An Album Worthy of Repeat Listening
Musical comedy is a tricky thing to pull off. It often works better live, where there's an immediacy to it and a sense of interplay between the comic and the audience. On an album, musical comedy tends to wear out its welcome after the novelty wears off. That can make getting through an entire album a particularly challenging task, and it makes repeat listens pretty much impossible.
Credit to 19-year old Bo Burnham, then, for creating an album of musical comedy that essentially demands that you listen to it again. On his first full-length album, the eponymous Bo Burnham, the comedian unleashes 12 songs (9 of which were recorded live during a show, while the other three were recorded in studio) covering topics ranging from how his family thinks he's gay to dating Helen Keller to what Hitler was like as a little boy. Burnham packs his lyrics with wordplay and double entendre and delivers them at a rapid-fire pace; there are so many jokes crammed into every song that you need to hear it again just to catch everything.
Pushing Good Taste
Burnham's big comedy tactic is obviously to push the limits of taste. When that's all he's got going, like on "The Perfect Girl," the material feels thin. Yes, he's still a gifted writer and able to come up with several clever phrase turns about dating Helen Keller ("She doesn't mind the zits on my ass/it gives her more to read."), but his desire to seem edgy feels transparent.
Better are the songs where Burnham turns the humor in on himself, like on "My Whole Family," where he sings about how his family thinks he's gay and then lists a bunch of reasons why they're right to think so ("This song's counterproductive..."). Songs like this have a point of view and a context; they aren't just ideas that seem outrageous for their own sake. Don't get me wrong -- even the self-consciously shocking songs are still really well-written and often funny. It's just that the better songs are the ones that last in your mind after the album is over.
All This and a DVD, Too
Bo Burnham contains a bonus DVD featuring Burnham's uncensored Comedy Central Presents special, a music video for "High School Party," his original YouTube videos and a live 10-minute performance from The Improv when Burnham was only 17 (and, in his own words, "f-ing adorable"). It's cool to see some of the songs performed live, and the YouTube videos are a particularly worthy inclusion -- it's neat to see how Burnham basically created his own celebrity, and his do-it-yourself approach to comedy may serve as inspiration to future would-be comics. Nearly all of the songs, however, are the same ones you'll hear on the album, making it pretty repetitive if you plan on watching the DVD shortly after listening to the album. It might have been nice to offer some new material on the second disc.
- Album Release Date: March 10, 2009
- Label: Comedy Central Records