Bo Burnham: the first standing ovation of Fringe

IMAGE: Pleasance
IMAGE: Pleasance

I hadn’t yet been to a comedy show that has ended in a standing ovation. But Bo Burnham has come a long way since he was launched into his career on he back of the YouTube channel he created aged sixteen. The innocence his appearance may suggest is betrayed by the politically incorrect and dark humour for which he is praised, having taken home the prestigious Edinburgh Comedy Award Panel Prize from the 2010 Fringe Festival. Now, the Massachusetts-born comedian returns to the Fringe combining stand-up, music, poetry, and performance to create What, a vibrant and dynamic set that was truly original and incredibly funny.

Confounding the critics who refuse to view his cult YouTube stardom as a valid entrance into stand-up comedy, seeing Burnham in person dispels any such belief as he captivates his audience, dominating the stage despite his unassuming appearance aged twenty two. Just as readily as he toys with the nuances of mathematics, science, language, and literature in previous work, he quotes T. S. Eliot in a musical piece lambasting the homogeneity of love songs aimed at teenage girls. In self referential asides which provide commentary to his set and the nature of comedic performance, his stand-up provides a happy alternative to the usual comedy circuit of comfortable and relatable anecdotes. Instead, he plays upon the absurd realities of his journey to fame and the reactions of his contemporaries with self deprecation of an arrogant persona which never truly materializes in his set.

Burnham continually stretches the boundaries of the comedic form; one piece depicting an experiment in which a psychologist separates the logical and creative elements of his personality as separate entities. The exchange between the two personas is captured through dialogue and song, and as the microcosm in which they coexist draws to a close their initial petty arguments give way to panic and co-operation. Combined with slick audiovisual presentation, Burnham’s brilliance lies in managing to make such a concept accessible while remaining so very funny.

Arriving on stage to raucous applause indicative of the reputation his name carries, Burnham delivers an hour of brilliantly executed comedy, combining sharp wit, musical talent and impeccable showmanship. Everybody stand up for Bo Burnham.


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