‘Why am I lying to you?’ shouts Bo Burnham, ten minutes into ‘What’. It’s a question any comedian could ask. After all, every stand-up is exaggerating for comedic effect, pretending scenarios happened ‘last week’ or ‘on the way to the gig’, and even the very nature of performing written material as if made-up-on-the-spot is totally insincere.
Of course, Burnham’s guilty of this too, but this 22-year-old YouTube star-turned-stand-up constantly subverts and plays with the form, and the results are frequently astounding. ‘Art is a lie, nothing is real,’ he sums up in a neat jingle, and ‘What’ expertly unravels the disingenuous notions of stand-up, or any live art.
Oh, and it’s funny too. Funnier than anything else we’ve seen at the Fringe so far, in fact. From the high-energy opening song – mimed to a backing track, mocking the superficiality of fame – Burnham constantly pulls the rug.
His astutely intelligent songs deconstruct art and celebrity while staying the right side of poncy. ‘Hashtag Deep’ ridicules both the philosophical lyrics typical of over-earnest singer-songwriters and Burnham’s own 20s naivety, while ‘Repeat Stuff’ expertly nails the music industry’s manipulation of insecure tweens.
Cynical? Yes, but that cynicism comes from his love of the form. One song, which sees Burnham’s left brain battling with his right, ends with an insight into his fascination with comedy, and is really quite sweet. And just as you think he’s getting a little too postmodern, he’ll break out a neat one-liner or a musical jingle about the awkwardness of walking between microphone stands.
There’s layer upon layer of ridiculously smart, innovative wit at work here, from a talent who’s worryingly mature and self-aware for his age. The expectations for his Fringe follow-up were sky high, but Burnham’s officially smashed them to smithereens.
See 'Bo Burnham – What' at the Edinburgh Fringe