If you by chance have a Netflix account, or a YouTube account, or even a Facebook account, then you have more than likely heard of Bo Burnham. You might not immediately recognize the name, but it is unlikely that you will have forgotten whichever bit of his act you watched, whether it was his whole Netflix special or a three-minute clip that went viral on Facebook.
A tall and gangly, shaggy-haired man-boy that embodies the “awkwardness” that generation-Y seems to revere, Bo Burnham began his rise to comedic fame in the same way that many modern entertainers have: YouTube. In 2006, an 18-year-old Bo recorded a video of himself in his bedroom, playing a piano and singing about how his whole family was under the impression that he was gay;”My Whole Family…” became an overnight hit, with view traffic increasing by over 100x. As Bo created and posted more content, it became obvious that his style of comedy was unique: an ingenious blend of social commentary within poppy songs over rap beats, that deal with topics like race, religion, sexuality and privilege.
Now 26, Bo has gone on multiple cross-country tours that have produced three full length specials, two of which were commissioned by Netflix. Words Words Words was the first of these specials, recorded at the House of Blues in Boston (Bo’s hometown) and aired on Comedy Central in 2010; the special was mostly made up of songs in Bo’s signature style, so an album was created from the live recording and released in conjunction with the special. The special received almost 700,000 viewers and critical acclaim, but at this time, Bo’s following was still relatively underground and he was not yet a well known figure in millennial comedy; but the Netflix release of his second special what. three years later shot him not only into the comical spotlight, but the musical one as well.
Like with the previous special, an album of songs was released from what., but this time, many of the tracks were professionally recorded in a studio. Bo’s production quality had completely escalated, with properly mixed tracks and a smooth voice that had obviously undergone a few singing lessons; now there were even large scale music videos with extremely high production value. You can watch one of these videos, “Repeat Stuff,” which critiques the genericness of modern top-40 radio, here:
Bo’s latest special Make Happy was released on Netflix this past June, and it is his most important release to date. In a society that so often attempts to minimize the stigma and stereotypes thrust upon members of racial minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, etc. it is important to have a figure that is able to joke about these issues in a unoffensive manner, as comedy has been proven to force Americans to confront crucial issues.With songs like “Straight White Male” and “From God’s Perspective,” Bo addresses various injustices in the modern world. Bo is also undeniably honest, discussing his privilege as a white man and telling aspiring comedians that no matter how hard you work toward your dream, it all comes down to luck. So here’s to you, Bo; keep making jokes that make us laugh, that make us think, and that make us change.