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Bo Burnham
Bo Burnham Montaclair Film Festival (cropped).jpg
Burnham in 2018
Born
Robert Pickering Burnham

(1990-08-21) August 21, 1990 (age 33)
Occupation
  • Comedian
  • musician
  • actor
  • filmmaker
Years active 2006–present
Comedy career
Medium
  • Stand-up
  • television
  • film
  • music
Genres
Musical career
Genres
Instruments
  • Vocals
  • piano
  • keyboards
  • guitar
  • oboe
Labels Comedy Central
YouTube information
Years active 2006–present
Genre
  • Music
  • comedy
Subscribers 3.66 million
Total views 873.5 million
Subscriber and view counts updated as of April 1, 2024.

Robert Pickering "Bo" Burnham (born August 21, 1990) is an American stand-up comedian, musician, YouTuber, actor, and filmmaker. Burnham's work combines elements of filmmaking with music, sketch, and stand-up comedy, often with a dramatic or tragic twist, often left open to interpretation.

In 2006, Burnham created a YouTube channel, where he uploaded videos of him playing comedic songs that he wrote, often featuring wordplay and taboo or dark subject matter. Despite only being in his late teens, his music videos quickly went viral, making him one of the earliest YouTube stars. He began creating albums featuring his songs, such as Bo fo Sho (2008) and the self-titled album Bo Burnham (2009).

Burnham switched his focus from YouTube to performing stand-up comedy routines, which combined his comedy songs with traditional stand-up. He released three comedy specials, Words Words Words (2010), what. (2013), and Make Happy (2016). He also worked on the music and script for a comedy film that was ultimately scrapped. Bo created and starred in the 2013 MTV mockumentary series Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous. He also published the poetry book Egghead: Or, You Can't Survive on Ideas Alone (2013). In 2016, Burnham announced his intention to step away from performing live, which he later revealed to be due to him suffering from anxiety and experiencing panic attacks on stage. He went on to make his filmmaking debut as the writer and director of the drama film Eighth Grade (2018) and began directing other comedians' comedy specials, as well as co-starring in the dark comedy thriller film Promising Young Woman (2020).

Burnham returned to performing with his fourth comedy special, Inside (2021), which he created in his home without a crew or audience during the COVID-19 pandemic; it was released by Netflix to widespread acclaim, including a Peabody Award. The special was nominated in six categories at the 73rd Emmy Awards, winning three. At the 64th Grammy Awards, Inside was nominated for Best Music Film and Best Song Written for Visual Media, winning the latter. Three songs from the special appeared also on the Billboard charts and were certified gold in the United States, as was the accompanying album Inside (The Songs).

Early life

Robert Pickering Burnham was born in 1990 in Hamilton, Massachusetts, the son of hospice nurse Patricia and construction company owner Scott Burnham. His mother's work was covered in a 2014 episode of This American Life, for which she was interviewed. He has an older sister named Samm and an older brother named Pete, both of whom work for the family's construction company.

Burnham was raised Catholic and attended St. John's Preparatory School in Danvers, Massachusetts, where he received a free education due to his mother working as the school's nurse at the time. He graduated in 2008, having been on the honor roll and involved in theater and the campus ministry program. He was admitted to New York University's Tisch School of the Arts to study experimental theatre, but deferred his admission for a year to pursue a career in comedy and eventually never attended the university.

Career

2006–2008: Beginnings on YouTube

Burnham began his career on YouTube in 2006, with his videos gaining over 600 million views as of June 2022.

In December 2006, Burnham wanted to show two songs he had written to his older brother Pete, who had moved away to attend university in New York City. A friend suggested that he film himself performing the songs in his bedroom and post them on YouTube, which was then a relatively new website. His song "My Whole Family..." quickly became popular when the link to its YouTube video was shared on Break.com, soon leading to it being shared on other sites.

Accompanying himself on guitar or digital piano, Burnham continued to release self-described "pubescent musical comedy" 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. ..... Burnham describes his on-stage persona as a "more arrogant, stuck-up version [of] himself". 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.

Burnham recorded a performance in London for Comedy Central's The World Stands Up in January 2008 (aired June 30), making him the youngest person to do so at the age of 17, and signed a four-record deal with Comedy Central Records. Comedy Central Records released Burnham's first EP, the six-song Bo fo Sho, as an online release-only album on June 17, 2008. Burnham's first full album, the self-titled Bo Burnham, was released on March 10, 2009.

2009–2016: Stand-up and comedy specials

Bo Burnham at CWRU, 2009-03-19
Burnham in March 2009

Burnham has performed his music in the United States, including Cobb's Comedy Club, YouTube Live in San Francisco, and Caroline's Comedy Club in New York City, 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). 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".

