The Bill Burr Rant That Trashed Alt Comedy

Alt comedy, says Burr, was performing stand-up with training wheels
The Bill Burr Rant That Trashed Alt Comedy

It’s the 2012 comedian feud you may never have heard of — the alt comics vs. the club stand-ups. In one corner, the hipsters in skinny jeans and Buddy Holly glasses were playing to a room of people who looked just like them. In the other corner, the hard-working club comics slung punchlines in front of a brick wall, working the room and taking on the hecklers. Bill Burr was firmly in the latter group, and in 2012, he’d had enough of the “nerds” who condescended to the regular joes who told good, old-fashioned jokes for a living. 

“I really can’t wait for the backlash on nerds,” Burr ranted on his Monday Morning Podcast. (He preached similar versions of this sermon in other interviews of the time.) “I’ve had it with them embracing the fact that they’re awkward to the point of pretending to be awkward even when you’re not.” He described this kind of comic as a guy “f***ing 35 years old, walking around acting like some 14-year-old on his first date.”

Dorks were taking over without doing anything cool to deserve it, Burr claimed. It’s not that he didn’t like anyone in alternative comedy (“That’s not f***ing true”), but “the alternative comedy scene is like the hair metal scene in late 1989. We’re about a year away before Nevermind is going to come out and they’re all going to be scurrying, and I can’t f***ing wait.” 

One big reason Burr resented comedy’s alternative scene was the homogenized experience, stripped of all the terror inherent in becoming a comedian. “That’s what I don’t like about it, okay? No heckling, no drugs, no obnoxious behavior, no aggressiveness.”

The artificial safe space of the alt scene eliminated “every f***ing reason that it takes balls to be a comedian. Every f***ing reason why people who wanted to be a comic but never f***ing did it, you’ve removed from that situation. And you’ve just created this f***ing comedy womb. It’s like a radio station. It’s not even a crowd, it’s like a f***ing radio station. I only perform to hipsters ages 18 to 24 who wear skinny f***ing loose jeans and have black-frame glasses.”

God forbid one of those alternative hipster comics showed up in an actual comedy club, said Burr. “When their jokes don’t go over, they act like the crowd is dumb.” The problem, Burr said, is alt comics were specialists, like the long snapper on a football team. “You only can play one f***ing position, and you turn around and you blame the f***ing crowd.” 

Maybe Burr could have let the whole thing go if some of those hipster comics didn’t make such a big deal of looking down on club comedians. Burr was fed up with “the amount of shots that over the f***ing years that they’ve taken at club comics, like we’re all a bunch of hacks talking about airplane food, like they’re above us. Then you go to do some benefit or some sort of f***ing comedy festival and they put club comics and alt comics together. And what happens? All those f***ing alt comics go on early. Then who’s got to mop up in the end, two hours into the f***ing show? A club comic!”

Which comedians exactly was Burr ranting against? It’s fun to guess, and Burr gives us some clues by specifying who he was not talking about. “Just for the record, the alt scene was started by club comics,” he clarified. “All those guys — David CrossBob OdenkirkDana GouldMarc Maron. Beasts, all of them. They could perform in f***ing off-track betting, and they could have a great set.”

But without meaning to, Burr said, that first wave of alt-comics may have created a generation of comedy nepo babies. “They’re almost like rich people who have kids,” he observed. “They struggled up through all this s*** and then they just have these kids. And their first car is like a Maserati. They wrap it around a pole, and there’s no ramifications.”

That second wave of alt-comics, he concluded, was performing stand-up comedy with training wheels. “And you never take them off.”


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