Bo Burnham: Words, Words, Words, Pleasance Dome
Wednesday 11 August 2010
He may look like the older brother of Justin Bieber, but don't let the youth and fragility of the 19 year-old American comedian Bo Burnham fool you. This is his "United States of Whatever" and he has come to kick some serious comedy butt.
The slender teen opens by discarding, hither and thither, the pages of a pile of British newspapers while Jay-Z's "Hard Knock Life" plays. Rather than displaying a casual attitude to his press cuttings, this overture hints at the informed discomfort Burnham has about the rest of the world – and his own art.
How, then, to kick against this malaise? In song, in stand-up and in poetry. Burnham started performing in his bedroom, posting his lo-fi videos on YouTube for his family's amusement. Sixty million hits later, with a full-length LP, a Comedy Central special and a forthcoming movie with Judd Apatow under his belt, he's making his Fringe debut in front of a well-lit, close-up expectant audience.
With a world-weariness beyond his years Burnham's compositions ask how do we get through a life that gives us famine, disease, overbearing religion, heartbreak and where art may or may not be dead. "What would Jesus do? Stop, think and not exist," proffers the young comic who would prefer the title "prodigy".
"When life gives you lemons you probably just found lemons," he further muses, proving that he has mastered the kind of American absurdism that is common to the country's best comics. It's no wonder that he has already been touched by the hand of Apatow back home.
Words, Words, Words quickly resembles the scattered newspapers on the ground, snippets of this, snippets of that, from haikus and one-liners to songs such as "Ironic" that should help to erase Alanis Morissette's failed attempt at the subject. Elsewhere, rap-style compositions will get you bopping as well as laughing, and a beat poem that reverses the chronology between biblical stories and The Lion King has an unsettling and amusing verve about it.
Pacing about between the parts of the stage reserved for prose and song, Burnham builds his own pressure. He apologises for lulls but it's all part of a plan to woo us, a battle he wins early on. Yes, some lyrics could be more clearly enunciated and perhaps the show is rather flighty, but the cumulative effect feels like being given your favourite collection of Far Side and Peanuts cartoons. Enduring words and images you'll want to treasure.
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