Bo Burnham: Make Happy

Are you happy? Because I am.


By Louis Balzani
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WATCH THIS IF:

  • You’re a fan of Bo Burnham.
  • You’re looking for a dense and thought-provoking stand-up special.

It’s been fascinating to watch Bo Burnham evolve as a comedian. Many years ago, he rose to fame as a YouTube sensation, performing dense, fast-paced, and potentially offensive songs from his childhood bedroom. In 2010, he took that style to the stage with Words, Words, Words; though its edginess turned some off, its serious moments resonated, and it showed just how much potential Burnham had. Then, in 2013, his special what set the bar even higher by emphasizing thought-provoking segments and serious introspection. In every sense, his newest special Make Happy feels like an extension and an evolution of what, and not only does that result in his best effort yet, but it may also be one of the best comedy specials in recent memory. Not bad for a lanky 25-year-old.

As with his previous efforts, Make Happy is less a stand-up comedy special and more a well-rounded performance piece. As you’d expect, Bo tackles a myriad of subjects through his unique blend of misdirection and music, and nothing’s off-limits; Bits revolve around everything from white privilege and mainstream country music to breakups and suicide. One of the special’s strongest songs urges men and women alike to lower their romantic expectations because, as he says, your dream partner will ultimately never exist and you’ll waste your life trying to find them. It’s that kind of crushing bluntness that’s fueled Burnham’s specials over the years, and it’s still what makes them so entrancing – and hysterical.

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Burnham knows his audience, so he also spends some time rallying against the “social media generation,” 20somethings raised to express themselves because they believe the world cares about their opinions when exactly the opposite is true. To some degree, that observation completely undermines this review and Hypocritic as a whole; I created the site to express my opinions about media, but what the hell do you care what I think? If nothing else, it’s a healthy reminder that the world doesn’t revolve around our websites and Twitter feeds. Ultimately, the special’s finale proves to be the most poignant part; what begins as a first-world-problem analysis of Pringles cans and burritos becomes a genuine breakdown of Burnham’s fears and insecurities as a performer, and it culminates with an intimate and quiet “questionnaire” asking the viewer if they’re really happy.

Sounds heavy, right? It is, and that’s partially why I engage with Burnham’s material so much. While scathingly funny and witty, his shows never shy away from exploring the depths of what constitutes our lives, our culture, and even our own humanity. It’s the shared human experience that makes comedy inherently relatable, but it’s Burnham’s level of insight that really makes it resonate. Take his song about a couple breaking up, for example. Burnham simulates a guy yelling at a girl to eat a dick while the girl gets increasingly frustrated, and that’s funny by itself. It’s when he starts exploring what makes the guy lash out while still maintaining the humor that the bit soars, and most of the show’s songs benefit from this approach.

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Make Happy also gets some help from seriously high production values; the lighting cues and cinematography help make this one of the most gorgeous stand-up specials I’ve ever seen, and before you say anything, I’m aware that I’m the only one who would ever care about how a comedy special looks. The whole endeavor is much more polished and technically precise than most specials I’ve seen, and that’s a good thing; as they have in the past, some of Burnham’s bits heavily rely on an unexpected lighting or sound cue in order for the joke to land. Ultimately, the technical prowess provides even more punch to material that was already sharp to begin with.

Here’s the thing, though: comedy is incredibly subjective. what elicits a laugh from someone may be bland or even offensive to someone else. You might watch Make Happy and be in hysterics the whole time; you might watch it and never laugh once. What’s objectively appreciable, though, is the special’s raw and honest approach to the subject matter at hand. At one point, Bo opines about the disingenuous nature of his show and urges you to go watch “everyone else” if you want honesty, but he couldn’t be further from the truth. Make Happy puts the most vulnerable pieces of an exceptional comedian front and center for all to see, and if that’s not genuine honesty, I don’t know what is.

SCORE: 9.5/10

Comments

  • El T Draino

    Great write up! Agreed on all accounts. He’s brilliant, wildly talented, and fearless.

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