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  • Writer's pictureStand-Up Comedy Historian

A Bo Burnham Article a Day — May Edition

Updated: Jan 19

This is it—the final month of Bo Burnham Historian content until I switch to writing about stand-up comedy in general!

As such, I've saved the most academically inclined media for last. These are the best articles and scholarly analyses of Bo's work that I could find online.


May 1: Bo Burnham's Age of Anxiety—While this profile of Bo is ostensibly focused on his film Eighth Grade, it offers SO much more than that.

You get a glimpse into his family dynamics, how Bo prepares for an announced gig at Largo, and his interactions with teens about the movie and world at large (he's bummed that kids have to deal with politics at such a young age, for example).

This is quintessential reading for any Bo fan!

May 2: Auspicious Debutants—this a DGA interview Bo conducted with Olivia Wilde, who was promoting her film Booksmart at the time. It's fun to read two novice directors comparing notes on their middle school/high school dramedies!

May 3: Bo Burnham and the Art of the Stand-up Special—this Vulture article taps into how Bo directed Tamborine, Chris Rock's first Netflix special.

Something stylistically that me and my DP [Andrew Wehde] both like is trying to bring very intentionally-placed extreme close-ups back into specials while taking away unnecessary jibs, bullshit crane shots, and audience cutaways that don’t really add anything to it.

Yeah, Bo really does LOVE close-up shots!

May 4: Bo Burnham made a movie to work out his anxiety. It ended up explaining our Instagram age—this Washington Post interview gets into the nitty gritty of Make Happy, Eighth Grade, and how they depict Bo's anxiety.

This is how Burnham operates. He is relentlessly observant and interrogative, always searching for seams. He wants to understand how we make what we make, and what we’re doing to each other. He’s intolerant of anything he considers exploitative. He’s nearly as ruthless with the outside world as he is with himself.

Plus, the thumbnail is Bo in his CAMERA shirt!

May 5: Bo knows his audience—this is Bo’s first New York Times interview from 2008 when he was promoting his EP. The article includes Bo's worship of Carlin and features quotes from his family members!

May 6: Ready, Set, Bo!—this very Boston-named periodical features one of the earliest interviews of Bo (just 17 years old!).

May 7: Some Questions About Phoebe Bridgers's Bo Burnham Cover—this is Jesse David Fox’s take on the official cover. He particularly nails their similarities as sensitive millennials who became famous at a young age.

For more on Bo and Phoebe's relationship, please check out my timeline.

May 8: The World As We Knew It Is Not Coming Back—this is an excellent Buzzfeed article (I know, I know) that uses That Funny Feeling as a jumping-off point to discuss our postpandemic reality.

May 9: The Content House: On Bo Burnham’s “Inside” and “The Inside Outtakes”—this recent deep dive into both specials includes the writer’s pilgrimage to Bo’s old home and the Ruhm…it really needs to be a tourist attraction in my opinion!

May 10: Could I Interest You in Everything, All of the Time?—this Australian review of Inside is one of my absolute favorites. The author discusses parasocial relationships, what the audience expects from creators, and how these expectations can be overwhelming and detrimental to art in general.

Despite the porous barrier that exists between ‘them’ and ‘us’, audiences do not have an inherent right to an artist’s personal experiences. Lorde doesn’t owe us repackaged grief, just because we’re not in the mood to feel light.

May 11: A24 Eighth Grade notes—for Bo's directorial debut, A24 posted a variety of items relating to middle school (check out Bo's eighth grade photo haha). There's also an entire issue on the "Young Internet" that was edited by Bo himself!

May 12: Bo Burnham Talks Social-Media Despair, Why Trump Is Joke-proof—in this prescient Rolling Stone interview, Bo discusses the problems of the internet and provides a description of Make Happy that could easily apply to Inside as well:

I think I found, in this show, a way to connect to people by going so inside, to find a weird form of honesty in meta-ness. The things that might come off as meta and a little inside are, strangely, me struggling to be honest and emotional. That’s the only way I feel like I can be honest, because that’s what life honestly feels like to me.

May 13: Every Addict Should Hear This Bo Burnham Speech—referencing Bo's viral Child Mind Institute clip by Bo superfan frightenedkiwi, this article is about substance abuse and how the market dictates pushing alcohol onto addicts. Pretty interesting stuff!

May 14: How Bo Burnham Is Deconstructing the Idea of 'Truth in Comedy'—it's another Jesse David Fox article, but this time it's about his take on Make Happy. He discusses Bo being a Steve Martin descendent specifically, which you can read more about in my deep-dive here.

May 15: Burnham Aims for Witty Humor—this is another early interview in which Bo discusses his success and current creative process (in 2010):

Some comedians are very right-brained; they see stuff and it inspires them. But I’m very left brain; I sit down and write jokes. For me, it’s a lot more systematic. It’s not like seeing something and being inspired by it or an idea. It’s usually sitting down and writing words and breaking down words. It’s much more mathematical than the way most comedians write.
I don’t ever want my show to be some impossible cryptic puzzle that no one can decipher, but I like putting those little complicated things, like little nuances that you won’t find until you’ve listened to it a few times.

