YouTube comedian delivers laughs live

Review: Bo Burnham's humor is lightning-quick, literate, and at times absurdist — more along the lines of Martins, both Steve and Demetri.

Millions of people have watched YouTube celeb Bo Burnham perform his self-accompanied, self-deprecating humorous tunes. The musical comedian had a more intimate audience Friday night when about 500 saw his routine live in Syracuse.

The now 19-year-old Massachusetts native first started uploading videos — filmed with a webcam in his bedroom — to YouTube in December 2006. Since then, nearly each of his 18 videos have accumulated millions of hits, with the most popular, “I'm Bo Yo,” having more than 11 million total views. He has since been featured on Comedy Central, finishing second in Comedy Central's 2010 Stand-up Showdown, and is currently working on the script for an upcoming film with director and writer Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, 40-Year-Old Virgin).

Photo: Janna Dotschkal
Bo Burnham experiments with new material in front of an audience of 400 at The Westcott Theater Friday night.

For a kid whose comedy career started with web videos in his bedroom, donning a tie-dyed T-shirt and a guitar or playing a keyboard next to his bed, Burnham seemed totally at home behind bright lights Friday night, interacting with The Westcott Theater audience.

He took the stage around 9 p.m., beginning with the piano-accompanied “What's Funny” -- a newer track, not yet recorded in studio. His set was front-loaded with new material, not featured on his eponymous 2009 CD, released by Comedy Central Records. Old YouTube favorites featured on the album — “I'm Bo Yo,” “Love Is,” and “New Math” — came later, after he transitioned out of his new material by announcing, “I guess that's the end of my new material.”

Burnham's set was balanced between song and stand-up -- musical amusement punctuated by improvised interaction with the audience, who were rowdy and talkative. About 165 people were seated, while close to 400 others stood for the duration of the set. When Burnham asked the standees how they were doing, one female audience member seemed especially enthusiastic. Without hesitation Burnham fired back with “Why are you so excited about standing? Have you been on your knees all day?” The audience roared, and without skipping a beat, he further mocked them — sulking that his off-the-cuff, low-brow sexual humor received more laughter than the intelligent “post-modern” repertoire he's been slaving over for years.

As a musical comedian, Burnham has been compared to Weird Al Yankovic, but his humor is lightning-quick, more literate, and at times more absurdist — more along the lines of Martins,  both Steve and Demetri.

One-liners such as “Where are all the Sour Patch Parents?” echo the more family-friendly Demetri Martin, while his lyrics — brimming with word play; metaphors double-stacked between puns — hearken back to the smarts of Steve Martin.

Burham's bit on haikus seemed to marriage both Martins' humor. Some of his poems parodied the proverbial tone of fortune cookies: “Those in glass houses should not throw stones or masturbate in the day time."

Another new song “Ironic” proved that he has a much better grasp on irony — “eating veal wrapped in pita (PETA) bread ” — than Alanis Morissette. (Rain on your wedding day isn't ironic — it's just unfortunate.)

Because some of Burnham's subject matter is sensitive — and also because some people are utterly without a sense of humor — Burnham's jokes have ignited some controversy. He alluded to this during his set, but assured the audience that the notes of racism, sexism and other perceived prejudices in his material were all in irony — adding with a smile that “when the black kids beat me up after the show, they're doing it ironically.”

Occasionally, he whispered the punchline while averting his face from the audience, as if in shame, but mostly, he pulled of his politically incorrect humor unapologetically. Though, for one Michael Jackson joke, he did mutter a mid-song disclaimer: “I wrote it beforehand so I'm fine.”

The audience didn't seem to hold it against him. After he concluded around 10:30 with an encore performance of the also new “Catholic Rap/Last Song,” his fans immediately re-formed their two-block-long line — this time inside in front of the merchandise table.

Bo Burnham has a promising career ahead. With a wealth of new material and a stellar stage presence, he proved that his comedy well runs deep — and won't be drying up any time soon.


That dude is truly amazing.


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