Few people are familiar with the name Bo Burnham. However the 20 year old Youtube sensation stormed the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year. He was forced to add extra times after his show sold out on pre-sales only half way through the festival, was nominated for the Fosters ‘Best Comedy Show’ award and he headed back to Boston with the Fosters ‘Spirit of the Fringe’ and a Malcolm Hardee award under his arm.
Burnham is a Youtube made star, singing ludicrously crude comic songs filled with clever puns, from the comfort of his own bedroom, accompanied by either his keyboard or guitar. In late 2006, when Bo was only 16 years old, he posted two videos on the popular video sharing website Youtube. These were videos of witty songs that Bo had written and both included very controversial content, with one toying with the concept of his family questioning his sexuality and the other about an embarrassing problem he had. Although these first two videos were a very self-depreciating style of comedy, they did involve themes that were found offensive by both the homosexual and the Asian community. As can only be expected with the audiences available online, the boundary testing material that Burnham had written was a complete hit. He became an overnight phenomenon online and since then has ventured outside of the online community in front of all different types of audiences. The transition to the stage meant for Bo that nasty comments from ‘haters’ on Youtube, were no longer his biggest threats. In 2009, he was faced with protests from students who were offended by the content of his songs. Burnham retaliated by claiming that his songs include ‘satire that is well-intentioned.’ His songs are indeed very offensive but they also take very dark topics and transform them into a more manageable state. After all, “laughter is the best medicine, apart from medicine.”
The 20 year old debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe festival with his show ‘Words, Words, Words.’ this year. His hour long show was packed full of comically clever and ridiculously offensive material. Burnham approached the stage hiding behind what could be argued to be, a representation of everything that is wrong with today’s teens. He appeared moody, rude, distant and, quite simply, like he didn’t care at all whether you were going to like him or not. By portraying this persona in his show, he introduced a very captivating way of showcasing his humorous songs. He toyed with words, playing with clichés, metaphors and twisting doubles meanings throughout the show; I take a walk by the clock and I pass the time. The show was not only full of lyrical magnificence within his ‘silly’ songs but also a combination of his one man shows (which he had poetically named ‘Bo’s shows’), haikus and stand up. Edinburgh’s audiences received his show very well and he walked away with a Malcolm Hardee award- ‘Act most likely to earn 1 million quid’- and when asked what he would spend the money on, he replied “probably treasure chests and cool stuff like that” so it’s comforting to know that despite so much success and attention at a young age, he’s preserving his youth. Bo was also nominated for the main Fringe award, the Fosters “Best Comedy Show”. Bo was competing with fellow comedians Sarah Millican, Greg Davies, Josie Long and, the winner of this award, Russell Kane. Bo was thrilled just to be nominated for this award and claims; “this is what I wanted to be, I wanted to be a part of this so badly”. This makes it somewhat heart warming that Burnham was awarded the Fosters Panel Prize for capturing the whole spirit of the Fringe within his show.
However, some audiences dislike the set up of Bo’s show and some just dislike him. He causes a lot of controversy due to the risky themes of his material. Bo piles his jokes one on top of the other so it is unlikely that the entire audience can follow completely. This is thought to be part of the reason why he has been such a success on the internet. People can still enjoy his songs the 5th or 6th time they listen to them because they are able to pick up on new jokes that have been crammed in. The style of his comedy means that he is forcing a joke that could be stretched to a 3 minute set on its own into a space of about 6 seconds which means the audience can miss jokes because they’re still taking in and appreciating the previous joke. Sometimes a lot of background knowledge is required for the audience to fully understand his material so it is doubtful that any one person in the audience would understand every single joke. To explain this further, his show for the Fringe this year included a few minute set based fully around Greek mythology so the audience are expected to be educated in mythology or they are completely isolated from the joke.
I wouldn’t count on Bo returning to the Fringe in any hurry. I doubt he’ll grace us with his presence until he has an even better show to make us choke with a mixture of shock and laughter. He definitely seemed to enjoy the whole experience and is keen to return but says that “it’s a question of when”. It has been rumoured that Bo is working on a serious rap album despite in the past admitting “I just write jokes more lyrically, I’m not a great musician.” However, Bo makes it very clear, both from the experience of meeting him and viewing his video blogs, just how keen on rap music he is. Bo doesn’t claim to have many musical influences apart from Eminem and speaks of his love of Eminem and the way in which he writes. He’s also keeping himself busy by working with successful producer and director Judd Apatow (Get him to the Greek, The 40 year old Virgin) on a comedy musical. Bo has described the movie as being “the anti-high school musical” and has hinted that the movie will be based on his take on high school and experiences. Bo also seems keen to star in the movie and the possibility of him doing so seems very likely having already had roles in movies such as American Virgin (2009) and Sin Bin (2011). If all goes well for Bo, the chances of his name being recognised by more people in the coming years are definitely increasing.