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Monday, September 25, 2023

Life + Arts

Young comedian thrives despite controversy

Bo Burnham relies heavily on satire, and he doesn’t care if your parents don’t get it, because his audience is you, the

The comedic genius Bo Burnham will make an appearance in Houston at Numbers on Thursday. Burnham, whose rose to fame via YouTube, has been both congratulated and condemned for his lyricism, which is always funny and sometimes hits audiences a little too close to home. | Comedycentral

college-level, kinda’ sorta’ dirty-minded, fun-loving youngster who’s somewhat of a know-it-all and OK with it.

“After the show, if you see a black guy beating me up, he’s doing it ironically,” Burnham offers his audience in a recent recording after making a playful jest at the issue of slavery.

This is just one of many racy punch lines that 20-year old Bo Burnham delivers after a taboo-oriented joke on his new album, “Words, Words, Words.”

Crass humor has made him a YouTube sensation, a star among the sea of onlookers hoping to gain popularity and, predictably, the center of some controversy, too.

Much of the criticism stems from a distaste for Burnham’s choice of content. It’s not too much of a stretch to compare him to Eminem, minus all the anger and bass-heavy beats. He’s young, white, quick-witted and can provide a tongue lashing equal to that of any English professor whose knowledge extends to pop culture. But dissimilar to Eminem, Burnham sticks to more melodic music, playing guitar and piano at his live shows and on his album.

The riffs range from simple and beautiful to unnecessarily complicated and outlandish, depending on the content of the song in question; it’s a good fit for him, and his audience, for the most part, loves it.

Other comedians, however, aren’t quite so receptive. Burnham has been called a hack in the stand-up community, which condemns him for relying too heavily on music to deliver his punch lines while walking a tightrope between musician and comic.

Most 20-year-olds would be taken back by the critiques, but Burnham feeds off them. His ability to brush off naysayers and keep moving forward with his material stems from the fact that he is no stranger to controversy. Although he’s young, his first experience with widespread controversy came in early 2009 when 15 members of various on-campus organizations at Westminster College protested against one of his concerts, which was scheduled for that evening.

“I try and write satire that’s well-intentioned,” Burnham told the Columbia Daily Tribune in 2009. “But those intentions have to be hidden. It can’t be completely clear, and that’s what makes it comedy.”

The Columbia Daily Tribune went on to report that, after his performance, a paraplegic fan approached Burnham, who regularly makes jokes about the handicapped. Apparently, the two sorted out their differences, and the fan offered up a blonde-joke for Burnham, who laughed.

Those unfamiliar with Burnham might think him a conceited, snot-nosed, immature, privileged kid. But one track on “Words, Words, Words” shows a side of Burnham that fans have never seen before: self-loathing.

‘Art is dead,’ which is placed near the end of the album, is Burnham’s well-written, almost-too-serious tirade against artists, specifically himself.

“This song isn’t funny at all, but it helps me sleep at night,” Burnham says at the beginning of the song. In it, he compares artists of all ilks to children at birthday parties who won’t stop screaming. He says that because they never grow up and because they never learn that every day can’t be about them, they are rewarded.

“I must be psychotic; I must be demented to think that I’m worthy of all this attention, of all of this money you worked really hard for. I slept in late while you worked at the drugstore. My drug’s attention. I am an addict, but I am paid to indulge in my habit. It’s all an illusion.”

So either Burnham is getting burned out or, having been a part of the industry for more than two years now, he’s seen how ugly it can be from the inside, and he misses making YouTube videos from his room in Massachusetts for fun.

Either way, for the time being, Burnham’s stuck doing standup, and audiences shouldn’t be complaining.

While he might go overboard from time to time, it’s important to remember his age, which, when taken into consideration, showcases his intelligence far more than his off-color sense of humor.

You can’t take life too seriously, because you’ll never make it out alive. So sit back, have a few laughs and support a young, talented individual who will probably be in college this time next year.

His current tour, “Bo Burnham and (no) Friends,” will bring the young comedian to Houston on Thursday night at Numbers Nightclub, 300 Westheimer Houston, TX, 77006. For tickets and information regarding tickets, which are $25, visit

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