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Bo Burnham

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Bo Burnham
Bo Burnham in Pittsburgh (cropped).jpg
Burnham performing in Pittsburgh, April 2012
Born Robert Pickering Burnham[1]
(1990-08-21) August 21, 1990 (age 25)
Hamilton, Massachusetts, U.S.
  • Comedian
  • singer–songwriter
  • rapper
  • actor
  • poet[2]
Years active 2006–present
Website Official website
Musical career
Genres Comedy, satire[3]
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • piano
  • ukulele[4]
Labels Comedy Central Records

Robert Pickering "Bo" Burnham (born August 21, 1990)[5][6] is an American comedian, singer-songwriter, and poet. Writing comedic and satirical songs that comment on social issues, celebrity culture, and the nature of comedy itself, he achieved fame when his YouTube videos gained great popularity; as of April 2015 his videos had been watched more than 152 million times.[2][7]

Burnham signed a four record deal with Comedy Central Records and released his debut EP, Bo Fo Sho in 2008. His first full-length, Bo Burnham, was released the following year. In 2010, Burnham's second album was released and Words Words Words, his first live comedy special, aired on Comedy Central. Burnham also has a large following on Vine. His third album and second comedy special, what., was released in 2013 on his YouTube channel and Netflix. Burnham finished first overall in voting in 2011's Comedy Central Stand-up Showdown.[8]

In addition to his career as a comedian, Burnham co-created and starred in the MTV television series Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous and released his first book of poetry, Egghead: Or, You Can't Survive on Ideas Alone, in 2013.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Bo Burnham was born on August 21, 1990 to Scott Burnham, a construction company owner, and Patricia, a staff nurse at Burnham's school.[3][10] He is the youngest of three children; his siblings Pete and Samm attended Cornell University and Suffolk Law School, respectively.[3]

Burnham graduated from St. John's Preparatory School in 2008, where he was on the honor roll and involved in theatre and the campus ministry program. The school's assistant principal remarked, "[t]he Bo on YouTube is not the Bo we see around here, [...] no one at St. John's is surprised at his creativity or that he's pursuing his dream, which is to make a name for himself." Burnham graduated from St. John's in the spring of 2008.[3][10]

Burnham applied to University of Southern California, Yale University,[3] and was accepted to New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.[11] Although expected to begin attending in autumn 2008,[12] he deferred his enrollment for a year to focus on his burgeoning media career.[5][13] Burnham said that his first year on tour while friends began college made him want "to fucking die. I'd be on the road, in South Dakota, looking on Facebook at all my friends at parties."[14]

In a 2011 interview, Burnham said that he had a "girlfriend for five years".[15]

Home-grown music[edit]

Burnham described 2006 as the beginning of his musical comedy career, when he debuted original songs about teenage angst to fellow high school thespians around play rehearsals. That December, he videotaped himself performing two songs and posted them on YouTube to share with his family.[12] While response to his videos on YouTube ("My Whole Family... " and "My 'little' secret...") was initially unexceptional, they became an overnight sensation when they were copied to, with traffic multiplying over 111 times.[3]

Accompanying himself on guitar or digital piano, Burnham continued to release self-described "pubescent musical comedy"[12] songs and videos online as his audience grew. Described in The Boston Globe as "simultaneously wholesome and disturbing, intimate in a folksy-creepy sort of way", Burnham wrote and released songs about white supremacy, Helen Keller's disabilities, homosexuality, and more.[3] All of Burnham's home-released videos were self-recorded in and around his family's home in Hamilton, Massachusetts, most in his bedroom. Occasionally jokingly addressing his audience in his videos ("Hello, Internet pedophiles"), Burnham rarely changes expression or camera angle while performing—simply setting the video camera on a stack of books.[3][10] Speaking with The A.V. Club in 2009, Burnham expressed his intent to give his productions a "do-it-yourself [feel], almost like voyeurism".[16]


Burnham performing at The Improv in Tempe, Arizona, September 2008.

Burnham's music and performances tackle such subjects as race, gender, human sexuality, sex, and religion.[17] Burnham describes his on-stage persona as a "more arrogant, stuck-up version [of] himself."[18] When speaking with The Detroit News about his rapping, he expressed his intent to honor and respect the perspective and culture of hip-hop music.[2]

Represented by Douglas Edley, Burnham recorded a performance in London for Comedy Central's The World Stands Up in January 2008 (aired June 30, 2008),[3][19] and signed a four-record deal with Comedy Central Records.[20] Comedy Central Records released Burnham's first EP, the six-song Bo Fo Sho, as an online release-only album on June 17, 2008.[11][12] Burnham's first full album, the self-titled Bo Burnham, was released on March 10, 2009.[21]

Burnham has performed his music in the United States, including Cobb's Comedy Club, YouTube Live in San Francisco,[13] Caroline's Comedy Club in New York City,[11] and internationally in London and Montreal. In August 2010, Burnham was nominated for "Best Comedy Show" at the 2010 Edinburgh Comedy Awards after his inaugural performance (of Bo Burnham: Words, Words, Words).[22] He instead received the "Panel Prize", a £5,000 prize for "the show or act who has most captured the comedy spirit of the 2010 Fringe."[23][24]

As Burnham progressed through his initial popularity to more mainstream audiences and venues, he received pushback from fellow comics who viewed his ascension via YouTube popularity as illegitimate.[14]

Burnham's first experience with controversy regarding his music came on March 3, 2009, when fifteen Westminster College students (members of the campus' Gay-Straight Alliance, Black Students Association, International Club, and Cultural Diversity Organization) protested his concert there that evening. Of the controversy, he said, "It's so ironic because gay bashers were the ones labeling me in high school, [...] I try and write satire that's well-intentioned. But those intentions have to be hidden. It can't be completely clear and that's what makes it comedy." Despite the college's admission that they had booked Burnham while ignorant of his show's material, dean of students John Comerford praised the opportunities for discourse the controversy brought the school.[17][25]


  • Fake I.D. – Autumn 2009[26][27]
  • Bo Burnham and (No) Friends – Autumn 2010[28]
  • Bo Burnham Live (UK/US Tour) – June 2011 – July 2012[29]
  • Bo Burnham: what. Tour – Summer 2013
  • Bo Burnham: 'Make Happy' Tour – Early 2015 & Fall 2015


Burnham performing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, March 2009

While performing at the Montreal Just for Laughs festival in 2008,[11] Burnham met with the award-winning director and producer Judd Apatow. That September, Burnham negotiated with Universal Pictures to write and create the music for an Apatow-produced comedy film which he describes as the "anti-High School Musical",[10][30] although Burnham insists the script is not a parody of the Disney musicals, but an attempt to emulate the high school he attended. Hoping to star in the film he was writing, Burnham told Wired magazine that he named the star "Bo" in a "not-so-subtle hint [he] want[s] to be in it".[31] In a March 2009 interview with Boston's Weekly Dig, Burnham elaborated on his work with the film. When he is not performing, Burnham spends eight hours a day writing the music, and his nights writing the script, of which he has finished the first draft.[32] Co-writing the screenplay with Burnham is his high school friend Luke Liacos.[33] Burnham explained the script-writing opportunity is a boon to his comedy career, as the comedian had been having complications with censors and learning that his material was not well-suited to television. "It would work much better in a 90-minute format."[31] In August 2010, Burnham told The Guardian that his script had been submitted.[14] In an October 2010 interview with MTV, Burnham admitted that he did not know anything about the future of the project, and that it was all effectively up in the air as far as he knew.[34]

In May 2009, viral marketing began appearing for Funny People, in which Burnham stars in a NBC sitcom called Yo Teach!. In the "promo", Burnham stars opposite Jason Schwartzman, as a student in the latter's English class.[35]

On May 21, 2010, Burnham taped his first one-hour stand-up special, entitled Words Words Words, for Comedy Central from the House of Blues in Boston as part of the network's new "House of Comedy" series of stand-up specials.[36][37] The special aired on Comedy Central on October 16, 2010. It was released on October 18, 2010.[38][39]


He had a such a great take on who he is and what the post-high school millennial generation experience is all about, [...] Everything he said and talked about felt so authentic, and that authenticity was the most important thing. This is all about taking his voice and vision and putting it into a half-hour comedy.

— MTV exec. VP of scripted development, on Burnham[40]

On September 7, 2010, Variety reported that MTV had ordered a half-hour-long television "put pilot" from Burnham "about a kid fresh out of high school who's pursuing the new American dream of being a celebrity without having any talent." Burnham wrote and executive produced Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous alongside Dan Lagana, Luke Liacos, and Dave Becky.[40][41] On March 13, 2013, Burnham announced via his Facebook that Zach Stone would be premiering on Thursday, May 2, 2013 on MTV.[42] The series was not picked up for a second season and officially ended on June 26, 2013. In response to the cancellation of the show, Burnham expressed, "When making the show, I had kind of thought/sensed that it may be a one season show, so we made sure that this season could stand alone as its own contained thing." But, he also added if the show continues to be watched and/or shared, " very well may have a second life somewhere [other than MTV]."[43]


At the 2010 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, he was nominated for the main Edinburgh Comedy Award and won both the Edinburgh Comedy Awards' panel prize and the Malcolm Hardee "Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid" Award.[44]

Performance credits[edit]




