The Untold Truth Of Bo Burnham

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Bo Burnham was one of the world's first viral YouTube sensations. He was thrust into the limelight — or, perhaps more accurately, self-thrust into the blue light of a computer — in 2006 at the age of 16, entertaining and baffling the world with his wordplay-heavy, satirical songs. His first viral video led to several more YouTube videos with hundreds of millions of cumulative views, a few comedy specials, and small roles in comedy movies such as "Funny People," "Hall Pass," "The Big Sick," and "Rough Night." He has also appeared, albeit briefly, in celebrated comedies including "Parks and Recreation," "Kroll Show," and "Key and Peele."

Burnham brought his filmmaking skills to a short-lived, semi-autobiographical sitcom, and five years later, to the critically-acclaimed movie "Eighth Grade," which won several awards and was named one of the top 10 movies of 2018 by both the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute. Burnham also appeared as Ryan Cooper in the critically acclaimed Academy Award-winning 2020 movie "Promising Young Woman." Whew!

Next, Burnham appeared in his Netflix standup special, "Inside." Anyone can see that Burnham has metamorphosed from a teenager in a grainy YouTube video to an award-winning filmmaker and performer — but here are some of his less apparent obstacles and inspirations.

Bo Burnham's high school years were full of irony and insecurity

Despite clearly being a genius-in-the-making, Bo Burnham has suggested he was not the most popular kid in school. "When I was a senior in high school, there was a 'Most Likely to be Famous,' 'Most Likely to Make a Million Dollars,' 'Most Likely to Be Successful,'" Burnham said during a 2018 interview at the 92nd Street Y. "I got 'Most Likely to be on a Reality Show.' I didn't get 'Most Funny' or anything, like I got a big — can we swear? — I got a big 'f*** you' from my class."

Burnham has also discussed being insecure about his height since puberty. During a 2014 interview on "The Pete Holmes Show," he said, "I'm 6'5", 6'6" on a good day... I would do anything to be, like, 6'1," 6'2"." He suggested a potential comeback to the question "Oh, you're tall, do you play basketball?" — "No, do you play mini golf?" And do not even think about asking him "How's the weather up there?" because he just might tell you "it's raining" and then spit on you.

YouTube has impacted Bo Burnham's career in more ways than one

The mystical universe of YouTube was introduced on Valentine's Day in 2005. The following year, a 16-year-old Bo Burnham took to the platform to post the video "My Whole Family," which quickly went viral. His homemade videos led to a full-blown comedy career, and in 2008, at 18 years old, he became "the youngest person to ever record a half-hour Comedy Central special" (per AEG Presents).

The disconnect between Burnham's life as a viral internet sensation and a not-especially-popular high school student later lent itself to his award-winning 2018 movie "Eighth Grade." 

"The initial impulse for the script, in the start of it, was watching videos of young kids online speaking about themselves and talking about their life," he said during a 2018 interview for The Hollywood Reporter. Burnham added, "I found the way that these kids express themselves to be so visceral and meaningful to me and sort of existed in really sharp contrast to the way I had seen young people be portrayed onscreen ... The internet is a well of humanity if you dig past the surface of it, you know?"

In 2013, Bo Burnham launched both a failed MTV series and a celebrated standup special

Bo Burnham co-wrote, co-created, and starred in the MTV series "Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous." Reflective of Burnham's own experience, the series chronicled the life of a recent high school graduate who decided to pursue fame and fortune rather than a college degree.

The comedy was cancelled by the network after only one season, and ultimately ran for just shy of two months, in May and June of 2013. "The cancellation adds a nice bit of poetry to the arc of the final episodes, as Zach finds himself running out of money and possibly losing his beloved cameras (and show) forever," Burnham wrote in a statement (via The Comic's Comic). In closing, he added, "I am the luckiest guy that I know. And my experience with 'Zach Stone' has only affirmed that belief."

A silver lining to the show's cancellation may have been that it allowed Burnham to focus on his comedy special, "what.," which was released on Netflix and YouTube at the end of 2013.

Bo Burnham has been dating Lorene Scafaria since 2013

In 2013, Bo Burnham began dating fellow multihyphenate screen star Lorene Scafaria, who is 13 years his senior. Scafaria is an actor, composer, director, producer, and writer known for her work on movies including "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" and "Seeking A Friend for the End of the World." She is perhaps best known as the director of the critically acclaimed 2019 movie "Hustlers." Scafaria was previously linked to actors Adam Brody and Ashton Kutcher.

Burnham and Scafaria tend to keep their private lives private, and little is known about their home life, other than the fact that they share two rescue dogs, Bruce and Ramona. A 2018 Time article made a rare mention of the relationship, noting that the pair lived together in Los Angeles and that Burnham gave Scafaria credit for "showing him some of the Hollywood ropes."

Burnham also thanked Scafaria while accepting a 2019 Film Independent Spirit award for best first screenplay for "Eighth Grade." "To my girlfriend, Lorene Scafaria, who's here. She's a writer-director, and I was inspired to do this by watching her work," he said, "so thank you."

Anxiety led Bo Burnham to quit standup comedy for five years

Bo Burnham's movie "Eighth Grade" was both inspired and fueled by Burnham's anxiety. "I did not set out to write a movie about eighth grade," he told The New Yorker in 2018. "I wanted to talk about anxiety — my own anxiety — and I was coming to grips with that." While onstage at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013, Burnham had the first of a series of panic attacks that would recur throughout the tour for his comedy show "what." "It's a feeling of riding your nervous system like a bull," he told The New Yorker. "And then being in the real world with anxiety feels like you're riding a bull and everyone else is an equestrian."