May 16: Why Bo Burnham Should Be the Next Comedian To Direct Horror—Move over, Jordan Peele! There's another comic director ready to make horror movies per this Fangoria article. Personally, I'd say the creepy and flat-out disturbing parts of Inside prove this could work well!

May 17: The Special Special—this is another Jesse David Fox piece, but it could also be described as how Bo and Jerrod (along with The Bear's Chris Storer) helped change the artistic intent of stand-up specials:

But it wasn’t until Bo Burnham’s 2016 Netflix special, Make Happy, that the special broke open as an aspirational form. Burnham and his co-director, Christopher Storer, drew material from two live performances, as is typical with special tapings, but they also used footage filmed without an audience.
In both projects, Carmichael and Burnham deprioritized the live stage experience in service of their goals for the filmed piece.

May 18: Why the Mental Health of a Stand-up Comedian Is No Laughing Matter—From Bo to Maria Bamford to the late Robin Williams, funny people often struggle with anxiety and depression. This article discusses the importance of comedy and how comics can better themselves when they address their mental health also mentions Bo and James Acaster as clear examples of the latter:

The sheer act of turning something into a joke is also the act of processing an experience, of gaining perspective on it. It can, and should, be a joyful, soul-nourishing act.
For empirical proof, watch Mr James Acaster’s Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999, which tackles therapy, professional disappointments and heartbreak and is, to my mind, the finest and funniest piece of stand-up comedy ever created.
In 2010, Mr Bo Burnham, then a 19-year-old YouTube star riding the crest of a viral wave for his witty, smutty songs, came to the Edinburgh Fringe and blew everyone away with his live show, Words, Words, Words, which won an Edinburgh Comedy Award. When asked why he’d opted to come to Scotland to perform night after night in a small sweaty theatre – something he had no need to do – he said, “Performing is my favourite way to be.” I know exactly what he means.
Burnham’s special is so spectacularly good that it cooked up a whole new type of anxiety – how can I possibly ever use comedy to explore my own inner life in ways that Bo Burnham hasn’t already done far more brilliantly?

May 19: Bo Burnham on Playing "I'm the Nice Guy" Guy in Promising Young Woman—this is one of my favorite PYW interviews with Bo that gets into how he was doing pre-Pandemic.

Bo touches on lots of subjects, including a discussion of Sesame Street (will it ever come out?), John Mulaney's Sack Lunch Bunch, and that he was working on a "secret movie" (not Inside) that we'll never know about until Bo spills the beans haha

Yeah, I’m doing something very, well, I’m still really figuring it out and it doesn’t benefit from a description. It totally doesn’t. It genuinely doesn’t.
It wouldn’t. No, no, actually, I’m thinking you’re doing the first interview and I have to really get used to just realizing how not to talk about this. But, yeah, this was just the perfect thing to come along to do when I was sitting at home banging my head against a wall.
I want the whole world to be full of that. And I’m a huge fan of John, so John can do no wrong in my mind.

John feels the same way about you, Bo!

May 20: Bo Burnham's Inside begs for our parasocial awareness—the concept of parasocial relationships has become more mainstream since Bo first mentioned it in what.

As such, this article dives into content creation and how social media exacerbates these inauthentic and one-sided relationships.

May 21: Bo Burnham's Inside and the Foucauldian Ethics of the Self—this APA article addresses the issue of performance in modern times, particularly our online personas. Great scholarly resource, plus it mentions one of my favorite intellectual concepts that perfectly embodies what it feels like to be on social media: the panopticon!

May 22: Not Inside, Not outside: Bo Burnham And Digital Dualism—this scholarly article gets at the heart of Bo's works, particularly his fixation on the digital world and hyper self-awareness. The author contends that this "digital dualism" is causing mental issues for younger generations who are growing up online:

Are we, biologically, supposed to have access to all versions of ourselves? Are our memories and minds arranged in a way that releases some of the pressure of self-awareness, let alone self-awareness that can be seen and commented on by millions of strangers? This newer layer of self-consciousness and comparison may contribute to rising anxiety, depression, and dissociative disorder rates in more ways than one.

May 23: Bo Burnham: Inside retains magnetic hold on Gen Z, one year later—this one-year anniversary article goes into great detail about how Bo's masterpiece affected, and continues to affect, the younger generations:

Gen Z fans told me that Inside felt like a breath of fresh air, a brand new type of self-aware humor that was uniquely poised to represent them at a critical moment.
“My feelings of validation were overwhelming,” said Daniella. “Watching the special made me realize that what I was feeling was understandable and nothing to be ashamed of. I wished I had gotten this kind of empathy from my own family members rather than from a man who does not even know I exist.”
I, personally, found myself roused and optimistic while interviewing young people who remained dedicated to social change despite exhaustion and suffering mental health. If Inside helps inspire them to keep chipping away at the ceiling of progress and remind them that they’re not alone in the fight, I’m a believer in its legacy.

