Robert Pickering "Bo" Burnham (born August 21, 1990) is a comedian, singer-songwriter, poet, actor and filmmaker that specializes in stand-up and music.
Bo started out by posting two videos of himself performing songs in his bedroom to YouTube in 2006 so his family could see them, but they became so popular that he decided he would make more. Through his videos, he established a comedic style revolving around cheery piano/guitar music with dark lyrics poking fun at taboo topics such as race, gender, sexuality and religion, alongside getting shock value out of subjects as far controversial as white supremacy and disabilities (although he now looks on this aspect of his early work with chagrin).
After doing a performance for Comedy Central in January 2008, Bo signed a four-record deal with their record label that same year, and his career largely continued from there in stand-up, where he began making a bigger name for himself, and his style of comedy steadily evolved to rely less on cheap shocks and lean more into intelligent satire. Apart from releasing several stand-up specials, he also did a bit of work in supporting roles for a handful of films, and in 2013, his work extended further into TV (co-creating and starring in Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous, a short-lived MTV comedy series about a teenager who tries to become an Internet celebrity) and literature (releasing a humorous poetry book called Egghead; or, You Can't Survive on Ideas Alone).
Bo publicly stated on several occasions that due to increasing struggles with performance-related anxiety, which culminated in him having severe panic attacks while onstage, he would take a break from his stage work following the release of his third special Make Happy in 2016 and move into working on projects for other people rather than himself. While this took the form of continued supporting roles in films alongside directing specials for other comedians (including Jerrod Carmichael and Chris Rock), it most prominently resulted in his debut as a film writer-director in Eighth Grade, distributed by A24 in 2018.
In April 2021 (almost five years after the release of Make Happy), Bo's comedy hiatus came to an end with the surprise announcement that a new special titled Inside was almost finished, shot and performed alone in the wake of world events and to be released through Netflix. It was released on May 30, and was further screened in select American theaters between July 22 and July 25. Exactly one year following its release, an additional hour of behind-the-scenes content and original bits and songs that didn't make the final cut, titled The Inside Outtakes, was released for free on his YouTube channel, and eventually also added to Netflix in August of that year. Tropes relevant to either should be added to the Inside-specific page linked above.
Bo's channel can be found here, with selections of his earlier work as well as the entirety of his what. special for free. Both what. and Make Happy are also available on Netflix, while his debut special Words Words Words is available on Paramount+.
- Bo Fo Sho (EP; 2008)
- Bo Burnham (album; 2009)
- Words Words Words (album/special; 2010) - first album to include stand-up
- what. (album/special; 2013)
- Make Happy (special; 2016)
- Inside (album/special; 2021)
- The Inside Outtakes (videonote ; 2022)
- American Virgin (2009, as Rudy)
- Funny People (2009, as Yo Teach! cast member)
- Hall Pass (2011, as bartender)
- Adventures in the Sin Bin (2012, as Tony)
- The Big Sick (2017, as CJ)
- Rough Night (2017, as Tobey)
- Eighth Grade (2018, writer/director)
- Promising Young Woman (2020, as Ryan)
Welcome to the tropes; this is Bo, these are his tropes, and Bo likes to trope like THIS!
- A Rare Sentence: In what., Bo has a bit about wanting to feel original and avoid existential repetition of life events, so he decides to say brand new phrases that have never been said before to feel some level of importance. Some of his examples include:
- "Peanut butter tribadism!"
- "I'm your father and I loved your comedy show."
- "At first, I was uncomfortable leaving him alone with my children, but then I saw his moustache. Phew!"
- "Yo, check out this Amish website!"
- "Yo, man, my life's about three things, man, three things: gettin' money, gettin' pussy, and the Dewey Decimal System!"
- "Hey, can you hold my fanny pack? I’m gonna go fuck a woman."
- Added Alliterative Appeal:
- From "Art is Dead": "When I could have fed a family of four for forty fucking fortnights."
- Some nice tongue-twister action in "What's Funny": "I'm slowly slipping into a solipsistic coma!"
- All Just a Dream: "High School Party" ends with Bo admitting that the entire song was just made-up on his behalf, and that he was never invited at all. This trope is more clearly seen in the ending of the video, where we see Bo waking up and proceeding to cuddle with the sex toy that he's sharing a bed with.
- An Aesop:
- In what., Bo describes going to a party in Hollywood, and begins a song titled "What Did I Do Last Night?" A techno beat drops, and Bo, sounding like a rapper, begins hyping the track up, and runs up to the microphone only to sing, "I cried myself to sleep!" Song end.
