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  • Writer's pictureStand-Up Comedy Historian

Bo Burnham and Writing

Updated: Dec 2, 2023

Bo considers himself to be a writer first and foremost. In addition to his booming comedy career, Bo has penned an entire book of poetry called Egghead and has written a handful of screenplays.


While he often jokes about his multi-hyphenate career, Bo prides himself on his writing expertise, a talent that has led to him winning major accolades like Best Original Screenplay at the WGAs for his film Eighth Grade.




And even if you've read my comprehensive primer and think you know everything Bo has written professionally, I've got a surprise for you—he has written many other items throughout his career that I haven't touched on at all before!


As such, I thought it would be useful to gather together all of Bo's various writings in one location for ease of reference.


Let's check them out!


A book foreword


For his first AMA, Bo got a surprise visit from the co-creator of the dark webcomic series Cyanide & Happiness.



While this interaction may have appeared to be a joke between the two, Bo actually did end up writing the foreword for the collection of webcomics in Stab Factory!



I can remember it like it was yesterday. Pop was out gathering firewood for the winter while Mother stayed inside, tending as best she could to the lilacs wilting in the kitchen window. I was sitting on the cold tile playing with a wooden hoop by Mother's feet. It was then, with Mother by the lilacs and I by her feet, that my dear sister Bedelia burst into the kitchen.
"Mother! Brother! I've just found the most wonderful thing!"
"What is it, Bedelia?" Mother moaned.
"Well," Bedelia answered, "you know how the internet has become neutered and corporatized? And that the only people fighting that corporatization are anarchic sociopaths? So the internet has been reduced to a fight between soulless media conglomerates and entitled misanthropes?"
"Sure, I do!" Mother moaned louder.
"Well, I found this comic! It's called Cyanide & Happiness. It's smart and funny and sad and touching and horrifying and lovely and depressing—sometimes all at the same time!"
"Like life!" I said, saying my first words ever.
"Exactly!" Bedelia exclaimed, "C & H is a beacon of hope. A symbol of what the internet could have been—and still could be! A comic done by people, for the people, to the people, through the people. Hilarious, subversive, clever, unapologetic art. Art that could have only been made now. Because it is now. Do you understand Mother? Brother? The internet can be a wonderful place. Just as long as Cyanide & Happiness keep doing good work."
"And as long as they stay on the internet," I replied. "And don't do something stupid like, you know, print out their comics and put them in a dying medium."
"They wouldn't do that," Bedelia asserted.
But she was wrong. And Pop came in shortly after. The firewood was rotten and unusable. It was going to be a long winter.

The writing is very Bo, naturally, and I love how the Mother character just moans her replies haha.


Shakespeare writes a local ad


Bo was active in his creative writing as well as his music and comedy while in high school.


Robby 2000 even included some clever jokes in his yearbook entry. Love "A Wok to Remember" and the Activities numbers gag!



Anyway, here is a poem he wrote that parodies a classic New England commercial for Giant Glass. It's surprisingly similar in setup to If Shakespeare Had Written a Porn from Words Words Words (albeit less vulgar), and I adore the fancy font he chose for it!




Say brass, or stone, or earth should strike thy car,
Who wouldst thou call if thy wind's shield should break?
A web of fragile cracks unseen from far
To save for love, if not for safety's sake.
So when the hail or shots or cats hath ceased,
Pick up thy phone and dial Giant Glass,
Or lest you ride a carriage pulled by beast,
And all the weary townsmen see your ass.
If Giant's green the road must needs you go,
To Giant Glass and not to poser worse.
With ratings high up o'er the prices low
And leave with lightened heart and heavy purse.
1-800-54-GIANT
1-800-54-GIANT
Bo Burnham '08

Two short-lived blogs


In 2009, Bo decided to create a Wordpress blog to capture his musings while on the road touring and promoting his eponymous CD/DVD. Called "Bo Burnham Blog" (gotta love his alliteration!), the blog only had a scant number of entries but still exists.


