Bo Burnham walked to the front of the stage and picked up the can of Red Bull awaiting him on the stool next to the mic stand. He took a sip and tufts of laughter rose from the audience, because—for a moment—Burnham was an average, stereotypical teen. Upon plucking the mic off the stand and speaking to a crowd of hundreds at The Plaza Theatre, however, he separated himself from the millions of 19-year-olds who do not perform stand-up comedy for a living.
Following several jokes, Burnham walked to the stage-left keyboard, sat at the bench, and slouched his 6’5” frame over, conjuring to mind images of Schroeder, the “Peanuts” character whose repertoire on the instrument sounds slightly different.
Bo Burnham is not as well-known for his one-liners as he is his lewd but clever songs, which he began recording in his bedroom and at 16 years old began uploading to YouTube, where they have received over 55 million views. Since, he has recorded a comedy album and become the youngest comedian to record a special for Comedy Central.
“Lewd” begins to describe the songs (including “Bo fo Sho,” “I’m Bo Yo,” and “My Whole Family Thinks I’m Gay”), but what separates them from other songs hinging on dirty humor is the wordplay, used so frequently that one usually needs multiple viewings to catch each joke. At present, his material has evolved some from joke content associated with 16-year-old boys. “I could’ve done a whole ‘nother hour about like Hellen Keller and all this stupid shit and I kind of thought that would’ve been a bit of young, easy laughs,” he said after the show, once those awaiting photos and autographs had their fill. While he has yet to completely distance his act from Keller, he recognized the type of humor he now strives for: “You can’t just do something that’s edgy to make people laugh because they’re nervous, because that’s really cheap. I felt like that with my first stuff, some of it was just shock value.”
During the show, Orlando’s Plaza Theatre comprised many empty seats, which did not get past Burnham as he surveyed the crowd: “How are you all doing in the back? FAIL.” Despite the choice of venue being oversized for his demand in central Florida, he acknowledged how fortunate he has been to slingshot from making videos in his bedroom to headlining a solo national tour.
“Because of this weird viral thing I got an audience, I didn’t have to struggle in clubs, so I can understand struggling in clubs, and just trying to appeal to audience all the time, rather than doing your own thing.” He acknowledged how this keeps him from being just another comic trying to ride current fads for material. “I think 90 percent will think, ‘What’s popular? What do people like? Snuggies. I’ll do 10 minutes on Snuggies.’”
Throughout the performance, Burnham fielded shouts from the audience, responding with comebacks nearly before the person was finished.
After shouts of approval, he would make a similar quip, this time cutting off the subsequent laughter with sincere thanks. Even around fans after the show he appeared shy, humbled by the attention and adoration he has inadvertently cultivated for years.
Burnham has received attention not only from millions of Internet users, but in filmmakers, including writer/producer/director Judd Apatow. Their relationship is evidenced by Burnham’s small part in 2009’s “Funny People,” but solidified by their deal in place for Burnham to write an Apatow film and play the starring role. It seems he is set to propel himself to stardom, but what does he want from success? “Whatever I get from it, I’ll get from it. Whatever I don’t, I don’t. I don’t really care about that, I’m just more worried about the actual material. That’s the only thing I can really control.”