Blog Post 1: Bo Burnham
(Article contains mentions of suicide, depression and angry white people)
Robert “Bo” Burnham is a comedian/musician who started out as an early YouTuber, videotaping himself playing the piano and performing humorous songs he described as “pubescent musical comedy”. He signed a four record deal with Comedy Central Records and started performing his shows on tour, a mix of stand up comedy interlaced with musical numbers mocking things such as racism, gender norms, religion etc. He was also given a TV show on MTV (that sadly only lasted for one season) called “Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous” a faux documentary series focusing on a fame obsessed high school graduate who will do anything for notoriety. The series touches on one of Burnham’s foremost themes in his comedy: the illusion of fame as a respected livelihood.
On the surface most of Burnham’s early work is standard (if immature) shock humor: a love letter to Helen Keller, a KKK cookout, etc. but Burnham is purposely trying to present a negative arrogant stuck up offensive and pretentious version of himself on stage. This is also the norm for a lot of shock humor. His songs are laced with irony and satire, that honestly hits the mark, most of the time. That being said he’s well more capable of handling this tricky territory than others. He recognizes his stance and privileges as a white heterosexual man, and mocks it for all it’s worth.
His work is not necessarily controversial, although he did once backed down from a performance at Westminster College that was protested by the social movements clubs due to much of his work being quite vulgar. Burnham is quite fond of using the F Slur for example, not to mock homosexuality but to acknowledge how he was generally bullied in high school for being flamboyant and was a recipient of that word himself. Burnham knows his comedy is a double edged sword, his material centers on you being convinced what he’s saying is wrong but knowing the artist himself is not trying to be hurtful towards oppressed minorities(a’la Archie Bunker). A learn by example approach if you will. Despite this Burnham has called out his earlier work as too vulgar and that the “social justice” culture among college aged young adults is to him, perfectly reasonable and quite necessary for actual improvement in social norms.
His other music focuses on dark (which is an understatement) humor centered around his own insecurities of his clinical depression and mental health. The more Burnham seems to cross over into mainstream success though, the more hesitant he is to embrace the artificial reality of it.
I am an artist, please God forgive me
I am an artist, please don’t revere me
I am an artist, please don’t respect me
I am an artist, you’re free to correct me
I was lucky enough to see his last tour, “Make Happy”, and one thing he demanded the audience to remember is how pointless his presence is in their life. How he does not care for his fans, and he doesn’t expect the same from them. To him an “artist” is simply a service and if he underperforms or quits entirely his fanbase should not struggle with completely forgetting him and moving onto anything else. He has a large young female fanbase, but based on Repeat Stuff and his altercations with Hecklers, he strongly disapproves of people forming a religious-like devotion to any celebrity, much less him. Said song (RS) is a condemnation of Hollywood’s psychological stranglehold on young girls by catering to their deepest insecurities and comparing them to demonic monstrosities.
Oh girl, I hope you don’t think that I’m rude
When I tell you that I love you boo
I also hope that you don’t see through
This cleverly constructed ruse
Designed by a marketing team
Cashing in on puberty and low self-esteem
And girls’ desperate need to feel loved
Burnham’s Make Happy tour features him in a clown outfit for most of the promo material and even the opening to his second Netflix special. To acknowledge the sheer insincerity in his craft being presented and to highlight his desire to achieve a sense of purpose with politically and socially conscious commentary. And while on the surface, he may look like Holden Caulfield: The Musical, that’s…….essentially what he wants you to laugh at. Laugh at not laugh with. Laugh at a pretentious privileged recipient who you should strive not to like, or at least be well aware of what he imitates as a threat: the angry and purposely offensive entitled young white man, which is a valid fear to have let’s be honest. Burnham ended his last tour stating he would take a leave from comedy for a while, choosing to stay more in the private sector with his girlfriend and dog because, he honestly doesn’t want to be famous (as opposed to the name, but not the moral, of his MTV show). Like the show, he’s well aware his previous aspirations for fame are pointless and artificial. And he’s more interested in people following his actual personality by example and rejecting his stage persona. Basically find out what makes you happy. Seek beyond the glitzy and glamorous stereotype pushed by the media and look for something more personal. And then stick to it till your dying day.
Or in lieu of that,
“I sound un-empathetic, I sound mean and rude. Suicide is an epidemic and I don’t want to be misconstrued. Signs of depression go overlooked, so if you’re depressed then you need to book a therapy session, talk about your depression, and let a professional hear it.”
(Note: It’s not in the clip but right after he finishes he straightforwardly reminds the audience that the purpose of the song is not to actually commit suicide but to understand how a devotion to celebrity culture is an unhealthy copping mechanism. OK. I just want to make that clear in case anyone hates this post more than I do right now.)