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Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Comedy review: Bo Burnham – What

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Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: Bo Burnham – What at Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33), reviewed by Jay Richardson

Bo Burnham

Claiming that he’s isolated himself for the past five years “in pursuit of comedy”, the preternaturally talented Bo Burnham returns with a show that will scramble and titillate your mind; so dense, multi-layered and creatively rich is his sophomore hour.

Taking the stage to a level of whoops and cheers usually reserved for the sort of corporate-churned, generic pop he later demolishes in a song of bristling fury and artful resistance, the American’s introductory number is sublime, a mime-heavy series of visual gags and backing-track-backed surprises, reinforcing the impression that finding the true depth of his humour is impossible.

Consistently evoking the rampant ego of the performer, while betraying his inner loneliness and existential angst, he’s a sociopath, he blurts; the song Sad a dubious absorption of pain and tragedy for our amusement.

Burnham is still just 22, with all the wisdom that implies, and any danger of What becoming too cerebral is dismissed with some of the most graphic and committed knob gags you’ll ever encounter, part of an audio-visual orgy in which even journeying between two microphones is mined for laughs.

The poem I F*** Sluts is as full-on in its fratboy imagery as it is rhythmically satisfying, a rhyme-perfect succession of grimly sexual “uh” sounds.

Still fond of a deft quip, with some brutally sick and sharp one-liners, Burnham’s songs are more ambitious than in his debut, striving to synthesise the ever present laughs with an abiding message, very much in the style of Tim Minchin.

A dialogue between the left and right sides of his brain offers a glimpse behind the young wizard’s curtain, evoking the spirits of George Carlin and Steve Martin. But beyond reaching out and trying to be less solipsistic, the meaning remains ambiguous.

Rather more Minchinian, and relatively speaking, more straightforward, is a tune he’s composed from God’s perspective, dismissing religious dogma with the peevishness of a creator utterly bored with his creations.

In a show that packs so much disparate material in, the laughter isn’t always afforded sufficient space to breathe and build. But so accomplished is the closing mash-up Burnham fashions from his detractors’ opinions that a standing ovation is the only sane response.

MORE INFO: Bo Burnham – What at Pleasance Courtyard

Originally published in The Scotsman

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