  1. ^ Graduating Students. St. John's Preparatory School, Class of 2008,, North Andover, MA, May 6, 2009
  2. ^ a b c Graham, Adam (2010-10-28). "YouTube star Bo Burnham mixes raps, laughs". The Detroit News (Detroit, Michigan, USA: MediaNews Group). ISSN 1055-2715. Archived from the original on 2010-10-28. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kahn, Joseph P. (2008-02-13). "Nonfamily humor, straight from home". The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts, USA: P. Steven Ainsley). Archived from the original on 2010-10-28. Retrieved 2009-01-25. Irreverent songs win Hamilton youth a cult following 
  4. ^ Connelly, Brendon (2009-06-11). "Bo Burnham and Judd Apatow's Anti-High School Musical Wants Your Help". /Film. Retrieved 2009-06-16. 
  5. ^ a b Hastings, Katy (2008-10-13). "Teen Comic Signs Hollywood Deal". Sky News Online (London, England, United Kingdom: Sky News). Archived from the original on 2010-10-28. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  6. ^ Bo, Burnham (2008-08-20). "Facebook | Bo Burnham just so everyone knows, my birthday is tomorrow. but thanks for the early wishes! you know what would be a great present? 100,000 people on this thing. or i can just shut the fuck up...agreed.". Facebook. Palo Alto, California, USA: Facebook, Inc. Retrieved 2008-08-21. 
  7. ^ "Bo Burnham YouTube Channel". YouTube. 2015-04-29. Archived from the original on 2014-01-08. Retrieved 2015-04-29. 
  8. ^ "Comedy Central Stand-Up Showdown Results, 2011". Retrieved 2011-02-02. 
  9. ^ "Egghead by Bo Burnham - review". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. 30 July 2014. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  10. ^ a b c d Kit, Borys (2008-09-25). "Singing comic joins Apatow clan". The Hollywood Reporter. Los Angeles, California, USA: Nielsen Company. Archived from the original on 2010-09-10. Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  11. ^ a b c d e Giltz, Michael (2008-07-26). "Young comedian Bo Burnham is heading up charts". Daily News (New York City, USA: Mortimer Zuckerman). Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  12. ^ a b c d e Wortham, Jenna (2008-06-11). "YouTube Star Bo Burnham Readies Debut EP, Bo Fo Sho". Wired. San Francisco, California, USA: Condé Nast Publications. Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  13. ^ a b Hartlaub, Peter (2008-10-16). "Teenage angst has paid off well for Bo Burnham". San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California, USA: Frank J. Vega). Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  14. ^ a b c Logan, Brian (2010-08-24). "Bo Burnham: 'I'm honest – for two minutes'". The Guardian (King's Place, London, UK: Guardian Media Group). ISSN 0261-3077. OCLC 60623878. Retrieved 2010-09-04. 
  15. ^ Kettle, James (2011-06-11). "Bo Burnham, comic 'most likely to earn £1m', goes from YouTube to your town". The Guardian (King's Place, London, UK: Guardian Media Group). ISSN 0261-3077. OCLC 60623878. Retrieved 2011-06-11. 
  16. ^ Heisler, Steve (2009-04-04). "Bo Burnham". The A.V. Club (Chicago, Illinois, USA: The Onion). Retrieved 2010-09-04. 
  17. ^ a b c Gottlieb, Jed (2009-03-09). "Bo-dacious comedy: Hamilton’s Burnham moves from the bedroom to Hollywood". The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts, USA: P. Steven Ainsley). Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  18. ^ Johnson, Nick (2009-02-05). "Internet celebrity pushes envelope in performance". The Daily Collegian (University Park, Pennsylvania, USA: Pennsylvania State University). Retrieved 2009-02-05. 
  19. ^ Olson, Kris (2008-07-03). "Ready, set … Bo! (Burnham, that is)". The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, Massachusetts, USA: Rick Daniels). Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  20. ^ Ingram, Matthew (2008-09-26). "Bo Burnham: Teenaged YouTube star". The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Phillip Crawley). Archived from the original on November 5, 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  21. ^ a b Comedy Central Records (2009-02-18). "COMEDY CENTRAL Records(R) to Release 'Bo Burnham' CD/DVD on March 10". New York, United States. PR Newswire. Retrieved 2009-02-18. 
  22. ^ Clark, Tim (2010-08-25). "Bo Burnham nominated for Edinburgh Comedy Award". London, England: Get Comedy. Retrieved 2010-08-25. 
  23. ^ "Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Awards 2010 – 2009 winners". Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh Comedy Awards. Retrieved 2010-09-04. 