The blog is full of witty writing, and it's particularly funny how often he discusses popcorn in his comedy (especially how hard it is to microwave apparently lol).



stranded in the airport...popcorn
what's up?
that was rhetorical.
so i came out to indianapolis to do the bob and tom radio show and the myspace secret show**. little did i know that my flight would be cancelled. the goddang (pontius) pilot didn't show up. huff. now I'm stuck in the airport with nothing to do, so i thought, hey! why not write a blog? and even though a bunch of answers flooded into my head after that, the boredom took over.
segue.
here’s a story. i was walking through the terminal a few minutes ago, when I came upon a popcorn store. i went inside. i browsed the shelves. they had every kind of popcorn you could imagine (i think that place was owned by the lovechild of orville redenbacher and bertie bott). and even though they had chocolate popcorn, and caramel popcorn, and blueberry popcorn, and snozzberry popcorn, they were missing ONE flavor – popcorn flavored popcorn.
i asked the woman at the front, “excuse me, do you have any plain popcorn?”
she reacted as if i asked her, “excuse me, can i rape you?”
she answered “this is a gourmet popcorn store.”
so i guess, more literally, she reacted as if i asked, “excuse me, is this a gourmet popcorn store?”
so i asked, “so, do you have any plain popcorn?”
she answered, “no.”
i asked, “really?”
she answered, “yes.”
i asked, “so how do you make the blueberry flavored popcorn? do you change it when it’s still a kernel***? do you alter it genetically? Because if not, you must just put weird blueberry flavoring onto PLAIN popcorn.”
she stared at me.
she went into the back and gave me small bag of plain flavored popcorn.
it wasn’t good. i should’ve gone with blueberry.
well i need to go now. it's only 2 more hours until my flight and i should start staring at the ceiling before i run out of time.
oh, and thanks to everybody who bought my album yesterday! i'm trying to beat the lonely island's "incredibad" in sales this week. it's operation "beat the jizz out of their pants." if i don't defeat them, i will watch "Hot Rod."
take it easy.
bo.
**is "myspace secret show" not the creepiest name for a show you've ever heard? i think it was sponsored by dateline nbc.
***or "colonel" if it's qualified

Here's his first entry in his other attempt at a blog (also from 2009) per Reddit:

nonsense and F.A.Qs
i never know what to do when i'm home. i play piano. i work. i eat. but once in a while i'll be stuck in the tar pits of boredom. like i am now. so why not write a blog? just to set the scene: i am alone in my bedroom, in my underwear, sitting on my bed, alone. well, not completely alone. i hired the old woman down the street to periodically throw tumbleweeds across the room just to enhance the mood.
so anyways, how are you? seriously. answer! scream it into the computer monitor like a crazy person! i'm going on the road for about three weeks tomorrow. the trip goes from d.c. to madison to alaska to portland to seattle with other things in between. hopefully i'll see some of you out there. it really has been incredible meeting all of you. since i was very little i wanted to be a comedian. i would do "bo shows" when i was like 3. they were very professional and had jewish writers. and now all of you are allowing me to live my dream. so thank you. *tear* (which cascades down my face, hits the floor, slips between the floorboards, soaks into the earth and awakens george carlin. AN ATHEIST ZOMBIE? RUN FROM THE IRONY!)
the shows have been great. people are responding very well to my new material...i don't know why i phrased that like a mad scientist. i'm very excited about my new show. i'm going to continue to post on youtube, but i want my live show to be new and exciting for all of you when you see it.

Bo also included a few questions and answers, but I couldn't find the complete list—just this partial snapshot online.

now, i will answer some F.A.Qs
when is your birthday? august, 21st. 1990
how tall are you? 6'5"
really? yes.
why did you post videos on youtube? honestly, i don't remember. that shows how confused i was. but i'm very glad i did.
did your family really think you were gay? i think so.
are you? no.
but like, are you? no.

A song/poem in progress


Bo let us behind the curtain in 2011 to catch a rare glimpse of how his mind works. As a word nerd, I find notes and palimpsests like this absolutely fascinating!



Dear good all-seeing being
My way or the highway yahweh
The blue-balled anti-masturbator, the great all-loving faggot hater
I'd like to thank your Holy Might
For making me both rich and white
And though this is your day of request [sic]
I come to you with one request
There's so much pain beyond this steeple
Wars and drugs and homeless people
A world in darkness needs your light
But I'm sure your schedule's pretty tight
But my dog's having leg surgery
Sadness where there should be joy
Hate and rape and Soulja Boy [note to move this up to proper position]

Debra
Messing's fingers in a holy place
Hail Mary full of grace
Not in heaven
Christians on 9/11 [crossed off]
But I know...younger
For guys or

Our father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name
Hollow be thy promises
And shallow be thy shame
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
From small mistakes be slavery and 9/11 (?)
On earth as it is in heaven [note to move this up]

As you can see from my poor transcription, this Tumblr post includes Bo's early rendition of Rant, complete with the Debra Messing line [Ed. note: For an explanation of that particular lyric and more, please check out my glossary of obscure terms.].


But did you catch another familiar section scribbled at the bottom of the page? Yes, Bo fans should be able to pick out the lines from his fantastic Egghead poem Our Father.



It looks like he just lifted the lyrics and used them in his 2013 poetry book. Bo is nothing if not resourceful!


