Austin Nightlife Review: Bo Burnham’s “what.”

Oh boy, Bo! What a show!

When I was in college, a studious liberal arts major, I would spend hours analyzing poetry – the meaning of the words, the stylistic history behind it. I wondered about the autobiographical relevance and a whole bunch of other things that made reading poetry fun. In college, I could have easily said something both insightful and pedantic about the show Austin Nightlife went to see on Thursday, Bo Burnham’s “what.”, but it’s been over three years since graduation and I’m way out of practice. So, here’s my layman’s impression of the show.

Austin Night Life BoBurnhamAustinNightlife Austin Nightlife Review: Bo Burnhams what.Anyone who’s heard Bo Burnham before will be familiar with his unique take on musical comedy. If you haven’t, well, how to describe it?

Bo is first and foremost a wordsmith and a poet. His ability to create intricate rhymes on seemingly any topic and to recite them ver batim and at speed is the heart of his act. And though he’s little more than a kid, just 22 years old, it’s hard to remember that when listening to him go. There is no sense of immaturity or naiveté in his societal commentary, or in his sharp stabs at the institutions that draw his ire. No group, not celebrities nor Christians nor hecklers, are safe when he gets going with his act.

Bo’s material swings like an enormous pendulum over the course of his show. He will go from garnering simple laughs with poop and sex jokes, to doing fake magic tricks, and then slide into a beautifully written song he’ll play on the piano about the nature of goodness in people. He is actually a trained musician, and the quality of his unconventionally structured songs really shines, and would even without the laughs. Of course, he then swings back from that into a ridiculously dramatic pantomime of self-abuse and shame, which he calls “Beating Off, in A Minor.” “The key signature,” he’s quick to clarify. “Not the felony.”

This tour marks the third commercial release Burnham has had in just four years. He recorded his first, self-titled special for Comedy Central just days after his eighteenth birthday, making him the youngest comedian to do so. He followed that up the next year with his album, Words, Words, Words, and is now touring this third special, simply titled, “what.” Earlier this year, Burnham also had a self-produced TV show running on MTV, but this was cancelled following the first season. Amid much of the criticism and reasoning for why the show didn’t take off, many point fingers at Burnham’s attempt to direct high-level material at his own generation of viewers, viewers with a typically shorter attention span and sense of patience. Bo himself dismissed these sorts of criticisms though, singing praise to his peers.

“I don’t think MTV’s audience is dumb. I don’t think young people in general are dumb or stupid or shallow. I love my generation. I really do. I believe that the ‘internet generation’ (or ‘cyber generation’ if you want to sound even lamer) is very misunderstood and underestimated. What many older people dismiss as my generation’s short attention spans, I see as young people hunger for density, demanding that every second of material that you give them is worthy of their time. This challenge, though daunting, is a good thing. It pushes art forward.” – Bo Burnham responds to ‘Zach Stone’ cancellation: I’m the luckiest guy I know

Looking at the constitution of his audience that night, it’s fairly apparent that his generation adores him, too. The audience was so young, in fact, that I felt a little old at my ripe 25 years. But the point is, not an ounce of whit was lost on this crowd. Austin Nightlife had an amazing time at the show and we can’t wait see what Bo Burnham will come up with next!

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