Comedy review: Bill Burr at the O2 Academy

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Bill Burr isn’t exactly a household name in Scotland, but that didn’t stop him from coming close to selling out Glasgow’s cavernous O2 Academy venue this week.

His impressive box office can be partly explained by his recurring role in hit television series Breaking Bad, but those who merely bought a ticket out of curiosity would have been left in no doubt as to his talent as a live entertainer.

Playing the opening night of his European tour the American showed exactly why he is rated as one of the finest comics of his generation and set to follow in the footsteps of fellow-Bostonian Louis C.K. to international stardom.

In a breakneck 90 minute set Burr whirled through a variety of topics, from ghosts to the practicalities of gun ownership.

His style and content bear comparison to two of his direct contemporaries, although he very much blazes his own trail of laughs.

There are echoes of Jerry Seinfeld in the sheer slickness of delivery, every pause and body movement utilised to maximum comedy effect.

His material, however, is far darker than that of the sitcom star - veering into territory covered by ‘deadbeat hero’ Doug Stanhope.

The combination means that he can get away with jokes about controversial subjects (Jesus, genocide and adoption being three that spring to mind) without ever coming close to offending.

His low-status on stage persona is one reason why this works so well, with Burr always ultimately the butt of the joke.

It also helps that he’s a master of crowdwork, an essential skill to deal with a rowdy Glasgow mob who are often vocal and occasionally actively off-putting.

A man continually texting in the second row becomes a running gag, with Burr only threatening to lose his temper once before skilfully weaving his own angry outburst into the routine which was so rudely interrupted.

Luckily, not all of his routines are shattered by drunken gig-goers, leaving him to revel in the use of language to deliver some wonderfully colourful and funny images - particularly when describing an incontinent pig in lurid detail.

A closing section using an extended sporting metaphor to compare dictators suffers a little from basketball references alien to much of the audience, but it’s the only fault in a stunning set.