Bo's Tumblr blog


Bo's bose


As I had noted before, the previous photo of Bo's lyrics came from his now-deactivated Tumblr blog that he used from 2011 to 2013 to promote what., Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous and Egghead.


While he mainly reblogged other posts, Bo did write some compelling responses of his own. ***Apologies that this is in reverse chronological order, but just read it from the bottom up if you need to have the posts follow sequentially!


I wanted the book to engage a wide variety of tones and feelings -- from seriousness to silliness and from elation to melancholy. This particular poem is from the perspective of a man who has just hanged himself. I thought it was interesting to write a poem from the perspective of someone who has just hanged himself and is pretty nonchalant about it. That someone is not me, and that's half the fun of writing -- being able to put yourself in foreign situations and see things from others' perspectives (and to empathize with them). The poem is definitely dark and a little unsettling but the page before this was a poem about flies buzzing around dog poo. The world is full of dark and light and I just wanted the book to reflect that :)


This is the cover of my poetry book "EGGHEAD or, You Can't Survive on Ideas Alone" which will be available October 1st! It says "advanced uncorrected proofs not for sale" -- which means it's not the official book. It's over two hundred pages of poems by me and (wonderful) drawings by my very talented friend Chance Bone. Also I just have large hands, the book is a normal sized [sic].
I hope you find it silly and weird and sad and sweet. I had so much fun writing it.

The End of Zach (for now)
Hello.
As some of you may already know, yesterday MTV decided to not renew "Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous" for a second season. AKA, they canceled it. The three remaining episodes will air this week—the tenth episode will air TONIGHT at 11pm and the final two will air this SATURDAY, back-to-back, also at 11 pm. The cancellation adds a nice bit of poetry to the arc of the final episodes, as Zach finds himself running out of money and possibly losing his beloved cameras (and show) forever.
Though my initial reaction yesterday was disappointment, that feeling was fleeting and soon gave way to thankfulness—thankfulness for being able to have made 12 episodes of television in the first place and a greater thankfulness for having had the opportunity to share them with you. Your response has been amazing and so appreciated.
I don't have much interest in going into why I think the show didn't get as many viewers as we would've hoped (promotions, re-runs, wouldacouldashoulda). I do, however, want to emphasize what, in my opinion, is NOT a reason for the show's lack of viewership. I don't think MTV's audience is dumb. I don't think young people in general are dumb or stupid or shallow. I love my generation. I really do. I believe that the "internet generation" (or "cyber generation" if you want to sound even lamer) is very misunderstood and underestimated. What many older people dismiss as my generation's short attention spans, I see as young people hunger for density, demanding that every second of material that you give them is worthy of their time. This challenge, though daunting, is a good thing. It pushes art forward.
I believe young people deserve smart and thoughtful material. I hope that we made a show that challenges and respects the sensibilities of young people—and by that virtue, can also be enjoyed by people much older than the typical MTV-er (which I think is me, actually—and also my mom loves the show, SCORE).
So, is Zach Stone over forever? At MTV, I think so. But who knows? When making the show, I had kind of thought/sensed that it may be a one season show (like Lisa Kudrow's "The Comeback"), so we made sure this season could stand alone as its own contained thing. But if you guys continue to watch the show and show it to friends, it very well may have a second life somewhere else (and anyway I think the show is re-watchable, eh?).
But anyways, looking forward, I will be releasing a book of poetry and a new stand-up special, in that order, later this year! Woo! I'm very excited to show you all this stuff. In the last three years, I've been working on these three projects (Zach, poetry book, special), and I'm very excited to share the latter two with you in the coming months.
If you liked the show, I am sorry that you won't be getting more of it soon. But please don't feel sorry for me. I am the luckiest guy that I know. And my experience with "Zach Stone" has only affirmed that belief.
Thank you all so very much.
Bo.

While there WAS a second season of The Comeback since Bo wrote this message, he was right about a second life for Zach—it's now streaming on Netflix!


A screenshot from December 2021 when ZSIGBF was added to Netflix


Wow! Thank you so much for the writing this [sic]! I'm glad to see people warming up to Zach. He's very hard to like at first (or at least was for me), but hopefully it gets easier to once you learn that he doesn't like himself very much either. I love funny and sad!

THANK YOU
Thank you to any and all of you who came out to see me on this leg of the "what." tour. It was so great meeting all of you guys. I hope you liked the show. And thank you to everyone who has made Zach Stone gifs and drawings and collages and other weird shit. It's been so cool seeing the response from you guys. Another new episode airs tonight at 1030 on MTV and its one of my favorites [sic]. I may sound like a broken record at this point, but if you like the show, please spread the word. It's the only way that the show can continue. But really thank you for all that you've done so far, in supporting my live show and my tv show. You've all given me a life that I didn't dare dream of and I am unspeakably grateful for it. You're great. Bo.