  24. ^ "Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Awards 2010 – judging". Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh Comedy Awards. Retrieved 2010-09-04. 
  25. ^ Greaney, T.J. (2009-03-04). "In-your-face comedy". Columbia Daily Tribune (Columbia, Missouri, United States: Henry J. Waters III). Retrieved 2009-03-09. YouTube phenom Bo Burnham prompts protests at Westminster. 
  26. ^ "Bo Burnham announces national tour". Punchline Magazine Blog. 2009-07-31. Retrieved 2010-05-15. 
  27. ^ "Bo Burnham: Fake ID Tour". Wharton Center for Performing Arts . East Lansing, Michigan, USA: Michigan State University. 2009. Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  28. ^ Ryan, Mike (2010-09-13). "EXCLUSIVE: Bo Burnham on His Newly-Announced Comedy Tour and MTV Show". Movieline (United States). Retrieved 2010-09-18. 
  29. ^ "Bo Burnham: 2011 Tour". Brighton, England: Just for Laughs Live. 2011. Retrieved 2011-05-23. 
  30. ^ Hall, Julian (2008-11-14). "Rising Star: Bo Burnham, comedy actor". The Independent (Dublin, Ireland: Independent News & Media). Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  31. ^ a b Wortham, Jenna (2008-10-01). "YouTuber Bo Burnham Scripting New Judd Apatow Movie". Wired (United States: Condé Nast Publications). ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2009-05-30. 
  32. ^ Clark, Andrew (March 2009). "Bo burnham". Boston's Weekly Dig (Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Jeff Lawrence). Retrieved 2009-03-06. 
  33. ^ Cornwell, Tim (2010-08-28). "Preview: Bo Burnham, comedian". Edinburgh, Scotland, UK: Edinburgh Festivals. Retrieved 2010-09-04. 
  34. ^ Vena, Jocelyn (2010-10-14). "Bo Burnham on Making The 'Anti-High School Musical' With Judd Apatow". MTV. Archived from the original on 2011-01-14. Retrieved 2011-01-14. 
  35. ^ Connelly, Brendon (2009-05-28). "Funny People Viral Marketing: Yo Teach!". /Film. Retrieved 2009-05-31. 
  36. ^ a b COMEDY CENTRAL Corporate Communications (2010-02-22). "Comedian Bo Burnham to Tape First-Ever Special at the Newly Branded COMEDY CENTRAL's House of Comedy Live From House of Blues in Boston on Friday, April 16. The Performance Will Air As An Original One-Hour Special in Fall 2010". PR Newswire. Retrieved 2010-02-23. 
  37. ^ Bo, Burnham (2010-03-09). "Facebook | Bo Burnham: MY BOSTON SHOW AT THE HOUSE OF BLUES IS NOW ON MAY 21st.". Facebook. Palo Alto, California, USA: Facebook, Inc. Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  38. ^ "Words Words Words [Explicit]". Seattle, Washington, USA: Archived from the original on 2011-01-22. Retrieved 2011-01-22. 
  39. ^ "Words Words Words by Bo Burnham – Download Words Words Words on iTunes". iTunes Store His new special, titled "what." was released on December 17, 2013. It was released on his YouTube channel and Netflix. Cupertino, California, USA: Apple Inc. Archived from the original on 2011-01-22. Retrieved 2011-01-22. 
  40. ^ a b Levine, Stuart (2010-09-07). "MTV orders pilot from Bo Burnham". Variety (New York City: Reed Business Information). ISSN 0042-2738. Retrieved 2010-09-10. Rising comedian just finished run at Edinburgh fest 
  41. ^ "Proper Bo". Chortle. 2010-09-08. Retrieved 2010-09-18. Burnham lands US sitcom deal 
  42. ^ "what's to come! (no one cares.) good point!". Retrieved 11 September 2015. 
  43. ^ "Bo Burnham responds to ‘Zach Stone’ cancellation: I’m the luckiest guy I know". LAUGHSPIN. Retrieved 11 September 2015. 
  44. ^ "Scottish Television report, 31 August 2010". Retrieved 22 September 2010. 
  45. ^ "Words Words Words". Alternative Distribution Alliance. Retrieved 2010-09-04. 
  46. ^ "what. coming soon.". YouTube. Retrieved 10 December 2013. 
  47. ^ Mudhar, Raju (2009-07-12). "Bo knows musical comedy". Toronto Star (Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Torstar). ISSN 0319-0781. Retrieved 2009-07-21. With a Comedy Central special and an Apatow movie in the works, young Burnham sees plenty of room for growth 
  48. ^ a b Shanahan, Mark; Paysha Rhone (2009-01-07). "From YouTube to Hollywood". The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts, USA: P. Steven Ainsley). Retrieved 2009-01-30. 
  49. ^ Baez, Dominic (2010-02-27). "Can we get a 'Hall Pass' from this movie?". East Oregonian. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  50. ^ kit, Borys (2010-04-27). "Three join coming-of-age comedy 'Sin Bin'". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on May 1, 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-09. 
  51. ^ Upadhyaya, Kayla (2015-03-03). "Kroll Show: "The Commonwealth Games"". AV Club. Retrieved 2015-04-14. 

External links[edit]