While performing at the Montreal Just for Laughs festival in 2008, Burnham met with director and producer Judd Apatow. In September 2008, he negotiated with Universal Pictures to write and create the music for an Apatow-produced comedy film which he described as the "anti-High School Musical", although he insisted that the script is not a parody of the Disney musicals, but rather an attempt to emulate the high school he attended. Hoping to also star in the film, Burnham told Wired that he named the lead character after himself in a "not-so-subtle hint". In a March 2009 interview with Boston's Weekly Dig, he said that he was spending eight hours a day writing the music for the film and spending his evenings writing the script. Burnham's high school friend Luke Liacos was co-writing the screenplay. In an October 2010 interview on 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.

Bo Burnham in Pittsburgh (cropped)
Burnham in April 2012

On March 3, 2009, 15 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, due to his use of homophobic and racist terms in performances. 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. In May 2009, viral marketing began appearing for Funny People, in which Burnham starred in an NBC sitcom called Yo Teach! In the promo, he starred opposite Jason Schwartzman as a student in the latter's English class.

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; it aired on Comedy Central on October 16, 2010, and was released for purchase two days later. Burnham finished in first place at the 2011 Comedy Central Stand-up Showdown.

In 2013, Burnham wrote, executive-produced, and starred in Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous alongside Dan Lagana, Luke Liacos, and Dave Becky. The series was cancelled after one season. He also released a book of poetry called Egghead: Or, You Can't Survive on Ideas Alone.

Burnham's second special, what., was released on both Netflix and YouTube on December 17, 2013. His third special, Make Happy, was produced by Netflix and released on June 3, 2016.

2017–2020: Filmmaking and Eighth Grade

Burnham wrote and directed his first feature film, Eighth Grade, which was produced and distributed by A24 and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2018. The film has been universally acclaimed; among other accolades, it received the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay and the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – First-Time Feature Film. It garnered a 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 316 ratings, and holds an average rating of 89 out of 100 on Metacritic.

Burnham directed Jerrod Carmichael's comedy special 8 (2017) for HBO and Chris Rock's comedy special Tamborine (2018) for Netflix. In an interview with Vulture, he discussed his directorial outlook when directing a comedy special: "I approached [the special], which was me taking stock of the feelings that I get out of watching this person perform and asking, 'How can I recreate that for the audience as best as possible? How can I make a good container for the thing?' But the thing is being provided by them, so a lot of directing is just getting out of their way."

In 2019, it was announced Burnham would contribute songs to the upcoming Sesame Street film.

In 2020, Burnham played the protagonist's love interest Ryan Cooper in the black comedy revenge thriller film Promising Young Woman. The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, where it received critical acclaim, and was later nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. In an interview, Burnham stated, "This is a story I could never tell. This is a perspective I don't have. After doing my own things, it's like I really like the idea of, I just want to serve someone else's vision."

In March 2021, Burnham was cast as Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird in Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty from HBO. Due to scheduling conflicts, he left the series in August 2021.

2021–present: Inside

In April 2021, Burnham ended his social media hiatus to announce that his fourth special, Inside, would be released on May 30. Created by Burnham alone in his home's guest house without a crew or audience during the COVID-19 pandemic, Inside received widespread acclaim. It was nominated in six categories for the 73rd Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards, winning three for Outstanding Music Direction, Outstanding Writing, and Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special. Burnham also received two nominations at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards for Best Music Film and Best Song Written for Visual Media ("All Eyes on Me"), although the special was ruled ineligible for Best Comedy Album. Three songs from the album ("Bezos I", "All Eyes on Me", and "Welcome to the Internet") earned Burnham his first charting songs on the US Bubbling Under Hot 100 and Global 200 charts. They were certified gold in the United States, as was the accompanying album, Inside (The Songs) , and later Inside (Deluxe).

Burnham directed, edited, and executive produced Carmichael's comedy special Rothaniel (2022), which received acclaim, including the 74th Emmy award for best writing for a variety special.

On May 30, 2022, the first anniversary of Inside, Burnham released 63 minutes of unseen footage from the special on YouTube, titled The Inside Outtakes. In June 2022, he released an accompanying album with the same name containing all the songs from the video and two new others. He also released Inside (Deluxe), an album containing all of the songs from Inside and the outtakes, as well as all of the ambient and instrumental tracks from the special and its outtakes.

Burnham reportedly submitted "Five Years" from The Inside Outtakes to the Best Song Written for Visual Media category at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards, though it was not nominated. At the 66th Annual Grammy Awards, Inside (Deluxe Box Set) was nominated for Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package.

Style

Burnham has cited Kate Berlant, Catherine Breillat, George Carlin, John Cassavetes, Flight of the Conchords, Mitch Hedberg, Anthony Jeselnik, Stephen Lynch, Demetri Martin, Steve Martin, Tim Minchin, and Hans Teeuwen as influences. His musical style has also drawn comparisons to Tom Lehrer, and he was reported to have written his 2009 song "New Math" as a tribute to Lehrer's song of the same name.

