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Bo Burnham’s Introspective Comedy

He is a self titled comedian who’s primary job is to make is audience laugh, yet his comedic take on social issues and mental health give people the opportunity to reflect on their lives on a much deeper level.

Burnham alongside Jordan Peele in Los Angles in 2019 at the Directors Guild of America Awards. Credit; Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock.

Born Robert Pickering in Massachusetts USA, Bo Burnham began his comedy career in the early 2000s and is considered to be one of the leading mainstream early YouTubers.

With millions of subscribers watching his channel to get their fix on his niche comedic style, Burnham manages to take nonchalant topics and create them into funny yet introspective narratives. His diverse sense of slick comedy massed him to be recognized as not only a stand-up icon but a surprisingly good songwriter.

From his early days, Bo allowed his audience to be a part of his work. Taking topics such as love or more cynically the topic of relationships and turning them into comedic relatability. He wrote about the mishaps and complexities of being human while giving his audience the opportunity to laugh at the unfortunate consequences that sometimes come along with it. However, this was just the beginning for Bo. As time progressed the brooding comedian began to touch on topics, like mental health and self-loathing.

A Different Dynamic

His 2020 album ‘inside’ brings this point of repression to life. Burnham claimed that during the pandemic he became self-aware, and this allowed him to take his comedy to a new level representing it through music. And one where it focused on the brain chemistry of his audience and wider population during a time of global change. Though the entire album was written, directed and entirely self-informed by Bo himself, he managed to create a sense of understanding for his audience, one which reassured them that they were not alone. His leading track from this visionary album titled ‘All eyes on me’, brings to life the feeling of anxiety, which many feel and struggle to overcome. One could assume that taking this notion of severe mental illness and putting it into a comedic song would rub off as insensitive.

However, it had quite the opposite effect. Rather than trying to make an insensitive joke, Burnham took from a perspective of struggle and suggested that he to himself deals with these issues. Somewhat making a joke of his own life, but in a way that was relatable. Some of the most notable lyrics from this title track show up in the form of comedic irony. ‘ Are you feeling nervous?’ ‘Are you having fun?’, ‘It’s almost over it’s just begun’. The thoughts of someone who is in a situation that is less than enjoyable or ideal. Burnham is trying to shed light on what he experiences when placed somewhere that fills him with so much anxiety that he begins to overthink and question everything. A feeling we have all had at some point.

Why We Listen

This way of performing puts Burnham at a different level to his peers. He represents the young generation of lost minds and forces us to come together slowly by his comedic antics. He is not only funny in his songs but he is honest in a sincere way. The lyrics of ‘ That Funny Feeling’ which also derives of Burnhams 2020 album speak on topics, such as the scary changes that happen in the world and also the changes that need to happen within society.Something you would expect to hear from a poet perhaps. Not your average comedian.

But Bo is not your average comedian in fact, he is nothing of the sort. He is philosophical and introspective, relatable, yet, distant. This ability to understand his audience and his generation give Bo a leading vocal point on the topics on which he speaks of. Even if comedy is not your graft, with Burnham it does not have to be. His subtle representation of the world makes us want to listen, in so that we feel understood. A trait other comedians struggle to possess.

Bo’s niche lies in the fact that his work is not aimed to help people forget or even remember, but is aimed towards the idea of belonging. This is what good comedy should be, and Bo does this beautifully through his work.

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