- Parodied in Make Happy several times:
- At the start, there's an electronic beat that Bo dances to as the music builds up to a drop...that doesn't happen, segueing abruptly into Bo setting up a joke. And then it anticlimaxes again:Bo: So I was at the dentist the other day... and nothing funny happened, so I was like, "Don't mention that on stage."
- There's a bit with dramatic music accompanied by momentary flashes that builds up to...Bo farting into his microphone.
- At the start, there's an electronic beat that Bo dances to as the music builds up to a drop...that doesn't happen, segueing abruptly into Bo setting up a joke. And then it anticlimaxes again:
- Anti-Humor: Bo is merciless in his deconstruction of comedy tropes and cliches.Bo: Here's some racial humor for you guys. White people are like this: "Ah!" Black people are like this: "Uh!" We're destined to fight forever! Blood in the streets.
- Anti-Love Song:
- "Repeat Stuff", which actually is more of an anti-love song song, specifically of the insincere pop song variety.
- "Lower Your Expectations" is about how the perfect partner either doesn't exist or is dead, and how you need to set your bar lower if you actually want to find love.
- Appeal to Worse Problems: In "Oh Bo," we get this:Pull it out, stick it in your mouth, and I bust in the back of ya
Swallow, bitch; there's people starving in Africa
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
- From "Oh Bo": "I feel like hip-hop used to be a voice for the voiceless, you know? And now it's become, at least in the mainstream, a symbol of misogyny, gay panic, fiscal irresponsibility."
- From "Rant": "Sadness where there should be joy; hate, and rape, and Soulja Boy."
- From "Sad": "I saw a little boy drop his ice cream cone directly on his mother's corpse! I saw a kitten stuck in a tree, then the kitten jumped off, and he hung itself. I saw a boy who had red hair."
- The opening monologue of Make Happy uses these three facts as proof that the world is a terrible place: we are all dying, 12% of the world's population does not have access to clean drinking water, and Guy Fieri owns two functioning restaurants.
- Atomic F-Bomb: At the end of "Andy the Frog".
- Audience Participation: Defied for the most part. With how meticulous his sets are, Bo gained a considerable reputation for absolutely hating any form of unplanned audience involvement. Lots of fan footage exists of him immediately (but comically) shutting audience members down when they sing along to his songs or interrupt his jokes (even to voice their support). Do note that this is a bit of a generalization, however; not only does Bo sometimes work the audience into his bits (see Audience Participation Song below), but lots of fan footage also exists of Bo playing songs and not minding fans singing along at all."Stop participating. Not a participatory thing going on up here. Trying to immortalize something I've worked on for a long time. Shut up!"
- Audience Participation Song:
- The chorus of "Repeat Stuff". In what., he directly tells his audience to start singing, at which point he stands up and begins Nazi saluting.
- The entirety of "Oh Bo", but notably the Title Drops in the chorus, the Woolly Willy line, and the "people starving in Africa" line.
- A case of Audience Participation Failure: Bo tries to force this onto the audience in the live performance on Words Words Words by not singing at the titular line, but since no one sees his cue the line remains unsung. The next time the line comes around, the audience sings it very awkwardly.
- The opening number of Make Happy.Bo: Virgins, if you haven't felt a person, say "Hell yeah!"
Audience: "HELL YEAH!"
- In the intro of what., Bo declares "My voice is so fucking natural!" while heavily auto-tuned. When the auto-tune briefly drops, his singing becomes Hollywood Tone-Deaf.
- Used extensively in the finale of "We Think We Know You"."Bo, oh my god. Bo, oh my god. Bo, oh my god. Bo, OHHH MYYY GOOOOOOOOOOOD..."
- The last live number in his Make Happy special uses it liberally, as it's designed in the style of a Kanye West rant. He also does things like tongue-wagging and snorting auto-tuned.
- Awesome, but Impractical: After the nursery rhyme rap in Make Happy, he comments on how the smoke machines for the bit cost $200.
- Bait-and-Switch: In "Men & Women"; "Women are like puzzles...because prior to 1920, neither had the right to vote. Puzzles still don't."
- Becoming the Mask: There have been rumors that Bo actually lost himself a bit in his arrogant public persona for a period of time.
- Berserk Button: Exaggerated for comedic effect.
- Don't sing along with him during a live show. Just don't.
- Don't interrupt his jokes either.
- Don't tell him you love him. He will cut you off right there and tell you how you're Loving a Shadow.
- Big "NO!": The ending of the "Inappopriate Musician" skit, which has Bo playing the friend of a suicidal person who is trying to convince him not to jump. However, after the "NO!", some slide whistles come in. "He's saved."
