Bo Burnham's Comedy Influences—Part 6: Bo and Anthony Jeselnik (published on 9/24/22)
Updated: May 20
The #boburnhamhistorian is back with another installment of Bo's comedy heroes.
This time we'll be looking at the acerbic and quick-witted master of one-liners, Anthony Jeselnik.
Anthony and Bo started in comedy around the same time and quickly became friends.
Here's what Bo said about one of his FAVORITE one-liner comics in 2010:
in my humble opinion, the best joke writer around today. and he's my friend! how cool is that? (shhhh bo, no one gives a shit.) anthony is very dark. very dark. you were warned.
Bo also provided a YouTube link, but it was taken down and no longer works, sadly.
Bo and Anthony had Comedy Central Presents episodes premiere in 2009 (Bo being the youngest comic to ever do one!), and they have performed together since on numerous occasions.
For example, they both attended Just for Laughs in 2011—you can even see Bo laughing after Anthony makes a face in this video at 5:45 in!
Bo and Anthony also appeared together on an episode of Funny as Hell along with Amy Schumer and Donald Glover in 2011 (has anyone ever seen this Canadian program? Please let me know!)
And the two have had an ongoing "feud" on Twitter, with Anthony typically roasting Bo.
For example, when Anthony saw Bo's directorial debut, he tweeted this:
"I am now going to see the new Bo Burnham film, Eighth Grade, for the sole purpose of derailing the audience Q and A afterwards."
Natasha Leggero, who is also friends with Bo, joined Anthony for the screening.
You may recognize Natasha from her show with Riki Lindhome, Another Period, or from her hilarious character on Burning Love.
Bonus Armen Weitzman connection for both shows!
Bo's no-show at the event led to some gentle ribbing and a backhanded compliment from Anthony (he called the film “unforgettable”…aww!):
"Update: Bo didn't show for the Q&A. Hard to understand how a coward could write and direct such an unforgettable film."
Bo's reply was simple but sweet:
Anthony also ripped on Bo directing Tamborine:
"Chris Rock's new Netflix special is so good, it was directed by Bo Burnham and it's still good."
And Bo writing music for Sesame Street (now likely shelved sadly) led to this hilarious tweet!
"Great to see Bo maturing as an artist."
Bo brings up Anthony performing at colleges in this interview around 15 minutes in (and makes sure to tell them not to write down "his good friend" since he knows Anthony will mock him for it).
Aside from JFL, both Bo and Anthony have appeared at the Largo a few times, with Bo typically showing up unannounced.
Here is Bo with Anthony, Chris Laker, and Jacqueline Novak at a show in 2019—her podcast Poog has another familiar face to Bo fans!
So they have been friends for many years.
But how has Anthony influenced Bo's comedic style? I'd argue that his superb misdirection, his ability to craft meticulous jokes, and his dark and often taboo topic choices affected Bo and his works.
Let's take a look!
Anthony walks a fine line between alienating the audience and catching them by surprise. His jokes pivot in ways you don’t expect—and that’s entirely on purpose!
Here’s a clip of him doing just that in his Thoughts and Prayers bit.
The audience expects him to discuss posting jokes about tragedies on Twitter; instead he turns it around so that it’s about saying “Thoughts and prayers” after mass shootings.
Anthony is so skilled at playing and subverting expectations that he is known as a master of misdirection.
That talent is also something Bo possesses and frequently employs in his comedy!
A controversial example of this is the Salt and Vinegar bit in Make Happy.
Bo sets a trap for the audience in the same manner Anthony does.
First, he says he’s going to make the white audience members "feel more comfortable."
Then, after a series of simple pairs of words (peanut butter and JELLY, macaroni and CHEESE), he gets the crowd to say the n-word, puts the lights up, and berates them for it.
Bo’s skilled misdirection here makes you rethink the performer/audience relationship and how easily you believed him and wanted to blindly follow his instructions.
He even says at the start of the show that entertainers are here to manipulate you! Haha
2. Meticulous jokes
Anthony is not only a genius at manipulating the audience via misdirection but also crafts jokes with mathematical precision.
In a recent NY Times article about the Netflix Is a Joke Festival, Anthony’s act is described as such:
"The rap against Jeselnik is that his use of misdirection can be formulaic, like a math problem, but this show was advanced calculus, an implicit rebuke to comedians relying on lazy jokes about marginalized groups."
One-liner comics know how important each individual word is to create the perfect joke, and Anthony chooses all of his terms precisely.
Here’s a classic bit from JFL in 2010:
I just read the biography about the guy who invented Super Mario Brothers.
Do you know when he was a kid people used to laugh at him…when he would kill turtles with a hammer?
Bo is similarly a perfectionist when it comes to determining the exact wording for his jokes.
His haikus, for example, are written for the greatest impact in the fewest number of words:
My aunt used to say,
“Slow and steady wins the race”
She died in a fire
3. Taboo topics
Anthony’s persona on stage is playing the devil’s advocate, and one of his favorite ways to shock the audience is by discussing subjects most people would avoid.
He’s joked about AIDS, molestation, incest, abuse, and dropping babies on the floor for starters.
Here’s Anthony talking about everyone’s favorite hot-button topic, abortion, and how he’s a great friend for helping a woman get one.
Bo, obviously, has had his fair share of controversial subjects in his comedy as well (most of which he’s disavowed since).
The song “Words Words Words,” for example, has two instances of uncle molestation jokes (Uncle Midas and Uncle Sam). Apologies for the terrible YouTube subtitles haha
And Bo has his own abortion song that he wrote when he was 14!
You can listen to it here (as well as "Sunday School," which has the excellent misdirection of the expected word that rhymes with "flag" to "Jew").
In conclusion, Anthony is the first comedic influence on Bo's list whom he is friends with as well (yes, we do give a shit, Bo!), and I'd love to see more collaborations between them in the future!
For a complete list of Bo's comedic influences, please click here.