Personal life

Burnham lives in Los Angeles. He dated filmmaker Lorene Scafaria from 2013 to 2022. In January 2023, it was rumored that he had split up with Scafaria and was dating musician Phoebe Bridgers. Eight months later, Bridgers confirmed their relationship.

Known to be a private person, Burnham usually avoids giving interviews unless he is promoting a new project. Since the release of Inside in May 2021, he has not discussed his work in public or granted any interviews at all. He had also abandoned his social media profiles by December 2022. Having previously referenced struggling with anxiety and panic attacks, particularly surrounding his creative work and performances, he confirmed in Inside that this was the reason he walked away from live performance.

Work

Filmography

Film

Bo Burnham film work
Year Title Role Notes Ref.
2009 American Virgin Rudy
2009 Funny People Yo Teach! Cast Member
2011 Hall Pass Bartender
2012 Adventures in the Sin Bin Tony
2017 The Big Sick CJ
2017 Rough Night Tobey
2018 Eighth Grade N/A Writer, director
2020 Promising Young Woman Ryan Cooper

Television

Bo Burnham television work
Year Title Role Credited as Notes Ref.
Director Producer Editor
2010 Words, Words, Words Himself No Yes No Comedy special
2011 The Green Room with Paul Provenza Himself No No No Episode: "Episode 1"
2013 what. Himself Yes Yes No Comedy special; co-director
2013 Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous Zach Stone No Yes No 12 episodes; also, co-creator, writer
2014 Parks and Recreation Chipp McCapp No No No Episode: "Flu Season 2"
2015 Key and Peele Lyle No No No Episode: "A Cappella Club"
2015 Kroll Show Diz No No No 2 episodes
2016 Make Happy Himself Yes Yes No Comedy special; co-director
2016 We Bare Bears Andrew Bangs (voice) No No No Episode: "Nom Nom's Entourage"
2017 Comrade Detective Sergiu (voice) No No No Episode: "The Invisible Hand"
2017 Jerrod Carmichael: 8 N/A Yes Yes No Comedy special
2018 Chris Rock: Tamborine N/A Yes No No Comedy special
2019 Jerrod Carmichael: Home Videos N/A No Yes No Special
2019 Jerrod Carmichael: Sermon on the Mount N/A No Yes No Special
2019 Lil Rel Howery: Live in Crenshaw N/A No Yes No Comedy special
2020 Whitmer Thomas: The Golden One N/A No Yes No Comedy special
2021 Inside Himself Yes Yes Yes Comedy special
2022 Jerrod Carmichael: Rothaniel N/A Yes Yes Yes Comedy special
2022 Kate Berlant: Cinnamon in the Wind N/A Yes Yes No Comedy special released on Hulu
2024 Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show Himself No No No Documentary series

Discography

  • Bo Burnham (2009)
  • Words, Words, Words (2010)
  • what. (2013)
  • Inside (The Songs) (2021)

Tours

Bo Burnham tours
Year Title Ref.
2009 Fake ID Tour
2010 Bo Burnham and (No) Friends
2011–2012 Bo Burnham Live
2013 what. Tour
2015–2016 Make Happy Tour

Awards and nominations

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.

For his 2018 film Eighth Grade and 2021 comedy special Inside he received several awards and nominations for his writing and directing, including the following:

Year Award Category Project Result Ref.
2018 Boston Society of Film Critics Best New Filmmaker Eighth Grade Won
2018 Chicago Film Critics Association Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Most Promising Filmmaker Nominated
2018 Directors Guild of America Award Outstanding Directing – First-Time Feature Film Won
2018 Independent Spirit Awards Best First Screenplay Won
2018 National Board of Review Best Directorial Debut Won
2018 New York Film Critics Circle Best First Film Won
2018 San Diego Film Critics Society Best Director Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Won
Best Breakout Artist Nominated
2018 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize Nominated
2019 Writers Guild of America Award Best Original Screenplay Won
2020 Hollywood Critics Association Best Supporting Actor Promising Young Woman Nominated
2021 Hollywood Critics Association Best Streaming Sketch Series, Variety Series, Talk Show, or Comedy/Variety Special Bo Burnham: Inside Won
2021 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded) Nominated
Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special Won
Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special Won
Outstanding Picture Editing for Variety Programming Nominated
Outstanding Music Direction Won
Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics Nominated
2022 Grammy Awards Best Music Film Nominated
Best Song Written for Visual Media "All Eyes on Me" Won
2022 Libera Award Best Outlier Record Inside (The Songs) Nominated
2022 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special Jerrod Carmichael: Rothaniel Nominated
2024 Grammy Awards Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package Inside
(Deluxe Box Set)
Nominated

See also

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