When Bo Burnham’s hour-long standup special dropped as a Netflix exclusive last week, I was unsure whether it was fit to be analysed as part of the TV section.
It was released on an online television and film network, true, yet anyone who is familiar with Bo’s previous performances- such as his 2013 special what.- knows he encapsulates a myriad of different artistic expressions into his comedy such as music, theatrics, and even poetry.
But then I watched it (more times than I am proud of) and realised what Bo had created in Make Happy was something exceptionally unique, and decided I would use any possible excuse to talk about it to anyone who would listen. As my friends soon lost their patience, I now turn to Impact.
To start us off addressing what is probably most crucial in a comedy show, Make Happy is hilarious. The structure of Bo’s show remains fairly unaltered from what., making heavy use of the on-stage keyboard (which he also uses as a prop in his jokes now more than ever), lights, and pre-recorded music and vocals. The show flows as a series of discrete bits and songs seemingly disjointed, but that are actually more connected than meets the eye.
He also showcases the satirical, arrogant yet self-deprecating humor that characterizes him. He’ll make fun different comedy and musical conventions (like pandering country singers who have yet to work a day in the field) while recognising his privileged status as a straight white man who is at best a mediocre comedian with often silly and stupid jokes. He is as modest and aware of his abilities as ever.
On top of that, Bo really seems to come into his own as a stand-up performer, engaging with the audience more so than he had ever before. It’s safe to say that if you enjoy introspective, witty humour, you’ll be a fan of Make Happy.
Yet, if you have been following Bo long enough you’ll know that his pubescent teen ‘silly’ characteristics have always been part of his comedy, something that became irritating after a while and has always been a focal point of criticism (often by himself).
He veered slightly off that track in what., but now seems to have made a complete 180, abandoning child-like demeanour in favour of an honest dialogue as the focus of his show. He claims that our world has been moulded by a market that over-demanded performance and became a place where everyone is entertainer and audience which, ultimately, is a depressive way to live your life.
While social commentary in stand-up is not something new, Bo makes his statement deeply personal, recognising himself as a victim to this epidemic, stating that he has ‘declining mental health’ and struggles, through comedy, to give people what ‘he cannot give himself’.
Bo ends the show with a 10 minute half-sung, half-spoken, all auto tuned speech, inspired from watching Kanye do something similar. In here Bo goes over his problems, first in a joking manner, detailing his experience with a particularly negligent chipotle employee who lets half the ingredients of his burrito spill as he wraps it.
As he continues, the song has a darker undertone, as Bo finally admits his biggest problem is ‘you’, the audience. Caught in a self-fulfilling cycle of depression, Bo tries to bring pleasure to his audience, while attempting not to care what they think, leading him to fear the very people he is trying to entertain.
He is unhappy, and according to him we are all, to an extent, in his same position. We are all ‘performer and audience melded together’, trying to entertain and be entertained through distractions. Bo ends by stating that although he knows very little, he knows that ‘If you can live your life without an audience, you should do it’.
The special truly flourishes on Netflix-the home of bingeing- because it is the kind of show that improves upon repeated watches. There are small details in his jokes, whether it is telling his audience he isn’t honest, or that if they look for moral guidance in Katy Perry’s lyrics they should kill themselves, or even complaining that he wasted 200 dollars on props for one joke while people starve every day.
These details that are initially just additions to his particular strain of comedy, upon repeated watches, while still funny, portray a disturbed entertainer obsessed with how detached from reality entertainment has become.
The last moment of the show is particularly personal. Here Bo abandons the stage and mutes all the audience’s cheers as he retreats to a small room backstage where, accompanied by his keyboard, he sings about how he hopes people enjoyed the show.
Before abandoning the viewer to go outside, symbolically leaving the performance behind (to hopefully be happy), he asks a question so heartfelt it is hard to imagine any other comedian being so sincere: “On a scale from 1 to 0, are you happy? Cause you’re on your own from here so, are you happy?”
Images sourced from Netflix, Splitsider and Coogradio