The best things in life are free. The best things in life are free to those who don’t place monetary value on things, or to those who wait, or to those who just know how to find them at the right place and the right time. Wait. What? what.
Specifically and emphatically, “what.” by Bo Burnham is one of the best stand-up performances of 2013, and it’s available for viewing in full, for free, on Burnham’s YouTube channel. You also can watch it via Netflix if you’re already feeding that online machine, or feed Burnham’s family and unborn children by buying the CD version of “what.”
So you can buy “what.” right now via iTunes:
Or “Egghead” here:
What began in his attic bedroom seven years ago almost as a lark and a testimonial to his family has now become something much bigger, something theatrical, something searching for a deeper meaning in Burnham’s third Comedy Central Records release. The audio recording (18 tracks: 13 live from a show in Madison, five in studio to give you five more reasons to buy the CD/MP3 version), and the video (live from San Francisco) both open with seven-minute set-piece as Burnham mimes, lip-synches and interacts with one audience member to pre-recorded bits. Burnham has grown up around the musical comedy wonderment of older peers such as Tim Minchin and Reggie Watts and that delightfully shows here. The addition of sound cues and bellowing voices adds another layer to his meta madness. As if Todd Glass had a bastard child who blossomed into a musical comedy prodigy.
In young adulthood — Burnham still is only 23, mind you — the artist as a young man continues to find himself in a constant battle with his own self. It’s exemplified most precisely in “Left Brain, Right Brain.” But it has become a running theme in his works, analyzing his own jokes whilst also commenting on the form of stand-up comedy and on art in general, hoping he’s on the right side of the line between comedian and sociopath. He’s at that age where he’s idealistic and egotistic enough to think he could know it all or does already, but entrenched in his art so deeply as a comedian that he already knows he doesn’t. And he’s preoccupied with sex. With people wondering about his sexual preferences. With his own desire for women on a most superficial level. He’s deep, but only “#deep.” He’ll devote a sequence to miming masturbation, just for the double entendre of the title he gave it. He suggests a truce between his left and right brains, his internal and external emotions, by following the path of George Carlin and Steve Martin. And yet, no juggling. Everything but, perhaps. But no. No juggling.
It is a bit of a high-wire act Burnham is executing here.
As profane, as juvenile, as stupidly silly as any joke of his may be, he’s also attempting to subvert the audience’s thought process by making them think about what they’re laughing at and why.
Take this song, for example, which is “From God’s Perspective.”
Later, after a bit of poetry from his aforementioned book, he sits back down to tell the story with similes about a frog named Andy. At the end, Burnham declares: “The moral of that story is irrelevant because we’re humans. Why would that apply to us?” I mean, obviously. Are we human or are we dancer?
As a comedian who we’ve watched grow up behind the keyboard, it’s perhaps most accessible to everyone to find Burnham comment in song upon those young heartthrobs, teen idols and pop stars who write those silly little love songs you love so much. This is “Repeat Stuff.”
With more than 584,000 YouTube subscribers — despite not releasing any new videos in three years before now — and more than 121 million YouTube viewings, his fans have repeated his stuff over and over to their ears’ and hearts’ content.
Which means that his fame continues to increase (whether or not you watched him in MTV’s Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous or will see his newly Black Listed screenplay “Gay Kid and Fat Chick” come to fruition) and has changed how everyone else relates to him. Which brings him once more into introspection. And the voices in his head, amplified and remixed into his closer, “We Think We Know You.”
Bo Burnham’s act may seem paradoxical, then, revealing all of his thoughts and emotions to us, while insisting that we don’t see the real him. If that’s the case, I, for one, cannot wait to see what he has up his sleeves next. Even if he’s only wearing a T-shirt.
Please enjoy Bo Burnham, “what.”