Burnham's panic attacks led him to quit standup after his special "Make Happy" in 2016. "It was the roughest time in my life that last tour — the roughest," he told Time in 2018. "It felt like every night onstage there was just a f***ing ax hanging over my head and at any point this thing's going to f***ing drop." The comedian also worried about passing out and being filmed for the Internet to see. 

Still, Burnham announced a new standup special, called "Inside," in April 2021. Actor Josh Hamilton, who appears in "Eighth Grade," praised Burnham for his ability to channel anxiety into creativity, telling Time, "His motor thrums at a higher level than most of us."

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

He was planning to return to live shows

Before the world came to a crashing halt, Bo Burnham was ready to return to his live comedy routine (via The New York Times). Covid-19, however, had other plans. The comedian alludes to this change of heart and circumstance in his Netflix pandemic special "Inside," telling viewers that he wanted to get back out into the world after getting control of his anxiety. Burnham's "Inside" wound up becoming the level setter for pandemic art, according to The Guardian's Adrian Horton.

Burnham's final live show was on June 8, 2018, in Los Angeles, according to Concert Archives. Despite his assertion that he would return to live comedy in "Inside," there haven't been any updates on Burnham's live shows making a comeback. Burnham's own website is devoid of anything besides social media links, a merchandise store, a box set for "Inside" and a banner advertising his outtakes from "Inside" on his YouTube channel. We hope you come back outside someday, Bo. Until then, we'll just keep singing "Look Who's Inside Again."

He's directed and produced several comedy specials

When Bo Burnham isn't at his keyboard rocking out to his latest comedic bop or writing more iconic work, he wears different production hats. In his career, Burnham has produced or directed several comedy specials for other comedians. Did you know he directed Chris Rock's 2018 Netflix special "Tamborine?" He also directed and produced Jerrod Carmichael's 2022 HBO special "Rothaniel," and produced "Whitmer Thomas: The Golden One" and "Lil Rel Howery: Live in Crenshaw."

In talking about his feature film directorial debut "Eighth Grade," Burnham said on Vox's "I Think You're Interesting" podcast that directing standup specials taught him many useful skills for directing movies, including lighting and camera focus. It seems that his directorial eye is special, too, because he sees the world around him as an opportunity for aesthetic. Burnham thinks people looking at their phones is a cinematic moment, comparing it to letter-writing by candlelight. "For me, a character looking into a light source, practically, is exciting," he told the outlet. "Like, they're looking into lights? That's perfectly cinematic. I'll be in bed with my girlfriend and look over at her on her phone in the dark... It's a surreal image, staring into that phone, and the look on your face — there's nothing comparable to the way you look when you're looking at a phone."

Bo Burnham published a book of poetry

Anyone who remembers Bo Burnham's 2010 album "Words, Words, Words" knows that he has a soft spot for poetry (ironic haikus, anyone?). So it shouldn't come as a surprise that he published his own poetry in 2013. Burnham has only published one volume, "Egghead or You Can't Survive on Ideas Alone," though it is a great little book. Being a published poet didn't make Burnham pretentious; he told NPR at the time that he thinks his poetry is kind of basic.

"I don't try to call myself a poet, but I know that my stuff is pretty literal, in that the themes are pretty simple and on the surface," he told the outlet in 2013. "I think there's sort of a new poetry nowadays too, with the condensed, streamlined language of Twitter and all this. That's been my struggle creatively: Can I mine this new, frenetic mindset? Because I think I'm part of it as much as anyone of my generation." Burnham shared that he turned to overstimulation as a result of boredom. Despite his concern about screen addiction interfering with his creativity, he wasn't afraid to put himself on the same level as his literary icons.

Burnham told The Tufts Daily that, in growing up with Shel Silverstein and George Carlin, he sees his work (specifically his poetry) in that vein, even calling his work a "dirty" version of a Silverstein book. Maybe we can expect another Burnham poetry book drop in the future. We can hope, right?

He signed on for the live-action Sesame Street movie

Although most of his work is not really in the family-friendly category, Bo Burnham is an uber talented writer. He's so talented, in fact, that he was brought on to write the songs and star in the forthcoming "Sesame Street" movie. Burnham will appear alongside Anne Hathaway and Chance the Rapper in the film. Though the premiere date is unknown, the movie is in pre-production as of 2022.

Deadline broke the news in June 2019 when the film was originally slated to premiere theatrically on January 15, 2021. Though Burnham hasn't been interviewed about his trip to Sesame Street, he did tell IndieWire after finishing "Eighth Grade" that he would love to do another one of his own films. "Once ['Eighth Grade'] is out, I'll try to sit around and just think for a little bit, just bang my head against the wall or something. But who knows? 'Fifth Grade.' We'll do a 'Lord of the Flies.' And that'll be chaos. That'll be like actual chaos."

He's working on an untitled project

Another one of Bo Burnham's projects (likely derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic) was announced in early 2019 by Deadline. The "Untitled Bo Burnham Project," created under Paramount Pictures, is still in pre-production, according to IMDb. The site's one-line summary for the film reads, "A pair of high school outcasts dress up as superheroes and go after the bullies who taunt them."

Deadline originally reported that the film would be written and produced by Burnham, directed by Amy York Rubin, and would star Danielle Macdonald and Jaboukie Young-White. Audiences should remember Macdonald from "Dumplin'" and "PattiCake$" while Young-White was excellent in "Rough Night" and as a "Daily Show" correspondent. 

It's possible that the film is now stuck in pre-production indefinitely, though it still appears on the IMDb profiles for each of the stars. Deadline noted that the project was formerly titled "Gay Kid and Fat Chick," and Redditors claimed that Burnham's 2013 script under this title was available online. The screenplay made "The Black List," an annual industry document spotlighting "the most liked unproduced screenplays of that year." We hope Burnham's project someday sees the light of day.