Bo Burnham premieres on Comedy Centralin December 2012. At this year’s Just for Laughs festival, he will be performing what., named after its confusing format and subject matter.
MONTREAL - Internet trends move quickly. Even musical comedian Bo Burnham, who at 16 had his initial claim to fame as a YouTube sensation, has a hard time keeping up with online fads.
“I still have a fascination with it all,” says the 22-year-old Massachusetts native, before getting into his latest hobby: playing around with Vine, Twitter’s six-second video recording app.
“I’ve come across people referring to themselves as ‘Vine famous,’” he says somewhat incredulously. “Some of them started out by putting up Vines just for fun, then all of a sudden they get a bunch of fans and a week later their Vines are totally different. They become obsessed with how their videos will be perceived.”
Burnham still considers his jump from posting bedroom recordings of self-penned comedy tunes on YouTube to rubbing elbows with film director Judd Apatow – which he did at Just for Laughs as a 17-year-old – a “one-in-a-million” stroke of good luck. In truth, what made his slapdash videos stand out from the webcam morass was a comedic maturity beyond his years.
This sophistication perhaps didn’t serve him well in his first television endeavour, the reality show satire Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous, which he co-created, wrote and starred in. It was cancelled after one season, largely because MTV’s youthful audience didn’t quite get that he was playing a character and the show was merely lampooning vacuous reality TV. On the other hand, his cleverness has done wonders for his stand-up career, where he’s made the transition from fresh-faced Internet curiosity to legit comedian without difficulty.
At this year’s Just for Laughs festival, Burnham will be performing what., named after its confusing format and subject matter. He considers it to be more of a one-man theatre act than a traditional stand-up set.
“what. is bombastic introspection,” Burnham explains. “It’s large, colourful and loud, but hopefully intimate at the same time. There are a lot of backing track elements, where I’m being spoken to by a voice, or that I’m listening to. I sing over instrumentals, where it’s a duet between my left and right brain.”
Burnham began his stand-up career performing his most popular songs from YouTube. His Just for Laughs debut, at an Amp’d show featuring Apatow, was only his fifth show ever, but his politically incorrect tunes about family life, white supremacists and Helen Keller convinced Apatow to give him a role in his film Funny People, and they teamed up to write a musical that never saw the light of day.
“I was waiting to go on, and all of a sudden Judd arrived, bumped me and went on before,” Burnham recalls. “I went on after as he watched from offstage. Then we talked later in the evening. It was terrifying. I was 17, and very intimidated by everyone backstage – I was the kid sitting alone, coughing on everyone’s cigarette smoke. But I felt my first trip to Just for Laughs vaguely legitimized me from a person on the Internet to someone who could actually do stand-up live.”
Burnham says he hasn’t encountered any resentment from other comedians concerning his age or YouTube origins. “The thing is, I always thought I could do stand-up, and so I just stayed focused on the belief that I could succeed,” he says, adding that the Internet can be a “random and ruthless” place.
“If I had posted my first video a week later, I don’t know if it would have spread like it did,” he says. “That’s why with everything I do, I try to enjoy the making of it, instead of worrying about the release and reception.”
Bo Burnham performs on Thursday, July 25, and Friday, July 26, at 9:30 p.m. at L’Astral, 305 Ste-Catherine St. W. For tickets and information, visit hahaha.com
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