Straight up talk to Bo Burnham

Nick Glunt

Strumming a guitar and tapping a keyboard from his bedroom, teenage Bo Burnham rose to fame in 2006 through his unconventional YouTube channel. Fans praised him for songs about Helen Keller, his family thinking he’s gay and his “little secret.” Today, his 19 videos have garnered more than 68 million views, according to his YouTube account.

Now 20 years old, Burnham has moved past this singular Internet medium. He had a cameo appearance in 2009’s “Funny People” and has even started writing a movie script for producer Judd Apatow. Most recently, Burnham performed an hour-long stand-up special for Comedy Central airing Saturday at 11 p.m.

Burnham agreed to a conference call interview last week.

Q: Do you see yourself more as a comedian or a musician? Did you ever consider just doing straight stand-up without the musical accompaniment?

A: Definitely a comedian. Yeah, Stephen Lynch (another musician/comedian) is the one who says music is, like, the musician first, the comedian second. I’m probably a comedian first, a musician, like, fifth. I’m very happy when I create music. I’m trying to get better, but — I mean, this new hour that’s coming out, I’d say a good, like, 20 minutes of it, 20 to 30 minutes is not musical. It’s either poetry or straight stand-up. But yeah, I’m definitely more interested in that. I feel like I just sort of fell into musical comedy.

Q: You have written a movie this summer for Judd Apatow. Did you enjoy writing for the silver screen and do you like writing movies or your stand-up better?

A: Yeah, I don’t know if it’s something where I pick. It’s totally a different experience. The best thing about it was that I collaborated for the first time in a long time and I had done theater when I was younger…stand-up is so, like, your own head, which is cool because it’s unfiltered and you can do what you want. But after doing it for so long, it’s nice to be able to collaborate with somebody. But yeah, it’s fine. I don’t know if the movie is going to go anywhere or anything, but yeah, I got to learn how to write a movie, but we’ll see what I got out of it, I think.

Q: So production hasn’t been green-lighted or anything like that for the movie?

A: No. I mean yeah, it’s still a long way to go. I’m still trying to do everything with my stand-up and write it when I can.

Q: Do you associate yourself more with your fans on YouTube or your fans on Comedy Central?

A: I don’t really know. I haven’t really gotten to know the Comedy Central community at all and I think my fans are a much larger percentage from YouTube. I probably identify with them more. But I’ve always been a huge fan of stand-up. That’s why I tried to do what I’m doing with Comedy Central, because I didn’t think that my material is limited to just the Internet. I thought because I was such a fan of a lot of the comics that were always on Comedy Central that I could have an audience there. I think the thing is that they’re not that different, you know? I think the specific types of people tend to like my stuff — I tend to like them. It’s usually pretty easy.

Q: In the beginning of your video, you say, “What’s happening right now? I’m selling out.” I’m curious, is that something you’re worried about now that you’re sort of branching out from YouTube? Are you worried about your fans thinking you’re selling out?

A: It’s not something I’m worried about. I’m aware of it. I’m pretty sure I’m not (selling out). Selling out is if I wrote a jingle for Butterfingers or something. Selling out is doing something for money rather than for what it is in itself. But if those things happen to be happening simultaneously — you know, you’re doing something you enjoy and you’re making money off of it, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I just want to be self-aware, but I think the worst thing I could be is I could still be in my bedroom pretending to be a 16-year-old kid when I don’t feel like that anymore. I think that would be way worse.

Q: Now that you’re sort of branching out and not focusing so much on YouTube anymore, do you think you’re still going to do more personal, shorter, less-of-a-production videos for your fans that are remaining on YouTube?

A: Yeah, yeah, definitely. No, totally. I’ve always told them I’m not going to, like, recreate being a little kid. I just don’t ever want to sit at my parents’ (again) because that is actually way more fake than any set I could build. It’s like me trying to adopt a persona I don’t feel anymore. No, definitely. YouTube is so fun and it’s just a cool medium to have. But, yeah, the reason I moved to the live stuff in the first place wasn’t because of money. It was because I love performing live. I’ve always said I’d rather hear 100 people laugh than watch 10,000 people type “haha.”

Contact Nick Glunt at [email protected].