Bo Burnham is a comedian and singer/songwriter hailing from Boston, Massachusetts. Burnham began making YouTube videos at 16. The first two songs he uploaded, “My Whole Family” and “My ‘Little’ Secret,” became Internet sensations and currently have over 10 million views, collectively.
The songs Burnham produced were funny, yet extremely clever. He continued to upload videos, then, at age 17, signed a four-record deal with Comedy Central Records. A few days after his 18th birthday, Burnham filmed his first Comedy Central special, thus becoming the youngest comedian to have a special on the network.
From an early age, Burnham proved himself in the comedy world. Now, at age 23, Burnham has three full-length albums under his belt, having just released his most recent album, what. in mid-December. Along with the release of his album, Burnham also put the entire live special on his YouTube channel and on Netflix for free.
Burnham’s comedy hits on subjects such as race, gender, sex, and sexuality. While the themes are a bit taboo and he comes off a bit arrogant, the material makes you think. His songs are filled with witty analogies, sarcastic expressions, and racy humor.
Burnham’s first two albums, Bo Burnham and Words Words Words, contained songs and sketches that were lighthearted and sarcastic, with the exception of the song “Art is Dead,” from the latter album. His newest release, however, tends to take on more serious subjects, and the material does not have that easy-going feel to it.
The album starts with about 7 ½ minutes of Burnham miming to pre-recorded songs. On the album version of the special, he sarcastically makes note of how well a miming act works for a CD. The beginning of the album has quite a few funny moments, it is not until you get about 20 or so minutes into the album that the tone changes a bit.
At this point, you reach a song called “Left Brain, Right Brain,” which is about exactly what you would assume. A disembodied voice comes over and has a conversation with Burnham about the “symptoms” he is still having. The voice then proceeds to separate his neurological functions because the two sides of his brain are “at war with each other.” The whole song is a conversation between the two sides of his brain. The left side is very serious and intelligent, while the right side is more of a free-spirit and goofy. Their conversation turns dark once they start talking about what Burnham has been going through in the past few years. He is subtly letting you into his life and showing you that it is not all fun and games, and comedy. There are dark things that have happened to him, yet he has worked through it all. Material like this makes the comedian relatable. This is definitely a track worthy of repeat listens.
Another track that caught my attention is “From God’s Perspective.” Again, the title gives away the theme of the song, but you really can’t predict the direction it will head. Burnham covers the topics he believes God would discuss with us on earth. He is “clarifying” the beliefs religious people throw around. It is a serious song, and the only problem I have with listening to a live recording is audience commentary. The audience is laughing quite a bit throughout the track, and it is honestly not as funny as the audience thinks.
My favorite live track is “Repeat Stuff.” It’s a song that makes fun of the stereotypical pop love song that we all hear on the radio today, and how those pop stars are making cookie cutter songs just for monetary benefits. Burnham’s “stereotypical pop song” breaks down the structure of these super popular songs. It is a little unsettling when you realize that Burnham is spot on with his accusations in this song. It makes you appreciate those artists who actually take the time to write meaningful songs, without conforming to “social norm.”
The final act in his show is, again, another miming routine. This one, however, doesn’t necessarily need a visual for it to make sense. The track is called “We Think We Know You.” He is smashing any idea that the fans and those in the industry really know who he is. It definitely sends a message, and it is a strong one. You can watch it at the end of this post.
If you buy the album, you are treated with a few bonus studio-recorded tracks. There is a studio version of “Repeat Stuff,” along with four other. The last two tracks are okay; I haven’t found anything in them that keep me coming back over and over. However, the tracks “Eff” and “Nerds” are easily the standout songs on the whole album. These are some of the most powerful, confidence-inducing songs I have ever stumbled upon.
“Eff” is filled with F-bombs; they are basically every other word. Burnham is expressing his refusal to conform. He’s proud of his intelligence, and if it cannot be accepted, then the industry isn’t worth his time. He stands up to the tough people who think they are hot shots, but, in the long-run, he knows he’s going to succeed to levels beyond these tools’ comprehension.
“Nerds” is Burnham’s proclamation to protect those kids who constantly are picked on in high school. I heard this song for the first time about a year ago, and I always wanted a copy of it. It’s so powerful and I love that he sticks up for the underdog, because that’s who he was at that age.
Once you listen to Bo Burnham, his talent with words is undeniable, but looking beyond the words and humor, you will find a magnificent musician. He’s flawless on the piano and keyboard. He also plays the guitar, but doesn’t use it in this particular special. His voice is also great. It’s very theatrical, which works for his performances. There are moments throughout the album that he hits certain notes and has these inflections in his voice that will give you chills.
Burnham is the perfect definition of a triple threat – he’s a hilarious comedian, astounding lyricist, and phenomenal singer.
*Disclaimer: Bo Burnham tends to use very vulgar language in his performances, so please listen with discretion. *
You can purchase a CD here.
Burnham also has a book of poetry that you can purchase here.
Be sure to watch his entire special here.
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