Though not every topic hits its mark, Belfast still revels in a masterful Northern Ireland debut from the no-frills Boston comic
'I'm not the caveman I present myself as,' pleads Bill Burr two thirds of the way through his headline performance at the Ulster Hall, and first ever appearance in Northern Ireland. 'I just like being a f***ing asshole.'
It's a lens through which the American comic's entire schtick should be viewed. A product of over twenty years of dingy comedy clubs and moderate-sized theatres, Burr feeds on the sensitivity around society's ever-changing reel of touchy subjects, and has patiently perfected his ability to spot the nonsense and pull it apart in ways – and at volumes - only he can.
And yet he'll be the first to own up to his own ignorance about almost everything that makes the modern world tick. The harmony between both is what's helped propel the once flame-haired Bostonian to the upper echelons of active U.S. stand-ups, which in truth is more of a fraternity presided over by Louis CK, Chris Rock, Patton Oswalt and others.
In spite of this, Burr remains somewhat of a cult favourite even in his home land, with a bit part dramatic role in Breaking Bad, one of the top podcasts on iTunes and his own Netflix animated series F Is For Family only gradually helping to further his profile in recent years. It's reflected in tonight's fairly uniform demographic of mostly males under 35, who've still managed to sell out Belfast's most historic venue.
First up is the golden boy of the Northern Ireland scene, Shane Todd, in a support slot that was surely the source of delirious lust amongst his comedy peers. In reality though there may only have been a handful of viable candidates, and with the 28-year old primed for an ambitious show of his own here in October, it makes perfect sense for him to try it on for size tonight.
No longer the young up-and-comer, Todd has matured into one of the country's leading names, and the go-to guy for professionally packaged laughs that still retain that youthful edge. His various online personas have earned him a devout following, and the BBC recently commissioned an eight-part series of his sketches, interviews and live routines to be broadcast on Radio Ulster.
But knowing he may not be a familiar prospect with all those in attendance, he opens with a tried-and-true postmortem of 2008 Belfast zombie flick Battle of the Bone, in which he starred. It's no less effective for having heard it all before, the sign of a bit purpose-built for mileage, and for those who haven't, the waves of glee washing from the front row to the back are confirmation of its caliber.
The remainder floats between his recent travels abroad (the difference between his native Holywood and Hollywood, California? 'There's one 'l' of a difference') and what information we can glean from local nicknames (featuring two sets of brothers; 'Fat Neck' and 'Baby Neck', as well as 'No Neck' and just 'Neck'), all of which does an ample job of preparing the room for who they've paid to see.
His only misstep is a protracted tale about ordering tea in an American Starbucks, and the bewildering difficulty the baristas have understanding him. Though not without its moments, the segment's perplexing premise never quite pays off and there is the feeling of material with still a few wrinkles to iron out. But with a month-long Edinburgh Fringe residency between now and his return here, you can bet this will form only a small part of an air-tight, feature-length set.
A feverish reception heralds Bill Burr's arrival to the stage. His work seems half done already. The crowd is ecstatic just to see him. After two stifling gigs in a tent in Galway the previous day – which avid listeners of his Monday Morning Podcast will have heard him rave about already - and with further dates across Ireland and the UK ahead, the 48-year old could easily get away with adjusting his settings to cruise control.
That isn't how Bill Burr got to be one of the most respected stand-ups working today however. His industry stature has been carved out over an incalculable number of performances, and the long, lonely hours spent getting from one to the next.
He launches off with tirade about air travel as long as Todd's whole routine, subject matter that's bread and butter to millions of hacky joke tellers across the world. But in Burr's hands it's hysterical. His emphasis is profoundly on the performance over the text. They are thoughts we all have, and yet have never seen realised with such eye-popping, contagious energy.
Over the course of nearly two hours, he skids from one bugbear to the next like a demolition driver, more often than not making his own pasty shade of white, American male simplicity the punchline. Everything that might fall within the blast radius of political correctness in 2016 gets a touch, from body-shaming and gender equality to Caitlyn Jenner and white privilege – one of a few bits that doesn't impact as well as it might at home.
There's also an elaborate set-piece about population control in which Burr plays a maniacal, cruise ship-sinking dictator that, given the current climate of world events, is met with slight unease. Not one to shy away however, Burr embraces the nervous titters and hits them head on; 'I love how excruciating this is getting,' he grins, 'I'm going to continue.' The crowd eases up.
When his bit about white privilege doesn't quite come off, he rescues it with one of the evening's biggest laughs; 'This is starting to feel like a meeting' he says, likening the almost-all white audience to an extremist congregation.
Then he comes to Kanye. 'Thank god he's just a black guy' he declares, before backpeddling to argue had the universe blessed someone not belonging to an ethnic minority with the rapper's seismic ego, there's no telling the peril that might've been posed to humanity. 'World War III, entire civilisations being wiped out, the moon colliding with the earth... There's a glass ceiling on evil – he doesn't have the opportunity I have.'
Before arriving in Belfast Burr told his podcast listeners that his idea of the city was 'a place where you want to be on your best behaviour', and that growing up, all he heard was the 'crazy s**t going on there'. By the end of this masterclass debut he is asking where to buy a jersey with Will Grigg's name on the back. With any luck we'll see him again before the GAWA forward next makes it off the bench.