Friday, 15 November 2013

Bo Burnham: What @ The Dancehouse, 12.11.13

When Bo Burnham was first uploaded into our consciousness as a teenage YouTube comedic sensation way back in 2006, you could be forgiven for assuming that what you were looking at was a flash in the pan.

But that was seven years ago and Burnham, now the ripe old age of 22, has undoubtedly fulfilled every inch of the potential displayed in those gawky early videos and matured into the outstanding comedy writer and performer we see before us today.

What is Burnham's second fully realised show – following on from 2010's immensely successful Words, Words, Words – and debuted to widespread critical acclaim at this year's Edinburgh Fringe before being taken out on the road for an eleven-date UK run, stopping off in Manchester at The Dancehouse for the first of two performances in five days.

Presented as a mixture of musical comedy, stand-up, poetry and even the odd bit of dance, the show is an hilariously intriguing examination of comedy itself from an incredibly intelligent and perceptive young student of the art form with a strong inclination to surprise and subvert, gaining extra marks for showing his working along the way.

The key theme which runs throughout is the notion that ‘Art is a lie, nothing is real’, and Burnham litters the hour-long show with various examples of this, such as seemingly spontaneous errors which turn out be part of the choreography after all. On several occasions he makes a point of highlighting the awkward dip in the show's momentum while he has to travel between his keyboard and the centre stage microphone.

Like all of Burnham's material to date, the tone fluctuates between astoundingly articulate wordplay – a one-liner about the Kenyan marathon team's doctor whose “patients was running thin” garnered one of the bigger laughs of the night – and what might be perceived as juvenile humour or political incorrectness – songs about paedophile frogs or a poem called ‘I Fuck Sluts’, for example. Burnham barely breaks character all evening and his stage persona is a trademark portrayal of extreme arrogance laced with enough self-awareness and self-deprecation to provide comedic balance.

It's easy to forget when watching Burnham perform that it wasn't very long ago he was making YouTube videos from his bedroom in Massachusetts, nor that he is still a very young man in a traditionally older man's game. He is a unique specimen in that the generation to whom he appeals the most have never before watched a prodigious comedian mature before their very eyes in this way. Although many predicted he would fade into obscurity along with the sneezing baby panda and that 'Chocolate Rain' guy, Burnham has comfortably confounded expectation and will surely only get better with age.

Words: Dan Burke

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