Laugh & Cry

Meet Burl Dirkman, Brett Hamil’s Utterly Earnest Comedy Character

The host of the new podcast Burl's Worlds of Wonderment wants to teach you about the healing powers of babies.

By Stefan Milne April 24, 2019

Brett Hamil performs as Burl Dirkman at Beacon Hill's Clock-Out Lounge. 

The voice is gentle and liltingly Southern: “I am a parenting lifestyle coach. I believe that a baby’s smile is the most important thing in the universe and that the laughter of a baby can transmit healing energies that resonate throughout our solar system and even possibly onto adjacent solar systems.”

So begins Burl’s Worlds of Wonderment, a new podcast from Seattle stand-up comedy standby Brett Hamil. In it, Hamil’s character, Burl Dirkman, talks in a sort of aural diary about the healing power of babies, or about the last 10 things that made him cry. The show is funny and touching, like an innocent John C. Reilly character in unadorned monologue. For Hamil, Dirkman isn’t an object of ridicule—some redneck dumbass—so much as a paragon of earnest feeling. 

Hamil began posting podcast episodes last month (if you don’t want to wait, you can buy the whole season on Bandcamp), but Burl goes back further. Last summer Hamil started performing weekly as the character at Joketellers Union, the comedy show he produces with Emmett Montgomery at Beacon Hill’s Clock-Out Lounge. He was prompted in part by having a child three years ago, but also following Trump’s election, he says, doing stand-up as a straight white man changed. “I feel like I need to justify why my voice is taking up space in that sphere,” Hamil says. And his justification is Burl, a man of intense sincerity that urges listeners to cry when they need to. 

On stage at the Clock-Out, where you can catch him tonight, that still plays as comedy, since that's what the audience expects and his conceits are inherently absurd. A couple weeks ago I saw him do an extended bit on what impressed him as a teen (rattails) and what impresses him now (bolo ties). But in the podcast, speaking over silence or subtle organ music, talking about how Mr. Rogers made him cry twice in the last week, Burl occupies a different place—part character study, part comedy, part earnest attempt at connection.

I asked whom he’d looked to for inspiration for the character. He mentioned some of the men he’d worked with growing up in the South. Then he added, earnestly, Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross. “I mean, there’s so few of those in our culture that I wanted to make one.”

Joketellers Union
Wednesdays, Clock-Out Lounge, $7

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