The episode he is referring to is the sex tape one—a favorite of mine too!



Hello whoever's listening.
I wanted to let you guys know that my show, "Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous" will finally be airing May 2nd at 1030pm on MTV. It's something that I've been working on for a long time now and I'm very proud of it. There's a lot to be made fun of when it comes to young people's desperate need to be famous, and to be able to do it on MTV -- the place where many of those needs are cultivated -- is lots of fun (and MTV was very nice to have a sense of humor about itself),
Lately, a lot of people have been asking me if I died or stopped doing comedy. I've been working a lot over the last few years, but I know it seems like I've just disappeared since officially released anything since "words, words, words." But I have no want to flood you with half-baked content just to "stay relevant." I'd rather release things when I feel that they're worthy of your attention. If it takes a few years, that's fine.
But those few years are up! I'm finally done writing my new hour of comedy. I'll tour that soon(ish) and then record the special.
A lot of great comics have started to release material much more frequently (louis ck being the best example: doing a new hour every year). I think if you can do that, more power to you. That's amazing. But for me, this last hour was made by a lot of banging my head against the wall and a long process of re-writing and going into the studio and re-writing again. I wanted this new special to be as different from "words, words, words" as "words, words, words" was to my first CD (which was a collection of my YouTube songs) -- so that took a decent amount of time. I really hope you guys enjoy the new material. Surprising you and making you think is much more important to me than feeding you dick joke songs until I'm dead (THE SPECIAL STILL HAS PLENTY OF DICK JOKES AND SONGS!).
I also I'm finishing up [sic] my poetry book that should be coming out this fall. It's full of vulgar, silly, sweet and weird poems and illustrations. Should be a fun little read while you're taking a shit or avoiding your significant other.
But yes, just wanted to update you guys. I hope you enjoy the TV show when it comes out. And the special when it comes out. And the book when it comes out. You do not need to buy any of them. There are plenty of ways to steal nowadays if you know how to use a computer.
Bo.

Yeah, I'd say what. still has its fair share of dick jokes (as do Egghead and Zach Stone haha)!



And finally, a very sweet reply to a fan's reaction to Nerds!


i really appreciate you taking the time out to write me. i don't know exactly what you're experiencing but i can guarantee you that it's temporary. and much less important than it probably feels. i know being cool and popular seems like everything at this point (or at least it did for me). but what's important is that you stay true to yourself. because when you enter the real world, the most valuable thing you can bring is all your you-ness. the world doesn't need any more hot chicks or tough guys or smooth-talkers -- the world needs more you. and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

God, Bo would be a phenomenal motivational speaker...and this is seriously making me weepy. He's such a good egg! 😭


Bo on his subreddit


After the success of Make Happy, there was a lot of speculation that Bo was depressed or even suicidal based on the ending of his comedy special.


Because of these unfounded rumors, Bo took to r/boburnham to lay down the facts to the fandom in 2016. This used to be one of the most popular posts on the subreddit, but the global phenomenon of Inside has since buried it in the annals of Reddit history.



Had no idea this sub existed. Very flattering to see you guys talking about/analyzing/picking apart the special. Bunch of "theories" on stuff that I think make much better sense than my actual intentions were. I'm a firm believer that the meaning a viewer brings to a work is more valid than what the person who made it intended it to be. So thank for you [sic] for viewing it so thoughtfully - having people react and participate in the meaning of a thing I do is all I could ever hope for.
I will NOT be lurking here - I think it'd be a little weird for me, and I also think any good discussion would be ruined by me haunting this place (and you should feel free to talk shit about me once I start selling soap or some shit in a few years).
Just wanted to stop by to say a quick thank you. And, for the reasons I stated earlier, I don't want to give any answers to anything people have been wondering about, as I think the wondering is the answer - but I will clarify this, as I've seen it discussed here and other places: I am not suicidal. Nor have I ever been. There is no need to "worry about me." This show was, for me, a healthy expression of what I think are very normal feelings given my circumstance. Worry about the dead-eyed smiling ones who are acting like everything's okay.
But again, thank you. And have a good summer.

I think you can apply a LOT of these same sentiments to his masterpiece, particularly "the wondering is the answer"!


Eighth Grade writing


With the success of Bo's directorial debut, he had accepted some gigs writing items for the acclaimed A24 film.


