Bill Burr & Co Live! on Zoom: “I’m just an angry man in a garage”
Just like every Zoom meeting I’ve ever had, I was scrambling to join the link seconds before it was about to start. The sense of dread crept over me as the Zoom connotations of university class work and sitting still trying to concentrate for an hour, set in.
But then, I was met with the excitable chatter of an online crowd and this:
Bill Burr is an American comedian who is best known for his angry, politically incorrect stand-up comedy but as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, it meant Burr was unable to continue touring around the globe. Until, the world’s first digital comedy club was born. The Nowhere Comedy Club was created in December 2020 by American comedians Ben Gleib and Steve Hofstetter to make international live entertainment a reality again. From the make-do Nowhere Comedy garage studio in LA, Burr exclusively live streamed a show to Australian and New Zealand audiences on March 27th 2021, 12am LA time.
I was immediately reminded of a drive-in cinema as I sat at my desk waiting for the show to start; watching the show posters for other Nowhere Comedy events slideshow across my screen. Some vintage animations played over a remastered version of The Beatles’ Nowhere Man. It all felt very legit, very branded. Someone had spent a lot of time making Zoom, not feel like Zoom.
The show had simulated a ‘front row’ experience as a select bunch from the 1,500 person audience were allowed to have their cameras on, giving Burr and his supporting comedians a manageable amount of faces to play off. I could’ve been one of them if my special invitation hadn’t been sent to my spam folder; a heart-breaking failure on the email system I’d say.
Flashcards on the screen instructed us on how to tweak our Zoom audio settings so that the comedians could still hear our laughter and applause, just at a background volume. The words explained that if you were too loud, you’d be muted and if you persisted you’d be kicked out.
“Don’t get booted from a show in your own home.”
The show’s introduction by Australian comedian Daniel Muggleton, and supporting act performed by American comic Al Del Bene, hit a few snags here and there. As anyone who uses Zoom would know- some glitches are unavoidable. But the relaxed nature of the comedy show, meant the comedians were the ones pointing out these issues and laughing as they happened. It became a quirk of the show itself.
Both Muggleton’s and Del Bene’s videos would jump from speaker view to gallery view for a few minutes during their sets; their thumbnail displays disappearing into a sea of random ‘front row’ faces. Or their video would flicker between loud audience members who were laughing over them. Towards the end of his set, Del Bene’s video froze all together, sending Muggleton in to fill time. He coolly called out someone’s barking dog in the background, and prayed that Australia’s internet was going to make it through the show.
Despite the tech issues, they both set the tone for a great comedy show. Muggleton came across to me- with his huge headphones, large mic and iconic red tracksuit- as a funny weatherman, as he streamed from what I can only assume was his actual living room. As the show cut to different comedians in various places, I felt like I was being taken on a ride through a funny newsroom show.
Del Bene really brought the magic for me though. His strong American accent plus his shiny red curtain did the trick in disassociating me from my white-walled bedroom that I was watching from. It definitely gave me YouTube video vibes, but this eye contact felt much more real. While I had never heard of Del Bene before, I enjoyed his classic American slang vs Australian slang routine.
Then it was time for Burr, and the showrunners cutely initiated a countdown sequence to build suspense.
And there he was, Bill Burr in the pixelated flesh. Nowhere Comedy had remarkably transformed such a small space into a makeshift classic stand-up show stage, and it did wonders to instill the illusion. It had their branding, a black curtain, and even the classic stool for a comic’s drink bottle. If it wasn’t for Burr mentioning it, I never would have guessed it was a garage.
If Burr was nervous, he didn’t show it. He evoked the same angry, no-bullshit wise guy energy that I’ve seen on all his Netflix specials and YouTube videos. He easily integrated with the Zoom environment, timing his approach to the camera on punchlines and doing the classic comedy pacing across the space.
Burr talked all things Australian; including our politics, quarantine and floods. He admitted, 40 minutes in, that he’d purposefully excluded New Zealand until then “to create a little war” in his own special way. This was Burr in action. He also stayed on-brand by discussing sensitive issues like abortion, religion, feminism, the homeless, and PC culture itself.
“Let’s bring the room together here, let’s talk about abortion.”
Judging by the laughter and applause, I’d guess the audience was filled with regular Bill Burr fans or at least fans of dark comedy, as everyone responded well to his particular sense of humour. The key is to understand that Burr will joke about anything and everything, and to remember that they are in fact, jokes. In typical Burr fashion, he made time to poke fun of Steve Irwin’s untimely death.
I particularly enjoyed the analogy Burr made between abortion and baking a cake, whether you know his comedy or not, I’ll leave that joke up to your imagination.
“I love helping out homeless people, but I don’t want to touch one.”
While Burr’s set wasn’t spared of video issues, his display thumbnail only swapped to gallery view a couple of times in the hour he spoke. He mostly faced the issue of audience participation.
Burr instinctively asked the audience questions to which he’d get hit with 1,500 mic’d people trying to answer him back at once. But this didn’t stop him from doing it, Burr would just play off the absurd responses and sounds he’d hear. Whilst there were the typical comedy show hecklers in the audience, who’d try to talk back to get Burr’s attention, it was actually the accidental mutterings of people who thought no one could hear them that caused the most kerfuffle.
Remember the dog? We found out his name was Duncan, as he periodically barked throughout the show and would get reprimanded by his owners. By the time Burr came on, Duncan was already a well-introduced character. Burr kept referring back to him as the dog continued to bark:
“I’ve never been heckled by a f***ing dog. So Sean Connery died- for those of you who know how to control your f**ing pets.”
As much as you could say it was a stuff-up, Burr played off the interruptions hilariously and it felt like a great inside joke for all of us there with him.
At the end of the day, I spent $45 to join a Zoom call. As much as I knew Burr’s comedy would be great, I was pretty skeptical that the experience would live up to the cost. All I physically got out of it was a zoom link after all.
But there was something about knowing it was live, knowing I was seeing Burr talk to me from LA at the same moment I was watching. It really did make it feel magical- I felt extremely present in the moment knowing it wasn’t a readily available pre-recorded video.
While I don’t intend on converting to live streamed events from now on, I do believe this Zoom show was a truly unique and worthwhile experience. The organisers rose to the challenge of capturing a live comedy show’s essence and generating it online. It was a well-executed alternative to live shows, with the technological issues adding more character than they disrupted.
If you’re debating whether you should book your favourite performer via live stream or just wait until they can eventually return to Australia- I’d recommend giving the stream a go.
Whether it’s at the Zoom issues, random dogs barking, or at the comedians’ jokes themselves – you’ll for sure be laughing.