Sure, Bo Burnham may have gotten his comedy career off the ground as a teenager with a flurry of goofy songs posted to YouTube. However, it quickly became apparent that those viral music videos berthed in his adolescent bedroom only served as a vehicle to allow the stand-up savant to do much greater things on a larger scale. Not even 25 yet, Burnham has put out three specials—including 2013’s grandiose and gut-busting what.—and somehow found time to star in a short-lived MTV series, publish a book of poetry, and write material for his next hour. Wednesday night, the wunderkind returned to a sold out Pabst Theater to test out said 60 minutes of songs, stand-up, meta bits, and dramatic conduit that, together, proved to be his most fleshed out, mature, and all-around hilarious movement to date.
After Brandon Wardell (a 22-year-old touring comic who impressed on the same stage as part of Bob Odenkirk’s book tour last November) employed a near-identical version of his brash and beyond-his-years set that went over much better with a significantly younger audience this time around, the theater went black and a robotic female voice posited “The world is not funny,” referencing things like only 12 percent of the world having access to clean drinking water and Guy Fieri owning two functioning restaurants to support the claim. the ominous voice was quickly proved wrong, as Burnham bounded out to a bombastic beat and did a hype man routine (asking people to say “Say hell yeah!” to increasingly ridiculous and specific things) and starkly transitioning into a monologue to welcome those packing the “amazing theater named after and okay beer.”
The audience was especially enthusiastic, at times a little too into what was happening. An ovation would occur each time Burnham so much as sat behind his keyboard, which made the headliner ask “Did you not think I was going to use it?” He did, starting with a new unabashedly ironic song lamenting his plight as a straight white man, which showcased his much-improved (almost Disney prince-like) singing voice and his penchant for singalongable social commentary. During the bridge, Burnham jabbed, “If this bit doesn’t work in Milwaukee, I don’t know where the fuck it’s going to,” which incited an immense applause. “Make sure you know what you’re applauding for. It shouldn’t be something to be proud of.”
Unlike past performances, Burnham occasionally veered away from new material in favor of tested material, including “Men & Women”, “From God’s Perspective”, and eventual show closer “Oh Bo,” but those familiar comic components only served as scaffolding to help support what was a formidable work in progress. From lowbrow material like an “improv” exercise wherein he plugged an audience member’s name into a preexisting song about fucking his mom, functionally-offensive use of ethnic and sexual pejoratives, off-kilter crowdwork such as asking everyone in the theater to crack their knuckles at the same time, a genius musical dissection/creation of a Mad Lib-style modern country song, and an auto-tuned airing of grievances (mostly involving the width of Pringles cans and overstuffed Chipotle burritos), Burnham effectively treated Milwaukee to a varied and loosely thematic performance that expertly spliced music, stand-up, acting, mixed media assemblages, a laughable lesson in social discourse, and an underlying dash of pathos.
As anyone who was at the Pabst Theater last night could attest, nobody is doing quite what Burnham is doing, especially at that caliber and with his frequency of output.