Ollie Gratzinger | Editor-in-Chief
In his new comedy special Paper Tiger, Bill Burr aims to critique the nuances of an ever-polarized and political American society, but instead, he bumbles through 67 minutes of awkward, aggressive tabloid humor with only rare moments of respite from what can only be described as an act of dogmatic self-indulgence.
The first half of Paper Tiger is rife with jokes made at the expense of women, feminists, trans folks and champions of political correctness. Burr jumps right in, attacking America’s move toward inclusivity with snide comments about casting disabled actors to play disabled roles. It’s a quick and messy downhill spiral from there when the banter further sours with rape jokes and mockeries of the #MeToo Movement.
Burr suggests that men who were “raised right” are incapable of being feminists, that feminists are “not smart people” and that male feminists are simply overcompensating for feelings of guilt over predatory behavior. There are moments of silence from the audience that make the whole atmosphere tense and uncomfortable, and then moments of rapturous laughter that are somehow worse; Burr scrapes the bottom of the bucket for lowbrow, easy humor that isn’t only offensive, but just plain unfunny, too.
Granted, there are parts of the special — primarily in the second half, which are comparably mellow — that could be really good. He touches on the traumatizing nature of enforced masculinity and the anger that comes with repressing emotions — something society often forces men to do from a very young age. He discusses the struggles of fatherhood and rage, and how he doesn’t want his toddler daughter to fall into the same traps he’d tumbled into with anger management. He has a bit about robots that starts out sort of funny, but quickly devolves into sexist banter when he suggests robot sex dolls could replace real women.
That’s the thing; all of the good material in Paper Tiger is diluted and buried beneath crude jokes and borderline bigotry. The whole point behind the special is to criticize the culture of political correctness, and Burr does exactly that in a way which misses any sort of profound mark and just makes the guy look like a jerk.
With women at the butt of almost every joke he makes, it’s hard to watch Paper Tigers without getting angry at the way he regurgitates the same dry material every sexist comedian has ever spit out. It’s unoriginal, unfunny and ineffective.
Gallows humor isn’t for the hangmen, but rather for those who sit in wait of execution; It was funny when Hannah Gadsby, a lesbian, deconstructed the notions of gender normativity in her tender Nanette, and it was funny when John Mulaney, a recovered addict, joked about the dangers of blacking out after a night of drinking.
The critically-acclaimed comedy in these specials, though, stems from the lived experiences of the comedians; for people who have had the world pitted against them, humor is a cathartic middle finger to the injustices they’ve faced. But when Burr mocks feminists, transgender folks, women and disabled people, his humor is just a middle finger to oppressed minorities — a group of which he is not part.
We can opt to give Bill Burr the benefit of the doubt and say that, based on some of his other material, Paper Tigers is just a flop, irreflective of his actual worldview. Maybe he meant to say something profound about the call-out culture and social fear mongering or maybe he just meant to make people laugh. Either way, Paper Tigers was a primitive misfire in an era of comedy that manages to be both funny and woke.