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Bill Burr's Transformation From Big-Time Comedian To Small Screen Star

When it comes to modern comedians, few are as universally praised as Bill Burr. He's become a household name thanks to his decades-long career in stand-up comedy, podcasting, and acting which continues to this day. Known for his trademark aggressive style and strong Boston accent, Burr remains on many people's shortlist of greatest comics of all time (via Rolling Stone).

What sets Burr apart from some of his colleagues is that he has managed to become an incredibly successful actor while maintaining a consistent schedule with his stand-up performances and weekly podcast. It's rare to see a genuinely multifaceted artist able to balance all these different things without any one of them going down in quality. It's even rarer to witness a predominantly comedic actor successfully pivot to more prestigious acting roles without totally changing their style or personality, but that's exactly what Burr has done.

Whether you're into his comedy, a day-one fan of his podcast, or have become a fan from his role on a certain big-budget Disney+ show, there's a little something for everyone to love about Burr. That being said, even his biggest fans might not realize the fascinating path that this comedian took in his early life and career which eventually led him to become a major character in the "Star Wars" universe. Read on to discover Burr's transformation from big-time comedian to small-screen star.

Born and raised in Massachusetts

As soon as you hear Burr speak for the first time, it becomes obvious that he's a Boston guy through and through. He was born in Canton, Massachusetts on June 10, 1968. Canton is considered part of the Greater Boston Area and, as a result, being a Bostonian was a seemingly influential part of Burr's upbringing and developing personality (via Allmusic).

As a comedian, Burr would eventually become known for his confrontational and opinionated style which is deeply rooted in his east-coast sensibilities. People from Boston are generally known for being brutally honest, obtuse, and foul-mouthed regardless of the situation at hand. In fact, his natural accent became a hilarious point of contention during his appearances in "The Mandalorian ” since it was unusual to hear in a sci-fi setting.

During an appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon," Burr touched on how silly of a nitpick it was for fans to tease his accent. He said, "'I've never heard a Boston accent in outer space' is what they say. I just go 'Oh yeah? What about English?' Wouldn't that be a little weird if you went to a galaxy far far away, and you get off and somebody's like 'Hey, how's it going?' And you can totally understand them?'" (via Boston.com).

Went to Emerson College

It may be surprising to learn that Burr actually has a history with academia, having gone to Emerson College for his undergraduate studies. Having graduated from high school in 1987 and wanting to further his education, he was able to eventually earn a degree in radio from Emerson by the year 1993 (via Biography).

This is a common story for many famous people who decided to go to college before their eventual pivot into the career that they're more known for, but this does explain Burr's early interest in audio entertainment in the form of radio (and eventually, podcasts). This was also a time of experimentation for Burr before he developed into the stage-friendly person he became known as through stand-up. According to a piece by Emerson Today, Burr used classes at college to help overcome his fear of public speaking. It notes that the future comedian would take classes that forced him to speak in front of crowds to help him deal with his inherent stage fright. He touched on this himself, saying, "I was really introverted. I was such a loser."

Taught by David Foster Wallace

Burr's college days weren't just filled with public speaking and telling jokes, he also had to take the types of boring classes that put most people to sleep. Although he doesn't talk much about his time at Emerson College there is one anecdote that keeps coming up in interviews of his pre-comedy days since he had a particularly famous teacher during his undergraduate experience.

One of Burr's professors in college was none other than the critically-acclaimed writer, David Foster Wallace. During a discussion on "The Bill Burt Podcast" alongside comedian Bert Kreischer, Burr revealed just how little he knew about the iconic writer of "Infinite Jest" while under his tutorship. He said, "Yeah and I don't read books so everybody's just like 'Oh my God!' and I go 'I know, I know.'" He added, "I remember I turned in a paper [...] and he wrote in a column in the first paragraph in red ink, 'Dude, if you're doing a book report it's probably a good idea to not spell the lead character's name wrong.'" Although we've all had a teacher that blunt before, Burr nonetheless thought Wallace was cool since he ended up giving him a B anyway. Honestly, who can blame him?

