Mill Volvo Tyne Theatre
At only 23 years old, it feels as though rising star Bo Burnham has already accomplished everything. How many other 23 year olds can claim to have three sold out tours, two live DVD recordings, 2 studio albums, and to have created, written and starred in major television show (the criminally underrated and sadly short-lived MTV programme Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous.) With the exception of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, What. is Burnham’s first full UK tour, and so it’s great to say that Bo’s first impression on us Brits is a tight, brilliantly written, and, most importantly, outrageously funny set.
What. has been billed as “a new live comedy show thing” – and that’s exactly what it is. It’s hard to exactly describe Burnham’s set; he fluently mixes song with traditional stand-up, to poetry and haiku, to theatrics and pre-recorded material. What’s important is that all these ingredients come together to form a show genuinely unique – one minute you’re subjected to a very politically incorrect poem and the next you’re whisked into a funny, yet surprisingly poignant, musical introspection of comedy itself. That’s another of What‘s masterstrokes, it’s not just incredibly funny, there’s something to be said under the flamboyance and crude humour. Sometimes this is explicit such as the song “Nerds” (the closest Bo comes to dropping his stage persona all night) which serves as a genuinely moving ode to, as Bo says, “the kids like me” – unpopular kids who perhaps don’t fit in or take a lot of flack for doing something they enjoy. Mostly though, these sincere reflections are layered into the songs and come as a welcome change of pace. However if this puts you off then don’t worry, this is very much a comedy hour, and you will very much laugh – a lot.
Whether he’s hitting you with snappy, lightning fast one liners or a more convoluted poem or monologue, everything is so layered and tightly written that you’ll end up laughing at a pun or joke long after the show is over. This immense complexity is what makes Bo’s show so appealing, once you’ve finished you’ll want to sit through it all again just to catch the jokes you missed because you were too busy laughing at another. His on-stage persona is another aspect he has perfectly fine-tuned – an arrogant, over-the-top, pretentious arse. “People tell me I’m full of myself. I don’t think that – here’s a song from the perspective of God,” he told the audience. He occasionally threatens to be too unlikeable, however any time Burnham verges on grating, he adds a dash of self-depreciation or childlike wonder than you can’t help to smile at. The songs themselves are a major part of the set and they are diverse enough to be worth the price alone. Whether Bo’s trying hard to be the rapper the knows he isn’t, or he’s trying to prove how deep and profound he can be, each song helps to pace and punctuate the show with just the right amount of humour, visual comedy, and even occasionally crowd interaction. If What. was a film, the songs would be the action set pieces.
Bo Burnham’s What. is a unique, witty, hyperactive hour of stand-up comedy that never lapses into a lull and never miss-steps once. Burnham creates such a fantastic, involving atmosphere that it’s hard not to get completely engrossed into this hilarious character. If you get the chance, What. is an absolutely must-see performance by a supremely talented rising star who I can only hope will soon be given the recognition he deserves. A show about an introspective deconstruction of comedy could have fallen so terribly flat, and only someone with Bo Burnham’s level of skill and intelligence could have executed it so triumphantly. Completely unmissable.