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Edinburgh 2013: Bo Burnham - The wunderkind of comedy keeps his edge


Julian Hall
Monday 12 August 2013 11:21 BST

"The problem with Bo Burnham is that he's 22 and better at what he does than anyone else in the world." So tweets one of the American wunderkind's fans after tonight's masterclass in stand-up and musical and physical comedy.

They're dead right. It's a 'problem' for other comics on the Fringe, and it's a 'problem' for Burnham, who quickly went from YouTube sensation to live phenomenon, to top what he does and to mine his busy psyche in order to do it.

A young, exhilarated 770-strong crowd is whipped up into a frenzy by Burnham's David Copperfield-meets-Michael Jackson romp of an opening which lays out self-flagellation as his chosen path (it's a glitz blitz on fame) while peppering it with comedy tropes and rug-pulls.

"Is he ski-ing, or is he in a gay porn", sings the gangly young man while gyrating back and forth. Now you see it, now you don't duplicity is at the heart of Burnham's set. A bathos battle played out between the impulses of his left and right brain further underlines the disorientation. "There is something about her, I just didn't realise it" enthuses his creative right brain. "Tits" abruptly informs his matter-of-fact left brain.

The forces employed in this cerebral contortion: suggestions about his masculinity; the perception of him as a know-all, comedy smartarse and a general malaise about the human condition, cause Burnham to seek some low-brow expressions, but he can still stop along the way to nail schadenfreude and omnipotence.

"You're not my children/ You're just a bad game of Sims" he sings from "the point-of-view of god". After nailing the divine, what is left? Where is he taking us? "Art is still alive, nothing is real" he asides, while in an irresistible flow. Whatever happens, none of us will truly know him, a point that unites performer and punter.

"How can anybody know me when I don't even know myself?", sang an angst-ridden Matt Johnson on TheThe's classic lament "Giant". It's an anthem tailor-made for the comedian, but Burnham probably knows himself better than any 22-year-old ever did. Please let him never admit it, it's best for all of us.

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