Started doing stand-up at age 23

Following his successful stint in college, Burr decided that he wanted to pursue a career in stand-up comedy. Despite being all about making people laugh, deciding to go on stage and tell jokes in front of strangers is no laughing matter. It can be extremely difficult for new comedians to prepare themselves for their first time with the funniest and most original material they can think of. For Burr, it was something that came organically once he visited Los Angeles for the first time.

During a podcast recorded at the Laugh Factory, Burr revealed he did stand-up for the first time in 1995 while in LA to check out the comedy scene. Burr told the story of his first time signing up for an open mic at the famous venue and how unprepared he was. Burr said, "I stood outside at a quarter to nine in the morning for a signup at 6 p.m. and I was like third in line. Typical Irish-Catholic guy, I was like 'this is the way to do it. The most difficult way possible.' So I stood in line, got sunburnt, and then you came up and had to do three minutes. And I don't know how, sunburnt, I came up and somehow in three minutes I killed." As great as this sounds, Burr would ultimately decide to move to New York for most of his early stand-up career where he became a regular at clubs across the city.

Began his long-running podcast in 2007

Before Burr ever became globally famous for his stand-up comedy or his acting career, he was already slowly building a loyal fanbase through his weekly podcast, "The Monday Morning Podcast," which has continuously been releasing two episodes a week since 2007. Using his trademark style of conversational, opinionated, and sometimes rant-oriented comedy, Burr became one of the early adopters of podcasting as an art form alongside comedic podcasting pioneers like "WTF with Marc Maron," The Joe Rogan Experience," and "The Last Podcast on the Left."

It's safe to say that "The Monday Morning Podcast" is an important part of Burr's success since he gained a loyal fanbase early on before ever starring in big roles on television. According to some studious fans on Reddit who crunched the numbers, Burr's podcast consistently ranks as one of the top comedy podcasts every week on iTunes and has been doing so for years. As of this writing, "The Monday Morning Podcast" boasts a 4.8 star rating on Apple Podcasts with over 30,000 reviews to back it up. It's clear as day that podcasting was an important part of Burr's claim to fame back then, and today.

Appeared as a guest on many late night and radio shows

As Burr became a bigger name in stand-up comedy, his notoriety grew among other comics in the scene who liked his brash style. As a result of his growing success, Burr ended up becoming a frequent guest on many late-night shows, podcasts, and radio shows throughout his early career. According to Burr's official website, he "developed a comedic style of uninformed logic that has made him a regular with Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel." 

These frequent appearances on some of the biggest late-night TV shows seemed to help his career by having audiences become accustomed to his personality and style. Furthermore, Burr consistently showed up on more comedy-focused radio shows and podcasts such as "Opie and Anthony," "The Adam Carolla Show," "The Joe Rogan Experience," "WTF with Marc Maron," and various other comedy shows. This all solidified Burr's reputation as a comic's comic, and someone who could be funny at a moment's notice.

Made regular appearances on Chappelle's Show

Burr consistently did stand-up and his podcast all throughout the early 2000s so it was only a matter of time before someone finally noticed his comedic potential. Despite some early on-screen roles in shows like "Law and Order: Criminal Intent,", Burr's first big break came from his appearances on Dave Chappelle's sketch comedy series, "Chappelle's Show."

"Chappelle's Show" is widely considered one of the best sketch comedy shows of all time which cemented the legendary comedian status of countless people involved such as Chappelle, Neil Brennan, Charlie Murphy, Paul Mooney, and Donnell Rawlings. Burr also gained significant attention from his place as a recurring cast member during the show's second season, with notable roles in sketches like "The Racial Draft" and "Samuel Jackson Beer." Burr himself notes how important his "Chappelle's Show" appearances were for his career on his official website, where the bio mentions that he "first gained notoriety for his recurring role on the second season of Chappelle's Show."

