Laughter, blood, and morally questionable satirical song
Twenty-one year old comedian, Bo Burnham instantly enticed a sold-out room of college students by introducing nudity almost immediately during the inception of his hour-long pretentious comedy skit. Burnham abruptly stripped away his neon-red pants, suggesting he had nothing underneath, but instead he revealed yet another pair of neon-red pants.
Burnham’s politically incorrect and sometimes morally questionable performance, which was preceded by outstandingly talented comedians, Moshe Kasher and Gloria Bigelow, both of whom delivered raunchy, crowd pleasing performances, received a standing ovation by the roaring, sold-out crowd, who never seemed to stop laughing. Burnham opened his act by joking about never before hearing of WCU’s mascot, the Catamount. “What the f#*k is that [catamount], I think it is a measurement of crazy old ladies, she lives with seven cats, so she has a much higher catamount,” he joked.
Not even 10 minutes into the show, while singing his first song and playing the guitar, Burnham cut his finger. Although he continued to bleed throughout his hour-long performance, he cunningly adapted and incorporated the incident into his act, along with jokes about WCU’s rival, Appalachian State University, and by the end of the show he joked, “This is the weirdest f#*king show I have ever done, but in a good way,” he said.
In 2006, when Burnham was only 16 years old, he sky rocketed to fame while attending the all-boys Catholic high school, St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers, Massachusetts, after posting videos to YouTube of himself in his bedroom performing comedic, satirical songs he had written, which often encompassed politically incorrect “overtones.” According to Burnham, he started writing the same time he began posting videos online, and never anticipated the attention or “celebrity” status he has achieved as a result. “The moment I started writing, I started posting videos without really thinking about anything,” said Burnham. He posted the videos online so his friends from school and so his older brother, Pete, who was away at college, could view the expression of his adolescent angst.
The young comedian is known for his profanity- filled shows which touch on taboo topics such as homosexuality, race, and gender, and says he avoids limiting himself to topical subjects because he wants his work to be enjoyed for generations to come. “I don’t really do topical stuff, usually, because I want, in theory, to have a CD that holds up in five or ten years,” he said. “I stick to what I know, which is what a kid does now, which is being very confused about the world, and being very cynical about it, and topics like love and feelings and all that stuff. I try to stay away from areas of expertise, and leave those to the pundits.”
Although some critics may consider Burnham’s shows to be deplorable because of the crude comedy and intense level of profanity, his impressive vernacular is filled with an extensive vocabulary far beyond the level of many scholars. Aside from the morally questionable subject matter, Burnham also uses his shows to speak out against bullying with songs such as “Nerds” which speaks to the socially defined outcasts such as nerds, homosexuals, overweight or acne covered kids and delivers the message “I’ve got your back kids.” The comedian’s skits also contain educational references to the Holocaust, civil rights, literature such as Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Anne Frank, and Shakespeare, and artists such as Jackson Pollock.
Although his claim to fame is centered around songs which include him playing the guitar or piano, he hasn’t ever had any professional training in either instrument. “I picked up the piano my freshman year of high school, and have been trying to teach myself ever since,” said Burnham. “I would like to eventually get some real training, but for now I have just kind of been winging it,” he joked.
Burnham was named one of the “12 Rising Stars of Comedy” by Entertainment Weekly and one of the “10 Comics to Watch” by Variety. Burnham has traded in posting videos online for touring the country, even taking his show overseas. Aside from Burnham’s comedy show, his impressive resume includes appearances in the films “Hall Pass,” “American Virgin,” and “Funny People,” and is currently working with MTV to develop his own program.
When he first started, viral celebrities had yet to be defined, so after Burnham’s videos were viewed by millions of people all around the world, he became an innovator in the internet fame industry, without ever intending to do so. “I was never aware of the concept of viral celebrity because in 2006, no one really knew that videos could get that big,” said Burnham. “The concept of a viral video, or a viral YouTube celebrity didn’t really exist back then.”
While preparing for the SATs in 2007, Burnham was contacted by Douglas Edley, talent agent from The Gersh Agency, who offered to represent Burnham during his search for stardom. Represented by Edley Burnham, was able to secure a four-record deal with Comedy Central Records.
Although Burnham was accepted to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in the fall of 2008, he originally deferred his enrollment for a year to focus on his career and has continued to do so after he released a six-song online album “Bo Fo Sho” in 2008 and then his first self-titled album, “Bo Burnham” in 2009. On August 25 2009, four days after he turned 18, Burnham became the youngest person to record a “Comedy Central Presents” special, “Words, Words, Words,” which was later released on CD/DVD.
According to Burnham, although the context of his comedic videos and live shows are often politically incorrect and may be offensive to some, his parents, Patricia and Scott Burnham, have always supported his endeavors and are proud of the diligence and dedication he has shown to accomplish what he has thus far.
“My parents have always been really supportive and don’t really mind about the context of what I write because I think they know that I am working hard on the writing and that I cared about the writing, so they didn’t really care what it was about,” explained Burnham,” They are supportive as long as I enjoy what I am doing.”
Still learning to adapt to his success, Burnham said the thing he enjoys the most thus far in his career, is having the opportunity to perform his act on stage. “I love being able to perform live,” said Burnham. “I have always loved theater, and being able to translate anything onto the stage is what I have always wanted to do. People always ask me why I don't post on YouTube anymore, and it is because I like debuting things live and being able to hear their reaction instead of reading how they react in their comments.” As any normal 21 year old, Burnham takes advantage of any free time he gets whenever he gets down time from touring and tries to be as lackadaisical as possible. “Whenever I can, I just rest a lot. I sit around and read, play the piano, I will write, go on the internet or just watch TV, I turn into kind of a sloth.”
Burnham’s began his comedic journey when he was only three years old, performing “Bo Shows” for his family. When he reached his teenage years, he explained his writing process as writing things that he thought people would consider to be funny. “I would kind of try to reverse engineer what I believed people to think of as funny, and then write to that,” explained Burnham. “Then as I got older, I began writing about ideas that I cared about and ideas that I wanted to articulate and how to present those in a funny way, or just in an original way, and if they turned out to be funny, that was great, but if they were just weird or silly, then that was fine too. Now it is more about what do I want to say, and how do I say it in an entertaining way.”
According to Burnham, who is a self-proclaimed comedy nerd, while most comedians may not like to watch other comedians, he tries to watch as many and soak up as much as he can. “I like George Carlin, and Steve Martin’s old standup is incredible, Tim Minchin who is an Australian piano player, Reggie Watts is incredible, I love comedy,” he said.
The night of comedy was made possible through Last Minute Productions, which has been providing entertainment to WCU students for over 30 years. Each semester they provide a wide range of programming including movies every weekend, concerts & bands, speakers, open mic nights, poetry slams, NFL trips, spring break trips, holiday programs, hypnotists, dances, parties, and this year after polling students, brought Bo Burnham to perform at the John Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center.