I was first introduced to Bo Burnham when my husband and I were dating and had just moved in together. I remember him excitedly playing me a song from his iPod, eagerly awaiting my reaction. I loved it! Comedy has been a long time passion of mine, and Bo Burnham’s style was intriguing to me. Those first few Burnham experiences were in the form of his songs, but when we saw there was a Netflix special titled What we totally binged on it. Everything about it was spectacular. The comedy, the music, the lighting, the messages. I was a converted fan.
So last year when I saw there was a new special Make Happy, my hubby and I made a date to watch it together. It was a quick departure from our previous experiences with Bo, a comedian who at this point I felt like I knew a bit better then most of the people that parade around on stage. Despite the title, the whole special felt sad. And like most fans, I rejected this shift from the comedian I had come to know.
Then I watched it again.
**There are spoilers beyond this point. If you haven’t seen Make Happy yet and are panning to do so then don’t read beyond this point.**
As in every comedy special, there are those few hecklers who feel like they are the star of the show. Make Happy was no different. The only difference was the way that Burnham treated the enthusiastic audience members. In What, Bo made light of the situation turning it into a joke. Make Happy was a much different story. His quippy remark was replaced with a little more snark. When the audience member retorted he quickly told them to stop participting, indicating that he had spent a lot of time in the creation of this show for them to bring it down with their comments. This struck me as odd. Why was he so upset with the fans who adored him?
This love/hate relationship with the audience continued on throughout the show. There were moments where Bo seemed thrilled with the enthusiasm and points where he seemed annoyed. Like the audience was a burden on his shoulders, forcing him to perform. It wasn’t until later that it all made sense.
A Deeper Meaning
The show is peppered with moments of truth that ring through clear and concise. The most radical being the last 15 minutes of the show. Bo explains how he’s been performing since he was a teenager and that his self worth is wrapped up in audience approval. He implores the audience to take a look at the twisted world of social media and how it has created a monster in us, a group of people who feel the need to “perform” daily.
If you can live your life without an audience, then you should do it. – Bo Burnham
He then goes on to rant about Pringle cans and frustrations with burrito experts, but a last fleeting moment or honesty is presented, raw and brilliant. Bo expresses his struggle with the audience, the love, the hate, the fear, the need. The struggle between wanting to please people and stay true to himself. A single spotlight focused on a face painted with genuine turmoil. The ultimate juxtaposition of a sad clown. It’s a moment I won’t soon forget and makes the whole show worth watching. In this last 15 minutes the whole show comes together in a crescendo of depth and feeling.
When I was 15 I had my first heart break. I was swallowed by a darkness that I didn’t think would ever dissipate. I became increasingly withdrawn and depressed, much to the concern of the family that surrounded me with love and support. I pushed everyone away, happy to wither away in my teenage angst. The light in my darkness was the stand up comedy that I seemingly watched on a loop. The comedian that kept me tethered to life was Eddie Izzard. I will never forget the impact his jokes had on me, the joy that it gave me in such a hopeless time. I was fortunate enough to get to see him live and I will never forget the wave of emotion I felt as I saw him walk on stage.
I bring up my emotional reaction to attending a comedy show because I feel the same wave of emotions when I watch this special. I realize I will never know Bo. He is an entertainer, an artist, a public figure just out of reach. But Make Happy is more than a comedy show. It is a masterpiece worth sharing. It has messages that transcend trivial jokes. I will leave you with his parting song and a question, are you happy?