Became a side character in Breaking Bad

For those who aren't really into stand-up comedy, their first time ever seeing Burr may have been as Kuby in AMC's hit series "Breaking Bad." Burr's character, Kuby, is introduced as a paid henchman for corrupt lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) who helps the main cast multiple times throughout the series with their criminal intentions.

It may be surprising for some fans to see someone like Burr show up in a (mostly) prestige drama like "Breaking Bad." As revealed in the "Breaking Bad Insider Podcast," Burr was a genuine fan of the show and met with the creators. It wasn't until two years later while the writers were creating Kuby that they thought Burr would be perfect for the role.

In an interview with GQ, Burr touched on this process and how it felt to actually be in one of the greatest shows ever made: "I was the biggest geek for the show, as anybody sitting at home watching it, so to get to be on the show I felt like I got sucked into my TV. It was really surreal. When they hit the clapper and I saw that 'Breaking Bad' logo with the chemistry elements signs on it, that was definitely one of those moments in this business when you sort of smile and shake your head to yourself like, 'How the hell did I luck out being on this thing?'"

Scored small parts in big movies

Burr's acting career wasn't just limited to the small screen, although that's what he's most known for now. He actually managed to score some impressive appearances and minor roles in big movies that you've probably seen before. Thanks to his proven track record for making people laugh and his undeniable comedic chops, Burr almost always gets cast in straightforward comedy films.

The first big mainstream film that Burr got cast in was Shawn Levy's 2010 romantic comedy, "Date Night," starring Steve Carrell and Tina Fey as a couple who get caught up in an elaborate crime scheme through mistaken identity, with Burr showing up later as Detective Walsh. Some of his other parts on the silver screen include Mark Mullins in "The Heat," Jerry in both "Daddy's Home" and "Daddy's Home 2," and Ray Bishop in "The King of Staten Island" where he starred alongside Pete Davidson as a firefighter. Overall, Burr is more known for his small screen roles than any of his minor parts in these various comedy films.

Made his own animated show for Netflix with F is for Family

After having built up significant clout as a comedian and performer, Burr was able to actually make his own animated series alongside veteran "The Simpsons" writer, Michael Price. Thanks to connections made with Netflix through the various exclusive stand-up specials Burr made for the streaming service, it ended up greenlighting "F is for Family" in 2015 which is based around Burr's childhood growing up in the 1970s.

The show stars Burr as Frank, the patriarch of the Murphy family who he has described as "an amalgam of everybody's dad on the show and our imaginations," adding, "the essence of it is some of the things my dad did, but it's not him. A lot of times it's more me" (via The Wrap). The show also features the voices of Laura Dern, Justin Long, Haley Reinhart, Debi Derryberry, and Sam Rockwell in various roles. "F is for Family" has been a massive critical and commercial success, and consistently ranks as one of Netflix's best original programs for over five seasons from 2015 to 2021.

Stole the show as Migs Mayfeld in The Mandalorian

"Star Wars" grew from a one-off '70s space opera into a genuine cultural phenomenon with over nine movies, multiple television series, and endless toys for people everywhere to enjoy. That's why it's equally hilarious and awe-inspiring to see everyone's favorite Boston comedian somehow manage to get inserted into this elaborate lore thanks to his role as Migs Mayfeld in "The Mandalorian."

Fans of Burr will know that, prior to being cast in "The Mandalorian," he had been very open about his disdain for "Star Wars" and the nerdy fans who care about it. According to a piece by The Hollywood Reporter, his active mocking of "Star Wars" on his podcast was actually an integral part of why he got cast. Burr explained, "I went to Mike Binder's birthday party and Jon [Favreau] was there, and he said, 'Hey, we're writing this thing. We kind of have you in mind. Do you want to do it?' And I said, 'I don't know, Jon. I have teased Star Wars people a lot.' He goes, 'I know. I listen to the podcast a lot. I think it would be funny if you got in it.'"

So it turns out that Favreau, having a good sense of humor, is the main reason Burr ended up as a former Imperial sharpshooter and full-time mercenary in "The Mandalorian." Interestingly, his character's progression in Season 2 made him a breakout character for fans.