I’ve been a fan of Bo Burnham for a while now. I remember making the 3-hour-long drive from college back home, listening to his album Words Words Words, and laughing my ass off — while at the same time being extremely impressed by his timing, wit, and complicated prose.
My affinity for his work only grew with the release of what. Sure, Bo is hilarious, but he’s also clearly incredibly smart. As his musical and comedy style has evolved, so have the messages behind his songs. “Repeat Stuff” is a perfect parody of what’s wrong with pop music aimed towards little girls. “Left Brain, Right Brain” shows a deeper insight into his inner psyche. My personal favorite, “From The Perspective Of God,” is an incredible call for us to be kind to each other just for the sake of kindness.
And yet none of his previous work even comes close to what he’s accomplished with his latest special Make Happy.
I was fortunate enough to see this special live when Bo went on his national “Make Happy” tour. I was so excited when I scored the first-row center balcony tickets; he’s easily one of my top three favorite comedians and I’ve always wanted to see him perform. I’m not sure exactly what I expected when I went to his show but it definitely wasn’t what I experienced.
Now, that may sound negative. It’s entirely the opposite of that. I just never expected to leave a stand-up comedy show with tears in my eyes.
Make Happy, now available to stream on Netflix, is a masterpiece of an artist’s introspection. Sure, it’s funny. Sure, it’s offensive in places. Sure, it’s goofy as hell. But the final note it ends on — and according to rumors on social media, fueled by statements from Bo himself, it truly might be the final note — not only lets us see what’s behind Bo’s manic musical humor, but teaches us a very important lesson.
From the intro song, the tone is set, but even when I saw it in person I didn’t know what he was gearing up towards:
I can’t wrap my mind around exactly why I’m here
I know you paid money, I should be funny
Other than that — don’t know why I’m here
To make you laugh, right?
That’s only half right
Look at the world —
I don’t know why I’m here
This personal dissonance seems vague at first. If a comedian is onstage in front of you for two reasons, and one is to make you laugh, then what’s the other?
In his closing number, Bo tells us.
He leads into the final song by explaining that it’s in the vein of a Kanye West-style rant, complete with instrumental backing and vocal distortion. He then proceeds to complain about his problems — namely the fact that he can’t fit his hand into a Pringles can and that his “burrito expert” at Chipotle overstuffed his burrito without warning — and it’s not only musically perfect, but hilarious.
Then, after promising to “break it down,” he hits us with a ton of bricks.
I can sit here and pretend like my biggest problems are Pringle cans
(sighs) And burritos
But the truth is that my biggest problem’s you
I wanna please you
But I wanna stay true to myself
I wanna give you the night out that you deserve
But I wanna say what I think
And not care about what you think about it
It’s moving to watch onscreen but I can still remember how I felt as this unfolded in person. The shift of tone was so sudden it was almost jarring. Something very real, very raw was happening right in front of us. And I don’t care how many times he must have practiced and performed this song — I feel like every time he sang it to a crowd, he meant every word.
Part of me loves you
Part of me hates you
Part of me needs you
Part of me fears you
I don’t think that I can handle this right now
Handle this right now
I don’t think that I can handle this right now
Crouched center stage, lit with only one stark spotlight and manually handling the vocal distortion, Bo goes on, referencing us directly.
Look at them, they’re just staring at me
Like, “Come and watch the skinny kid with the
Steadily declining mental health
And laugh as he attempts to give you
What he cannot give himself”
I mean, seriously, the poetry in that statement. The sadness. The truth. I’m starting to sound like a simpering fangirl but seriously, I was sitting in this seat, staring at him as he shared this with us, and I was feeling something.
But I know I’m not a doctor
I’m a pussy
I put on a silly show
I should probably just shut up and do my job
So I here I go
And with that, he goes back to the burrito rant.
In the special, he finishes his set with a terse, “Thank you. I hope you’re happy” and a decidedly firm mic drop.
I could be entirely wrong, but I believe that — at least for now — that raw, real performance was Bo’s way of exiting the entertainment world. Explaining why he wanted to make us laugh but maybe, for a little while, can’t anymore.
The message, I guess you’re wondering?
Entertainers make us happy. They make us laugh, make us forget about our own lives for a little while. And that’s great. But as something of an entertainer myself, I understand where Bo’s coming from.
You need that rush of making other people happy, yet it can often come at the expense of your own happiness. Sometimes, you need to stop the entertaining and focus on yourself. You need to make yourself happy.
Most importantly, entertainers are human too, and while it may be their job to entertain us, it’s not their duty. It’s not more important than their own well-being, and we shouldn’t expect that from them.
If this is truly Bo’s exit from the comedy world, I think it’s an honorable one. I’d like to thank him for everything he’s given us over the years and say that his show in St. Louis during the spring of 2015 is something I won’t ever forget.
And most of all, I hope he’s happy.