Bo Burnham is what.

I try to write only about the things that are affecting to me. I also try not to write about those things that are affecting to me that I imagine haven’t been written much about. I try not to go months without writing. I can be wrong on all these fronts. 

I like to watch comedy specials. I like stand up comedy. I don’t usually like singing comedians because the majority has ruined it for the minority. I hate – hate – people who like to believe they have invented a thought. I met those people in college when I was a younger man, and I have fought against any possibility of being something like that myself ever since.

All that being said, I found Bo Burnham’s comedy special on Netflix (called what.) affecting, fully aware of its limits, heartfelt, pretty inventive – and very very funny. It is the work of someone who is young, gifted, and dedicated to something they believe in (comedy), and that always feels like a revelation when I see someone able to commit to something daring and do it successfully.  Sure, there were jokes in the special that were slightly derivative – no material, no performance is fully autonomous anymore.  There were enough wrinkles, however, in his special that allowed it to be as fully unique and – well, special – as I see it.

I may have been sucked into the character Bo played onstage, I don’t know anything about him personally, but what may have made his special unique was its ability to touch something generally personal; a vulnerability we can all share in, something that felt unique and all-inclusive at the same time. Good art in any medium demands humanity, vulnerability; something potentially self-destructive from the artists themselves.  Bo provided personal, intimate fears and sensitivities in a general way in what. that any viewer can identify with, which was an important asset to his performance.

What does a 20 year old mind become preoccupied with? I can only speak from personal experience and eyewitness accounts, but I feel it is fairly universal – a 20 year old mind is preoccupied with solving the greatest questions of existence before searching for the research. A 20 year old mind is ambitious to a flaw, profoundly subjective, and incredibly vulnerable. There is a belief in the 20 year old mind that it is in fact capable of solving riddles that no one else has ever solved before, with answers no one has ever either come up with, or had the courage to say. P is equal to NP because it just is. It’s obvious. 

20 year old minds are afraid of mortality – they are looking for immortality with all might that can be mustered in an afternoon, then spend the evening in denial.  They find the answer they are looking for right before they go to bed, and stay up playing video games until they can’t possibly stay awake anymore.  In his special, Bo Burnham takes on some of the most general inconsistencies in our world (religion, entertainment, humor itself) will all the tenacity of the 22-year old he is.  What’s unique, at least to me, about his performance is the subtle hint of maturity with which he resolves these issues in his mind:  he does not answer these lingering questions or solve these hideous inconsistencies for himself and continue through the rest of his special content with the inaccurate belief that he solved them.  Quite the contrary.  By the end of each song, there appears no firm resolution (at least for him), and all he is left to wonder about is not how he answered these questions, but are his answers the real answers to these questions.  And haven’t they been said before.  And, if they have been said, why these problems are not solved.

I may be projecting here, and skewing the level of my analysis a little too personally here.  I will try to explain where I am coming from.  I am 28 now, which means I was once 22.  I was once (OBVIOUSLY only through age) in the same position as Bo.  However, where we differed in our relative ages is the aptitude with which we tackled the same issues.  I answered the questions and solved the inconsistencies the same way as Bo, but our resolutions were not the same.  Now I understand, as I assume I will continue to evolve and understand even greater as I grow older, the way in which our world really works, and how wrong I was when I was younger; how wrong I will always continue to be in the moment.  I absolved myself when I was younger with simple cynicism and rested with general conclusions.  My only fear was being alone, and not being alive.

Let’s stop repeating ourselves and shut this down:  Bo has an answer to these conflicts, but it seems to be an answer he knows is all too common and inconclusive.  His state of mind seems to be, appears to be, more mature than his age would signify.  I am glad to see this, and I hope that as he grows, he doesn’t lose his age or his edge.  Decline into someone who thinks they have all the answers no one has ever thought of before, and be satisfied with that.  I hope he doesn’t ever believe he has all the answers, or else he will decline.  He will be the 22-year old I was; the 22-year old this world wanted him to be.

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