Bo Burnham has been a part of my life since I was sixteen. I am now twenty four and I am no less impressed by his creative output then I was when I was sixteen. Bo Burnham is a musical comedian who started out his career on YouTube but has released three stand-up specials, which would more accurately be called one-man shows.
I loved Bo’s first stand-up special, Words, Words, Words, but I think he really didn’t come into his own until his second stand-up special, What. So that’s where I am going to start, it’s my favorite of his stand-up specials and I think, out of the three, it’s his best. So, without further ado, here is my review of Bo Burnham’s, What.
This quite a unique stand-up special. Bo Performs songs, tells jokes, read poems and does performance pieces. The entire show is a twist of the form of stand up comedy, as well as a twist of the form of a play and concert. The only way to truly understand it, is to see it. But I will do my best to relay some of it to you here, starting with Burnham’s songs.
Burnham sort of has a formula to his song writing, but his songs don’t suffer from it. He likes to pick a topic and write each song around said topic. The first song he performs in this special is called Sad and it’s about sadness. Again with his sort of formulaic approach to song writing the instrumentation to each song sounds very similar. But I don’t think Burnham could be blamed for this considering he actually taught himself to play piano.
Burnham uses this formula to great affect. He first sings some jokes about sadness and then flips the script and postulates that laughter is the way to deal with sadness. By using laughter humans can cope with the sad reality of life and then Bo sings about how comedians are sociopaths who avoid sadness because, “My empathy is bumming me out.” The song, although a little formulaic is wildly inventive and, at the very least, very thought provoking.
#Deep is the next song in this performance. It’s a social commentary on the culture of social media. It is funny and clever and also a chance for Burnham to wax poetic about some of his inner most thoughts. One of the best lines from the song is, “have you ever accidently peed on the toilet seat, instead of on you’re girlfriends face, me neither. Me neither!”
My favorite song in this show is called, From God’s perspective. In this song Burnham sings from God’s perspective. The result is outstanding. So many insights, so many thought provoking ideas, this song, I feel, is very special. Also the instrumentation on this track seems to be the most unique. My favorite line is “My love’s the kind of thing that you have to earn but when you earn it you don’t need it.” When Burnham sings this line you can here the deep passion he feels for this way of thinking.
The last song that is simply a song is called Repeat Stuff. This song is a social satire of modern pop songs. In this song Burnham sings about love and the corporate interests behind it. The song itself is a parody of pop singers like Justin Bieber and One Direction. It touches on how love songs are designed by corporations to take advantage of young girls and how these pop singers are just cogs in this corporate machine. There is one incredible moment when Burnham is singing this song during the special and he gets the crowd to sing along to chorus, which is just “repeat stuff” over and over again, And as the crowd sings Burnham stands up from his piano bench and performs the Nazi salute to the rhythm of the crowd singing to the chorus.
One thing that is special about these songs is that aside from the crowd reactions, the only thing you can here is Burnham’s piano and his singing. You can here how alone Burnham is on stage and this brings a vulnerable component to his performance.
Aside from his songs, Bo uses different types of performance art to make up his show. I think the most interesting of these pieces is a performance piece called, We Think We Know You. This is a sort of song, but also a vocal performance where Bo prerecords three different characters that sort of attack him personally. Bo plays each piece one after the other and then syncs them all together into one song, all the while controlling when each character speaks. In this performance Bo reveals the struggles of his career and the struggles he has with fame and also the struggles he has with his own identity.
Another performance piece that stands out in this special is Left Brain, Right Brain. This one is quite different from anything I have seen or heard. In this piece Burnham talks with a computer who splits his left brain and his right brain into two different, separate personalities. And then Bo goes into a sort of musical explanation and conversation of the two hemispheres of the brain. Again this piece is quite weird but it is also quite deep. By using this piece Bo reveals his deepest insecurities to the audience and by resolving the conflict of the piece offers hope to his audience and himself.
Bo Burnham’s special What is truly one of a kind. I don’t think you will see any thing quite like it outside Bo’s catalogue of comedy specials. But it also one of the most personal and insightful specials I have seen in my life. Bo’s satire is so biting and accurate and his performance is so vulnerable and personal. This is one thing that I could not recommend enough. Please go to Netflix or YouTube, where it is streaming for free and watch it. You won’t be disappointed.
Thank you for reading this Review. If you enjoyed yourself I think you owe me a like. If you smiled while reading this post, I think you owe me a follow, and if you have something to say, as always, feel free to post a comment bellow.