The thing to remember when watching any of Bill Burr's comedy is that he's playing a heightened, exaggerated version of an angry white man.
In fact, the opening five or so minutes of 'Paper Tiger' sees him bursting out on stage and ripping into "PC culture", male feminists, and about a dozen more hot-button topics that'd launch a dozen thinkpieces. It's frustrating, it's designed to put you on the back foot, and very often, it's where people would just tune out or switch over because it's been done a hundred times before.
There's been a swathe of comedians launching off tirades about how comedy can't be comedy anymore, about being "triggered", about how you can't say anything more, and it's reached a stage now where it's just cliched. Bill Burr's too smart of a comedian to simply fall for that, and that's why 'Paper Tiger' might be his best work in years.
As he chuckles when he fires off another inciting joke, the audience at the special and at home can almost see behind the cracks at a guy who knows what he's saying is bullshit, but he's doing it anyway. If you go past that facade, there's a lot of insight and a lot of humour. In fact, it's actually sweet. An extended part of 'Paper Tiger' is devoted to Burr talking about racism, and how he had to confront it in himself.
Burr, who's married to a black woman, discusses Elvis and his impact on musical culture and how it was appropriated from black musicians - in "his" own way, and no doubt how some of his audience would see it. By way of this, it also then serves to undermine the preconceived notions they might have and educate on these ideas and reject them. It's to his credit that he does all this without once verging into preachy-ness or polemic humour. It's done with a surprising amount of tenderness - an adjective you'd almost never expect to hear next to Bill Burr's name - but it works.
When he talks about his daughter and his wife, you can see that the facade that Burr's put up over the years is slowly beginning to dissolve, and as the title suggests, his blustering and his coarseness isn't actually all that threatening to begin with. It's simply from a place of ignorance that he's now attempting to move on from. It's a shame, then, that the special has already seen some far-right nutjobs latching on to it as a lightning rod for their views when it's absolutely not.
For example, another segment in the special discusses sexual assault. As you'd expect, Burr comes at it sideways and almost daring you to be repulsed, but when he digs into it, it actually talks about it in a sympathetic, moving way that doesn't belittle it nor does it make seem like there's any bile in his discussion. He's actively trying to understand it, and he's doing all of this because of his wife and daughter.
You could argue that the fact it took all this to change him isn't enough, but as he freely admits himself in the special, his wife "is always working" on him. When he talks about his anger issues, his ignorance, you can tell he's trying his best to better himself - even it starts from a position of ignorance. Compared to some other stand-up specials of late, or even just how you'd think Bill Burr is perceived in general, there's nothing in 'Paper Tiger' that comes across as mean-spirited.
If anything, it's actually more open-hearted than anything Burr has done in years. The special ends with him holding his daughter in his arms on stage. Beyond all the shouting and the baiting jokes, there's someone trying to learn and better themselves.