Case in point, Bo had edited an issue of their magazine in 2018 that's about young people on the Internet (makes complete sense given the subject matter of his movie).


Here's his introduction:


We talk about The Internet a lot.
Engagement, Influencer, Cyberbully, Blogosphere, Online Dating, Social Networking, Micro-Blogging, User- Generated Content. Why is it that most of the terms we use in order to talk about The Internet sound as if they were coined by a fifty-year-old copy editor who still uses a flip phone? Because they probably were? The quality of the language itself—sterile, self-serious, and old—is the polar opposite of what it’s attempting to describe. 
I have also talked about The Internet a lot and have tried to adjust my language to better suit it—to not sound like the dusty farts rambling on about hashtag culture. But The Internet has its own language, and it’s adjusting all the time, rapidly, aging like milk, and the thing you set out to describe honestly on its own terms will have redefined those same terms by the time you’ve finished describing it. You want to write an essay on memes? Good luck. How’s that dissertation on Gangnam Style coming along? 
Eventually, I realized that maybe the problem wasn’t my words—it was my impulse to describe it in the first place. The Internet needs no describing; it is its own description. It should be observed. It should author itself. And the people who are currently truly living it—not observing it from the outside— the people who will one day grow up to be crusty, out-of-touch losers like me, banging their head against a wall wondering why they sound so damn old—are kids.
So let’s listen. 
– Bo

In addition to that A24 zine, Bo wrote an article for the LA Times about Eighth Grade in December of that year.



I wrote “Eighth Grade” as a tribute to the young people I was seeing online that no one was paying attention to. Teens, mostly girls, soliloquizing in their bedrooms for 10 minutes at a time, staring straight into their laptop’s built-in webcam. Thousands of videos with titles like “How to Make New Friends in Middle School” or “Life Advice 54" or “Being 13 Years Old: The Dos and Don’ts.” Real kids posting videos that no one was watching — unseen, unprocessed, unadulterated by a built-in audience, desperate to express and define themselves in real time for an audience that may not be there. These vlogs (video blogs for the unfamiliar) fascinated me. They existed in startling contrast to the clean, controlled teen voice that I’d seen represented in media.
So I began transcribing these videos. Trying to capture the stutter, mumbly, staccato way that these kids spoke, backpedaled, stumbled. Yeah, well, um, so the thing about that is that it’s, um, not really THAT bad, actually or—wait, sorry, hold on. Eventually, I started writing an original voice. That was Kayla, the main character of “Eighth Grade.” The script would then explore the question I had been asking since the beginning: What was the life being lived outside of these videos? How was it different? How was it similar? I knew both answers would be meaningful to me.

Finally, Bo penned this humorous item for Landmark Theatres about his indie middle school film. It's again VERY Bo!



There are a lot of high school movies. I'm not complaining—I love high school movies. I loved high school movies when I was in middle school. I'd seen so many high school movies so young that by the time I got to actual high school, I saw it through the lens of the movies that I loved. I think it's a common and strange truth of all post-John Hughes generations: we have seen the milestones of our future experiences represented so much in media—first kisses, keg parties, graduations, proms—that by the time we actually experience them, they feel disappointing. Or bland. Or like I've been here before and thought it'd be cooler than this.
I didn't feel that way about middle school. No movie prepared me for it. Or even could have. As I got older, I understood why. We want to remember high school. We want to relive it. We want to go to the movies and sit in the dark and be back in those days when we were sort of adults but not really, and everything mattered and nothing mattered in the best possible way. Ah, high school.
Middle school? Uhhhh PASS. Those lovely days when I had no freedom and my body was exploding? The nights spent furiously trying to floss out the bits of hot dog bun lodged in my braces? The school dance when I wore Michael Jordan branded cologne and passed out from heat exhaustion? That moment when the lights of my self-awareness were suddenly turned on and I realized I'd been a complete mess my whole life and so I scrambled to fix myself only to discover that my ability to fix myself was as bad as or even possibly worse than the things that needed fixing? No, thank you.
Honestly, what kind of sick, masochistic psycho would want to see a movie about middle school?
You, hopefully! Enjoy Eighth Grade!

As a bonus, here's some interviews Bo did about his writing process:


  • WGA East (fun discussion of how Eighth Grade came to be...plus Bo discusses directing comedy specials versus films)

  • Hart Chart (the video is on YouTube, and you can see his old doggies in the background during the Zoom call)

  • Q&A (a friend let me know about this one, and it's an excellent interview. Bo also rants about Snapchat and the attention economy if that interests you)


I hope you've enjoyed these examples of Bo's writing. He certainly has a unique (and hilarious) voice, and I can't wait to see what he pens next!

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