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Bo Burnham: Words, Words, Words

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Don’t they grow up fast these days? It seems like only yesterday that Bo Burnham was the awkward, geeky fresh-faced teenager distributing the comic songs he made in his bedroom over YouTube.

But after the lo-fi videos went pandemic, he’s now an official big deal, with a Judd Apatow movie in the works and an Edinburgh show that one’s of the best in the programme.

He’s a renaissance man of comedy; singing, rapping, delivering exquisite one-liners, performing snapshot theatre pieces, reciting poetry and even haikus. He wears his prodigious talent with petulance, surly with well-placed confidence, yet still happy to expose himself as a self-loathing comic with an all-consuming neediness.

His background may lie in musical comedy, but he easily proves he’s just as inventive off keyboard. Acapella raps are layered with gags upon gags, innuendo is delivered in pun-riddled pentameter and he can coin aphorisms that will have the editors of books of quotations reaching for their overtime forms. Occasionally he has to take his foot off the genius pedal to give us time to appreciate the dense wit he fires out, yet still you have to concentrate to catch every throwaway line.

The sharp humour rewards a little knowledge, but still leaves no punter behind, with quickfire jokes about quantum physics, Greek philosophers and Salvador Dali among others. Precocious? Yes… but how many 19-year-olds do you know who can take on Shakespeare and win? Willie got pwned.

The songs are brisk and as quip-packed as you might expect, and even when you think you’re on familiar territory – the boastful rap or the tongue-in-cheek allusion to Alanis Morissette’s rightly maligned Ironic – the writing is so smart it remains full of surprises.

This is a scrapbook of a show, fragments of all manner of comic techniques included, but always the very best examples of each style. Burnham has no overarching approach or big message. The only thing he really proves is that, like the gay otter in his uncanny hip-hop spoof, he ‘blows other guys out of the water’. Catch him before he’s in the arenas.

Review date: 15 Aug 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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