Fans who come out to one of Bo Burnham’s upcoming shows won’t get the same old song and dance.
Well, the crowd will still get a good dose of songs, but the comedian/singer- songwriter’s act is evolving to feature more standup in addition to the politically incorrect tunes for which he’s known.
Burnham told Pollstar he’s not exactly the same guy he was when he first started uploading his satirical videos to YouTube back in December 2006.
“I’m 19, going on 20, and the three years from 16 to 19 might be one of the biggest progressions in attitude. What I found funny at 16, I don’t find [as] funny now. And … I was writing for YouTube; I wasn’t thinking of just being on stage or being in a show. My new [material] will hopefully look like it’s built for the stage rather than transposed from the Internet.”
Burnham’s manager, 3 Arts Entertainment’s Dave Becky, echoed the comedian. “His life experience has changed. He’s grown up. He’s a young adult whereas he started out as a kid making videos in his bedroom of funny, smart, clever songs,” Becky told Pollstar. “Now he also has life experience to talk about and do monologues on as well.”
The comedian grew up in Boston, the youngest of three. Before taking theatre for four years at his all-boys Catholic high school, Burnham entertained his family at the age of three with skits he called “Bo Shows.”
“I was just singing and dancing, wanting attention. And I don’t think much has changed,” Burnham said. “I do think comedians … are the same little kids at the birthday parties that were shouting ‘Look at me!’ but now they’ve grown up and made it a little more sophisticated. But it’s just a horrible, horrible ruse for attention that we code with artistic integrity or whatever we say to make it look like we aren’t just attention [whores]. Nothing has changed since I was three years old.”
Burnham got his big break during high school thanks to YouTube and, appropriately enough, the video-sharing website Break.com after he uploaded a video to YouTube called “My Whole Family…”. The video features the teenager in his bedroom, looking straight into the camera and playing a simple song on the keyboard as he sings about how his family thinks he’s gay.
“Back then, no one really knew, including myself, what YouTube was. It wasn’t seen as a platform to launch yourself or anything. It was just this weird site that my friend had told me about. So I originally posted it thinking I could show my brother [the video],” Burnham said. He explained that his “My Whole Family …” initially had 8,000 views and then, after it was posted to Break.com, “it got a million views in a day.” His first video has now been watched more than 4.6 million times.
Besides homosexuality, his other satirical keyboard/guitar hits cover white supremacists, his small penis and why Helen Keller is the perfect woman (she won’t talk his ear off and he can walk around the house naked and she wouldn’t even know).
The videos caught the attention of an agent, Gersh’s Douglas Edley.
Edley told Pollstar he tracked down Burnham through his guidance counselor, had a few conversations with him and then agreed to sign him over the phone.
Edley then tipped Becky off about Burnham.
“I started watching the videos and instantly went, ‘Wow. This kid is smart and funny. Clever, original,” Becky said. “He’s a triple threat – writer, performer and I’m sure one day he’ll direct.”
Edley explained that one of the first things Burnham’s team did was get him a deal with Comedy Central Records.
“They released a digital EP of six of his songs. No one knew if it was going to translate into actual sales,” Edley said. “There are some really hot videos online that people are watching for free. And the EP came out and it just exploded.”
Two months after the release of June 2008’s Bo Fo Sho EP, Burnham became the youngest person to record a special for Comedy Central. Last year he released his debut, self-titled full-length album.
Burnham recently moved to Los Angeles to try out his new material at local clubs and work on a script he’s writing with a friend from high school for director/producer Judd Apatow.
Apatow caught Burnham’s act at 2008’s Just For Laughs comedy fest in Montreal while the director was preparing for 2009’s “Funny People.”
“I told him that I had this idea for this anti- ‘High School Musical,’ more of like a ‘Superbad’-tone musical sort of thing. He thought it was a good idea for a movie and brought it to Universal and there you go,” Burnham said. “It’s been fun and Judd’s taught me a lot about writing. It’s been a really good experience.”
As a follow-up to his half-hour special on Comedy Central, Burnham is set to record a one-hour special in April, kicking off “Comedy Central’s House of Comedy,” a monthly standup showcase at House of Blues venues across the country. Burnham is taping “Bo Burnham: Words, Words, Words” April 16 at Boston’s HoB with the special to air this fall.
Fans can also catch him performing over the next few months at colleges and theatres throughout the states.
“With my old material, I would read articles about me where people would call me a ‘shock comic,’ that I was trying to be wildly offensive. And I never wanted to be that because I always think things should be funnier than they are offensive,” Burnham said. “With the new stuff, I’m just trying to reel it in and mature a little bit. I feel the 19-year-old me is way, way different than the 16-year-old me. So I just want my act to reflect that.”