In an industry of entertainers rehashing the same ol’ comedic tropes ad nauseum, Bo Burnham is the outlier comedy needs to break the cycle.
The 23-year old comedian, actor, song-writer released his comedy special “what.” Nov. 17 2013 on YouTube and Netflix. The jokes and stories in “what.” are told through traditional freeform stand-up, interlaced with songs, skits and poetry readings.
The comedy special opens with a robotic pre-recording belittling Burnham for isolating himself in pursuit of comedy. Burnham’s perspective on his own material is complicated. Throughout “what.” viewers see a very sincere young man genuinely trying to make sense of his personal relationships and the struggles around him. Comedy is just the medium.
Personal conflict is a key theme in “what.” It’s most apparent in “Left Brain, Right Brain,” wherein Burnham’s attempt to relieve his inner turmoil leads him to separate his emotional right brain and his analytical left brain. “I hate myself, I’m not good with other people, I don’t know if I’m real or not,” Burnham quips.
In “From God’s Perspective,” Burnham takes to the piano to sing a hauntingly [honest, hilarious, courageous, inspiring, cynical, sarcastic] ballad of a deity, disappointed with people more concerned with following ancient scripture than being authentic and thoughtful.
“You’re not going to heaven/ Eat a thousand crackers, sing a million hymns/ None of you are going to heaven/ You’re not my children, you’re a bad game of Sims,” Burnham sings.
Notably, Burnham’s tendency to skip for unrelated topic to unrelated topic works remarkably well, even from more serious material to the absurd, and vice versa. This is may be because his fast-paced style of packing so much humor (and occasionally wisdom) into short bits makes it difficult at times to keep up with what topic he’s on, which ranges from family to religion to masturbation.
In “Repeat Stuff,” the young comic parodies the way pop music producers market love songs to young, insecure girls. Ground breaking material? No, but Burnham manages to provide commentary more poignantly and hilariously than comics before him. “Repeat Stuff” is a song you’ll want to give a download (it’s available on iTunes) and play it, ironically, on repeat.
In the end, Burnham’s one-hour long comedy special shows the potential the stand-up comedy medium has to be enlightening, hilarious and, at times, beautiful; “what.” should serve as a how-to for Burnham’s peers– how to commit yourself to your craft without growing pretentious, how to address social issues without a sermon, how to mix different media into your act without relying on them as gimmicks.
Complete with a grand, one-man musical spectacle, “We Think We Know You” brings “what.” to a wonderfully unpredictable and masterfully-executed conclusion.
For those who make an effort to comprehend Burnham’s lightning-fast, sometimes convoluted form of comedy, what you’ll discover is a masterful showcase of one of the most brilliant, ambitious and innovative comics of this generation.
Watch the entire comedy special on Netflix or right here: