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  • Writer's pictureStand-Up Comedy Historian

Bo Burnham's Comedy Influences—Part 7: Bo and Tim Minchin

Updated: May 20, 2023

Hi, everyone! Welcome back to my 13-part series on Bo's creative influences.

This time, we'll be focusing on Tim Minchin, the British-Australian musical comedian who helped Bo realize he could keep playing the piano during his shows and not be a "hack" comic.

As always, let's start with Bo's specific thoughts on Tim per his Facebook note in 2010:


some of you may have heard me talk about tim before. a brilliant pianist and songwriter – to put it most eloquently, and i honestly believe this – he kind of does what i do except he does it 100 times better than i do it.

While we would all agree that Bo has since surpassed Tim in terms of creativity (hell, Tim himself said that in his Instagram post about Inside lol), Bo took a lot of inspiration from the musical comedian, particularly in terms of their shared instrument of choice, their interest in religion and logic, their views on relationships and performance, and their musical aspirations.

My young friend Bo Burnham long ago outgrew me, in every way a chap can outgrow a man. With his new special, Inside, he has confirmed what I already suspected: he’s outgrown everyone. He is a beautiful man with a beautiful mind and an ever-more beautiful voice. He is funny and witty and acerbic and soulful and thoughtful and vulnerable and silly. He is an extraordinary comic, a wonderful songwriter, a brilliant filmmaker and a genuine fucking capital a Artist. If you have teenagers, watch it with them. It gets fuckin bleak, but will provoke many good convos. (If you don’t have teenagers, watch it without them).

Let's dive in!

1.Piano Playing

Both comedians are well-known for tickling the ivories. Despite Bo and his keyboard being an iconic image since the release of his masterpiece last year (seriously...look at all the so-called "copycats" on social media that are just a dude playing the piano), Tim has been indelibly linked to the instrument since he started performing at the age of nine/ten.

Although he is not classically trained (he could not read or write music like Bo), Tim plays the piano beautifully and has a singing voice not unlike that of Elton John. He also often has wild long red hair, wears dark eyeliner to make his face more expressive, and enjoys performing barefoot!

Similar to Bo, Tim sought to incorporate his musicianship with his comedic interests and helped inspire the young comic to pursue crafting thought-provoking songs in lieu of traditional stand-up. Bo specifically cites Tim as his greatest musical influence along with Steve Martin (see Part 2 for more):

Excluding (George) Carlin, who is your absolute favorite comedian?
Steve Martin. A lot of people my age know Steve Martin as the “Cheaper by the Dozen” guy, but he was one of the greatest comedians ever, and he is definitely the one that if I look at my act now, I think I’m most trying to emulate. The person that has the biggest influence on my act is him. Him or Tim (Minchin). Tim in a musical sense, and Steve’s comedy.

Tim's act is essentially a cabaret show, and Bo took inspiration from him and other musical comedians to make his shows more theatrical and over-the-top in terms of lighting, staging, and mixing poems, music, and jokes.

2. Atheism and Rationalism

Both Bo and Tim have expressed their views on faith and, while Bo has moved away from the atheism of Rant to a more agnostic viewpoint (see his discussion of church being for everyone in the H3 podcast episode), Tim is still strictly against the idea of a benevolent God watching over humanity and rails against the hypocrisy of modern Christianity.

In one of his best songs, Storm, Tim explains how a vapid woman will not accept logic and reality when it comes to modern medicine and homeopathy. Here is my favorite version of the song, a lovely animated interpretation of Tim's lyrics that is utterly delightful.

Tim also has songs about the Bible (The Good Book), the afterlife (Ten Foot Cock & A Few Hundred Virgins), and the Catholic Church (Pope song). Each one deconstructs the concept of blind faith or, as Tim puts it in Storm:

Throughout history every mystery ever solved has turned out to be...not magic.

Another very clever indictment of the concept of God's miracles is the song Thank You God, in which Tim eviscerates the story of a woman's sight being restored through prayer. The wordplay is masterful, and his misdirection via the intro sets up how preposterous the miracle is perfectly.

While his subject matter has ruffled the Church's feathers, Tim and his logical analysis of religion certainly helped Bo discuss those topics in his own music (the aforementioned Rant, Eff, and From God's Perspective being the most obvious).

My personal favorite religious song by Bo is an early draft called Oh My God. Despite later branching off to become two other songs (From God's Perspective and Channel 5 News: The Musical! on what.), Oh My God is Bo's scathing indictment of a benevolent God watching over His children and features some of his most incisive lyrics—

People give me money, but I don't know why/cuz my real collection plate is an empty cup held by a homeless guy

For more analysis of Tim and Bo's views on religion, I highly recommend this insightful video by L.C. Lupus (the transcript can be found here).

3. Relationships

Tim's musical comedy often includes messages that the listener can take with them and implement in their own lives. For example, his take on the concept of a soulmate (If I Didn't Have You) was cited by Bo on his second episode of You Made It Weird at around 9 minutes in. During this discussion with Pete Holmes, Bo mentions Tim and how he posits that if he didn't have his wife, statistically he would be in love with another person ("If I didn't have you...someone else would do").

Bo also sweetly asserts that the concept of a soulmate exists in his mind but is not instantaneous or fated—a romantic partner becomes your soulmate over time (aww).

Another form of relationship that both Tim and Bo obsess over is the one between audience and performer. As he says in Can't Handle This, Bo loves and hates his fans who flock to see him on stage. However, he also hopes to change impressionable minds by providing whatever guidance he can about the pitfalls of fame, celebrity, and the trappings of the meta hellscape of existing online.

In an interview with the Independent in 2013, Bo expresses his mixed feelings about the age of his audience:

"I try to emphasise, 'I am nothing but my content to you'. I'm not very self-hating about it and I'm definitely not hating them for it. I was young once, and enthusiastic, and didn't get things. I'm not going to roll my eyes and wish that I had a bunch of 30-year-old comedy whizzes that get all my references. That seems like preaching to the choir." He is thrilled by the idea that his subversive shtick might be the first experience some teens have of live stand-up. "But there's also a sick little desire to have them leave and be disappointed by everything they've seen."

Similarly, Tim feels an obligation of sorts to his young audience despite being an entertainer first and foremost:

I just write about what I read about or what I think about, so the intention is not to educate or change people’s minds, the intention is to make an entertaining show about ideas.
The result, inevitably, is that people are going to sit and laugh at things they feel empathy with, which is what all comedy is, it’s really, “Yeah! I understand that.” Comedy’s always about saying, “Isn’t the world like this?” and ideally, if you’re doing your job right, you should be saying, “Isn’t the world like this” in a way that people haven’t thought of and at best, that makes them laugh.
Also, I have to remind myself that a lot of my audience is young, and when I was 14 or 15 and through to my early 20s, I looked up to people in this same industry. I listened to what they had to say and thought, I want to think like that or I want to be like that, and I get emails from young people saying that they come from a religious family and I helped them to clarify their ideas. But changing people’s minds only ever works with young people, because once you get past a certain age it’s almost impossible to change anyone’s mind about anything.

Both Tim and Bo aim for their audience to be more critical of hypocrisy in the world and, as Tim says in that Den of Geek article, comedians tend to lead the way in our society because comedy is a permissive form of expression:

If you went back over the last 50 years and looked at the progression of liberal ideas, you would find that in every step of the way comedians were saying it first, not thinking it first, but saying it out loud, first because comedy is a permissive genre. I’m not putting myself in that category either, I don’t think I’m one of the edgy comedians, but I do think it has a role to play.

We see this again and again on social media, such as Bo's rant about the attention economy at the Child Mind Institute interview going viral a few weeks ago. While Bo was repeating the talking points of media analyst Douglas Rushkoff, Bo's clear explanation of how the internet works (and he is COMPLETELY correct about engagement and companies watching you to target ads more effectively—I work in marketing and know all about this firsthand) has helped open up people's eyes to the dangers of Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

If you want to learn more about this subject, please check out The Social Dilemma documentary on Netflix—it made me delete my Facebook account almost immediately haha.

4. Musicals

Tim's background is in theater, and he started writing songs when he was eleven, including one about Hitler and his dog (Little Adolf, anyone?):

I wrote a song about Hitler having a poodle at some point, I don’t know why… It was a song called Hitler Had A Poodle Too. It was a weird song about, I don’t know, it was really weird. That was in my teens at some point. I don’t know why that’s come into my head, it’s so ridiculous.

And, like Bo, Tim did not explicitly seek out comedy as a way to become famous—he would have been happy being just a piano man:

Because I’m not really trained and I didn’t grow up being told that being a musician was an option, my goals were more that, say, playing piano in a piano bar would be a dream come true.

Tim also never felt comfortable in the comedy clubs, preferring to perform in theaters that better accommodate his unique blend of interests:

The difference with my material is that I don’t set out to proselytise. I’m really an entertainer and as a comedian I have to think of things to talk about, and all I can talk about is what I think about. I was never a stand-up and never did the clubs or anything, so I don’t have that sort of innovative observation of the latest pop cultural phenomenon or reading the news and thinking, “I’ve got to find a joke about that”. I just write about what I read about or what I think about, so the intention is not to educate or change people’s minds, the intention is to make an entertaining show about ideas.

Similarly, Bo has expressed in interviews that he doesn't fit in well with the hyper-masculine environment of the brick-walled clubs and two-drink minimums:

He has never been a fan of the one-man and-a-mic set-up, nor of the "homogenising" club circuit, preferring to hone his material alone in his bedroom or the studio. He is at home performing on webcam as he is on stage.

Inside certainly proves that last sentence to be correct! Haha

In addition, Tim recommends Bo to the interviewer as a wonderful comic (aww):

Bo Burnham, I think is incredibly talented, and incredibly good, and an incredibly nice guy.

Anyway, one of Tim's largest accomplishments to date was writing the music for Roald Dahl's Matilda on Broadway.

A spectacular musical that showcases Tim's clever and witty lyrics, Matilda is a favorite of Bo and he has been spotted wearing merchandise from the show a few times!

Bo also answered a question in his 2013 AMA about the musical:

I saw you saw Matilda a few months ago! What did you think of it?
Amazing. I knew that I would love Minchin's lyrics/music but I didn't expect to like the direction/performances just as much

Bo even went on social media (including his least favorite one, Twitter) to express his deep admiration for the musical after seeing it live:

Just saw @MatildaBroadway -- music/lyrics by the great @timminchin. Was it amazing? Did I cry multiple times? WHAT'S IT TO YOU?!?!?

While Tim didn't reply to this exchange, the musical's account did:

@boburnham It's ok - we know you are a bona fide revolting child now. Break a leg on your upcoming show at @bestbuy_theater!

And Bo politely replied back:

@MatildaBroadway @bestbuy_theater thank you for the good wishes and the amazing night out!

This exchange is not the only one to occur between the two comics on social media.

In 2016, they both riffed on the silly picture of them with arms linked together when Bo tweeted that it had been exactly one decade since he first uploaded his video on YouTube and became famous.

Bo and Tim also complimented each other in a very cute manner in 2017:

Bo is like me but younger, smarter, taller, better-looking & funnier.
hey hey hey now don't just cherry pick my strengths, you're way more long-haired and named-Tim.

And the following year, Tim gushed over Bo's directorial debut Eighth Grade:

Everyone should watch this movie. @boburnham is a genuinely brilliant young man.

Most recently, Tim was raving last November about Inside while on a podcast about musical comedy called Songs in the Key of Laugh, saying around 51 minutes in how amazing the special is and how Bo makes him want to retire from comedy.

But Tim has not retired! In fact, he was inspired by Inside to pursue his passions again. And it's possible that the inspiration was symbiotic, since Welcome to the Internet's lines about "unstoppable, watchable" appear to be an homage to Tim's ode to blow-up dolls, Inflatable You (not that Bo will ever tell us that!).

Tim even wrote a song called Beauty (Is A Harlot) that he uploaded on YouTube!

UPDATE: A reader named kalayojack informed me that this is actually an older song by Tim that he wrote in 2012. Thanks for the correction!

He did relate the YouTube video to Inside though!

And Tim has a new film called Back that just premiered in the UK yesterday. Lucky Brits...hopefully it will become available in the United States as well.

My greatest desire is for the two to collaborate on a musical (so that Bo can nab that Tony he deserves), and per Bo's 2016 AMA, that could potentially happen in the future!

Would you ever collaborate with Tim Minchin? If so, any ideas?
I'm friends with Tim and we've talked about it. If there's something that works for both of us we'd love to. He's scary good.

And Tim replied similarly in his own 2020 AMA:

Can you imagine the two of them touring again (they were on the same bill for Just for Laughs previously)? A girl can dream haha.

Thanks for reading this deep-dive post into Bo and Tim. I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving!

For a complete list of Bo's comedic influences, please click here.

2 commenti

21 apr 2023

A small correction - "Beauty" is actually an old song, from his 2010-2012 tour.

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Stand-Up Comedy Historian
Stand-Up Comedy Historian
06 mag 2023
Risposta a

Thanks for letting me know! I will correct that and cite you as the Tim expert ✌️

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