of “those” uncles at holiday dinners. Only, Burr is funny, and people want him to speak.  Burr’s comedy shouldn’t be taken too seriously, as Burr himself even laughs at several of his own jokes. His humor shouldn’t be taken as fact, only as the delightfully humorous opinions of a witty and observant man.