Most comedians gauge when they’re hitting a home run onstage when the audience is roaring with laughter, but for Bill Burr it was the sound of silence that struck him years ago.
“I was performing at Nick’s Comedy Stop in a suburb of Boston and was doing my set and was just killing it,” Burr said during a recent phone interview. “You get up there and tell this joke and that joke and you’re terrified of the silence. And for the first time, I paused.”
Although the pause was only a couple of seconds, Burr said it felt like five minutes and allowed him to give a laughing woman in the audience a look, which got the crowd going again.
In that moment knew he was on his way to comedic heights.
A few years earlier Burr took the stage for the first time at a comedy competition – which he didn’t win, but he was hooked.
“I always knew I was funny in high school, but I also knew where I was in the pecking order so if there was too many football players or cheerleaders in the class I sort of stood down,” he said. “Retrospectively, I shouldn’t have.”
Burr — who has sold out Carnegie Hall and heads to Harrah’s Resort Southern California Saturday, Sept. 2 — said he was obsessed with stand-up comedy when he was younger and would watch and listen to comics ranging from Lily Tomlin, George Carlin and Sam Kinison to Joan Rivers and Jerry Seinfeld.
“I was always watching comedy and would recite routines to my friends who were also into it,” Burr said. “But it never dawned on me that I wanted to be a comedian. I didn’t think I could do it for a living and it took me a while to figure that out.”
But once he realized he could do something he was passionate about, the comedy drive kicked into high gear even though having a career in show business seemed like a million miles away.
“The pendulum has swung so far,” he said. “Now, you look now on Instagram and the pictures people are taking you’d think everyone has a hit TV show. It wasn’t…