What’s not to love about Bo Burnham?
Talented, acutely self-aware, and really, really tall: There are plenty of reasons that, despite being only 30 years old, Bo Burnham has been one of the most popular and influential comedians of the last decade. From his humble beginnings on YouTube to his full-length specials on Comedy Central and Netflix, Burnham’s musical comedy is full of self-deprecating digs, clever puns, and topically relevant meditations on humanity.
In the last few years, however, Burnham has shifted his focus from stand-up to the silver screen: In 2018, he released his acclaimed debut feature film, Eighth Grade; and last year, he starred opposite Carey Mulligan in the Oscar-nominated revenge thriller Promising Young Woman. While the jury’s still out on whether Burnham is ditching stand-up comedy entirely, recent interviews have indicated that he’s really been enjoying his time working on films, and he seems in no rush to return to the stage.
Thankfully for fans, most of Burnham’s comedy has still held up years later, from 2010’s Words Words Words to his 2016 special Make Happy. While not all his jokes meet 2021’s standards, many of Burnham’s routines have aged remarkably well, especially compared to some of his fellow white male comedians. Below, we’ve rounded up just a few of his best stand-up moments.
Burnham is no stranger to mental health issues; and at his darkest, these crises are reflected in his comedy. “Kill Yourself” is the antithesis to empty gestures of commercialized positivity, with the song’s title cleverly mimicking the oversimplification of hits like Katy Perry’s “Roar” and Sara Bareilles’s “Brave.” Life’s problems can’t be fixed with a simple song, Burnham asserts. After all, toxic positivity can lead to grisly fates, too.
“Men & Women”
You might think that a song with a sole purpose of dividing men and women by arbitrary traits is a recipe for eye roll-inducing sexism. But this is Burnham we’re talking about, a master at gracefully poking fun at masculinity: “Women are like fingers and toes, ’cause they’re easy to count on,” he croons in “Men & Women.” “Men are like ravens and crows, ’cause they hate using condoms.”
“Lower Your Expectations (If You Want Love)”
Burnham opens “Lower Your Expectations” by confidently assuring that he knows what women look for in relationships, swiftly rendering those expectations unfeasible. Naturally, however, he flips the script to poke fun at his own gender, too: “You might think your d*ck is a gift, I promise it’s not.” But despite our flaws, Burnham assures us, everyone is deserving of genuine love. And maybe it’s worth listening to his dating advice, considering he’s going on eight years in his relationship with Hustlers director Lorene Scafaria.
Burnham has been heralded as an expert in dark comedy, using the medium as an outlet for his anxiety. He summarizes this in “Sad,” a piano ballad about witnessing truly depressing circumstances: “Laughter, it’s the key to everything!” he hollers. “It’s the way to solve all the sadness in the world. I mean, not for people who are actually sad, but for the people like us who’ve gotta f*cking deal with ’em all the time.”
A longtime musician and songwriter himself, Burnham has a deep understanding of popular music — or, at least, enough to conjure his own methodical country song. Here, the comedian criticizes the millionaire “stadium country” stars who, despite singing about tractors and working-class simplicity, would rather drive a sports car than a rugged pickup truck.
“Straight White Man”
Burnham grew up in an upper-middle class small town in Massachusetts and acknowledges that he was dealt a fairly easy hand in life. “Straight White Man” satirizes the struggles of being a member in his demographic: “We used to have all the money and land / And we still do, but it’s not as fun now!”
“From God’s Perspective”
Burnham went to Catholic school as a kid, so no holds are barred when it comes to his critiques of organized religion. “From God’s Perspective” perfectly wraps up his beliefs that one shouldn’t need a bible or a nebulous, omnipotent being to dictate what’s right and wrong.
Speaking as God, Burnham shuts down homophobia, shame, and violent sexism with a fiery wit and a surprisingly heartfelt conclusion. “You pray so badly for heaven / Knowing any day might be the day that you die,” Burnham sings. “But maybe life on earth could be heaven / Doesn’t just the thought of it make it worth a try?”