Bo Burnham Makes Happy


By: Connor Lenahan

I’ve been a fan of Bo Burnham since I was in high school and was first introduced to it by my brother Chase. His quirky, musical comedy became the biggest thing amongst my friend group for no less than three years. I know that there was a long period of time where I could sing at least twenty Bo songs off the top of my head. But all throughout that period I had the same thought:

Is Bo Burnham as smart as I think he is?

Clever? Absolutely, that’s impossible to deny just from his genuine musical ability and wordplay. Intelligent? Ditto to the former. But smart? I thought that his observations were interesting and in some cases fascinating. For example, he took a decidedly non-comedic stance on “Art Is Dead” in Words, Words, Words in 2010.

But as he has gotten older Burnham has grown and become a stronger critic. This brings us to his new Netflix special Make Happy, which is hilarious as normal, but features the most moving section of comedy he’s had to date. Inspired by Kanye West’s live rants during “Runaway,” Bo uses roughly the same instrumental to make keen observations on Pringles and his own job as a comedian.

This is a big moment for him with regards to emotional honesty in front of strangers in a more direct manner than before. But the special has an additional track that isn’t played in front of an audience, a song that brought tears to my eyes when listening to the painful contemplation in his voice.

It’s a troubling, universal question that stands as the thesis statement for Make Happy. We don’t leave things in a particularly bright spot here, but that’s precisely the point. This phase of Bo Burnham’s life is going to be fascinating to watch. Now 25, he’s been famous for a decade – no hyperbole – and has had to live a performer’s life while everyone else was finding themselves.

It makes you feel empathetic to him that he’s had struggles with mental health and, as a fan, I genuinely hope this doesn’t continue to plague him. As a human I hope he’s okay. He doesn’t offer specifics in his set, but it’s obviously not healthy.

But let’s go back to our earlier question, all ending comments aside – is Bo smart? Is he capable of being emotionally moving? Absolutely, and that is sparked from an impassioned critique of modern society. The short version being that we have become a perverted society with regards to performance because of social media – a critique that he nails, in my opinion.

This moment, his honesty and knowledge about performance and how it has impacted culture over time – especially given he came to prominence alongside Twitter and Instagram, not after – lead me to think he actually is indeed as smart as I thought and hoped.

It’s not critical for our best comedians to directly address what our world is today, but those that do become some of our strongest voices and most memorable names – Carlin, Colbert, Stewart, Pryor, C.K., etc. Bo Burnham has an understanding of where we are today that is served well by his age and early experience. With the maturity he’s shown over the course of his recent career, it’s not farfetched to think he might become one of the most notable comedic voices of this era.

Burnham is reportedly taking a break from performing in the interim after ten years of devising his stage shows down to exact timing. This makes sense and is exceedingly fair, but if this trajectory keeps course, we need him back as a society sooner than later. Let’s find a way to make Bo happy.