I'm an elder millennial, but I can definitely relate to your hyperfixation and feeling comforted by this weird-looking dude as well, kids!

May 24: Welcome to the Internet: Millennial & Gen Z Ennui—this article goes into the ways Bo represents Millennial concerns such as mental health awareness, particularly in terms of how oppressive the Internet and social media can be:

But Burnham is also candid about the toll the internet has taken on his mental health. More broadly, Inside is about the fraught relationship we all have with technology and our mental health.
Of course, anti-work, anti-establishment, and anti-capitalist sentiments are nothing new in young people. Banksy rose to fame in the 90s with art evoking the same feelings; younger artists and activists have been recoiling from “the system” for generations. But what’s unique about new generations is how aware of everything we are, thanks to the internet and mobile and social media.

May 25: Staying "Inside" with Bo Burnham: Generation Z, the Internet and the Mental Health Crisis—this article discusses Zoomers (notice a theme?) and Bo's masterpiece, specifically how the generation is struggling with loneliness and being perpetually online:

For those born before 1996, whose childhoods were either completely void of personal devices or who might have only shared a family computer in their formative years, the ability to “digitally cleanse” may come easy. But for a generation whose digital world is inextricable from the real world — as dizzying digital advancements continue while, simultaneously, pandemics and severe weather due to climate change keep mass populations indoors — cleanses are temporary fixes to a real and ongoing problem.
The special is, at its core, a rumination on the relationship between the internet, the socio-political state of the world amidst a global pandemic, and one man’s subsequent descent into a deep and dark depression. In other words, it’s right up Gen Z’s alley.
To put it another way: The longer you scroll and the more content you consume, the more the fun and doom on display in the digital world blur together to become one in the same.
Burnham has not spoken with press about “Inside,” so, while it’s hard to say for certain what his intent for the special was, there seems to be a trail of breadcrumbs in his recent body of work leading those who dig to a central message: Generation Z can’t take up the fight against climate change, the pervasiveness of the internet and the mental health crisis alone.

May 26: New Yorker Inside reviews—the prestigious literary magazine had two separate reviews of Bo's masterpiece.

The first by Rachel Syme was published just days after the special premiered and discusses how it demonstrates the common plight of terminally online people.

We all have multiple personalities now; we are performing constantly. It’s exhausting. It’s exhilarating. It’s making us manic. It’s making us depressed, and never more so than during this past year, when many of us were isolated, our faces pressed up against our laptops like homesick sailors peering through portholes.
One of the leading auteurs of the mediated mind, the thirty-year-old comedian Bo Burnham, has a new Netflix special, “Inside,” that captures, with a frenzied and dextrous clarity, the unmoored, wired, euphoric, listless feeling of being very online during the pandemic.

The second is a look at the "cinematic selfie" and how Bo directing himself creates a "virtual dialogue" that exemplifies how it feels to be alive in modern times.

May 27: Olivia Rodrigo, Bo Burnham, And The Yearning Of The Self-Conscious Imagination—in this British article, the writer compares Bo's masterpiece to Olivia Rodrigo's critiques of social media in her music and even incorporates the works of Samuel Coleridge into the discussion. Fascinating take!

May 28: All Eyes On Me—in this analysis of the cinematic elements of Inside, the writer goes to great lengths to explain how the special is a film about filmmaking and breaks down the three elements of movies: Shot, Screen, and Spectator. There is also discussion of where you watch films and how the screen size affects your perception:

When you are looking at your phone, you domineer it, lording over the images because they are literally smaller than you. When you are in a movie theater, you are smaller than the screen; you are subjugated before an image rather than subjugating the image—it overwhelms you, engulfs you, sweeps you up in its arms and carries you away.

May 29: What's the Deal with Water Bottles?—this really fun interactive article lists all of the most notable water bottles in comedy specials throughout history...with what. making an obvious appearance (He meant to knock the water over!)

Fun fact: I tweeted at the author, Jason Zinoman, last year that he'd forgotten Bo's quip in Make Happy about label-less water (Nothing tastes better than not getting sued)!

May 30: The 100 Greatest Stools in Stand-up Special History—#InsideTurnsTwo and my site was launched one whole year ago!

To celebrate, here's an amazingly specific list by Vulture of stools in comedy specials (Inside came in as the second most memorable scene with the piece of furniture holding a clock).

An alarm clock sits atop the stool with shafts of light illuminating its menacing glow as it tiptoes toward the witching hour. Burnham is shrouded in darkness next to the clock’s glow. The onward march of time triumphs over man’s hesitation and backward-looking regret. All this, communicated by a stool.

May 31: Best Actor of 2021—this is one of the most prestigious and bizarre things to have happened in the fandom. Out of nowhere, Bo did a photoshoot with the New York Times as part of their Best Actors of the Year spread. Considering Bo had been MIA since the Emmys in September, we had NO idea he'd put out such provocative and gorgeous pictures (but boy were we thankful for them!).

I also wrote a pretty extensive post on Tumblr for the one-year anniversary of this incredible photoshoot, which you can read here.


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