- Biting-the-Hand Humor: Played with; after MTV cancelled Zach Stone, Bo took the time during a live performance of "Oh Bo" to throw some jabs, and then at least half-genuinely stated that they were merely in good fun."I made a show that got cancelled after twelve episodes, baby! And for all my people saying, 'What about us? Why can't we get some of that fifty dollars that MTV paid you?' (Beat) What's the M stand for? 'Mediocre.'"
- Black Comedy: Frequently.
- "From God's Perspective": "I sent gays to fix overpopulation, and boy, did that go well."
- Lampshaded in "Sad", with Bo ruminating on the fact that since his audience is laughing at the terrible stuff he's been telling them, he has to say some pretty sociopathic things so they continue doing so.
- In Make Happy he sings a funny major key song about how problems are more complicated than shallow pop songs portray them as... With lyrics about committing suicide.Kill yourselfIt'll only take a minuteAnd you'll be happy that you did itJust go over to your ovenAnd shove your head in it
- Black Comedy Rape:
- One of his haikus: "Do unto others as you would have done to yourself - said the rapist."
- "I always used to cry when I laughed. But then I was raped by a clown."
- Blank Book: Bo's poem "I Fuck Sluts" from what. is read from what turns out to be blank pages.
- Book Ends:
- The first and penultimate lines of "High School Party" are "High school party, senior year".
- Bo's #CAKECEPTION trend on Instagram started and ended on the same day...give or take a year.
- Boring Religious Service: In "Rant", Bo complains a lot about religion; the first verse discusses what it's like at church, and he evidently finds it boring. He claims that it passes "fast as molasses", complains that it's "too early" to read more stories, and is sitting in the back listening to music while the others start to pray.
- Bowdlerise: On the Bo Fo Sho EP and the Self-Titled Album, "My Whole Family Thinks I'm Gay" is shortened to "My Whole Family...".
- Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: "Lower Your Expectations" describes the desired partners in part as "a good boy, a bad boy, a good-bad boy" and "a real girl, a hot girl, a really hot girl".
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick:
- From "Andy the Frog";He [Andy] had 3 best friends:Millie, who never left her lily pad,Billie, who was always hopping mad,and Roger, who was arrested for possession of tadpole porn.
- From "Andy the Frog";
- Breaking the Fourth Wall:
- Throughout the Words Words Words album, Bo frequently stops the joke he's telling to tell people who are tuning in on audio some visual gag that has just occurred.
- He does so in what. as well.Bo: For those of you listening, I just threw confetti. Flamboyantly.
- Slightly subverted with the protagonist in "Making a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich While Shitfaced", where he is asked by his angry girlfriend why he's talking to the kitchen sink, when he thinks he's talking to the audience.
- Broken Aesop: "Love Is..." ends with an anecdote about a company that sells rape whistles facing a dilemma produced from the fact that if they're successful in declining rape, they'll also see a decline in sales. The main take-away Bo extracts from that for the whole song?"Love is all about...whistles."
- Broken Record:
- "Prolonged eye contact (prolonged eye contact)..."
- "Repeat stuff, repeat stuff, repeat stuff..."
- "We think we know you. We think we know you."
- "I don't think that I can handle this right now, I don't think that I can handle this right now..."
- "They don't even know the half of this right now, they don't even know the half of this right now, they don't even know the half of this right now..."
- "Bitches and hoes, Bo's hoes, oh, bitches and hoes. Bitches, hoes."
- Bystander Syndrome: In "Sad", Bo details how his indulgence into this trope led to the death of an old man.I saw an old man get hit by a train
He didn't see it in the pouring rain
He didn't hear me shout "Look out for the train"...
...'cause I didn't say anything.
I just thought to myself, "Oh, this is gonna be sad."
And it was. I'm a genius.
- Captain Obvious Aesop: In-Universe. In "From God's Perspective", God matter-of-factly declares rape to be a "fucked-up thing to do.""Pretty obvious, just don't fucking rape people. Didn't think I had to write that one down for you."
- Camp Straight: Parodied in "My Whole Family Thinks I'm Gay". Despite Bo's voice and theatre kid mannerisms adhering to gay stereotypes, he is heterosexual.
- Careful with That Axe: "A World On Fire" from what. It's just Bo mashing his piano and screaming for a few seconds.
- Catch-22 Dilemma: Appears in "Can't Handle This", and is directly lampshaded afterward.I don't go to the gym 'cause I'm self-conscious about my body
But I'm self-conscious about my body...'cause I don't go to the gym
Irony can be so painful
That's a Catch-22, ooh!
- Clueless Chick-Magnet: Although much of his act consists of self-deprecation of the "lanky awkward teenage boy who doesn't get girls" stereotype, he has gained quite the following as an attractive man among his audience.
- Cluster F-Bomb:
- His song "Eff" contains 72 uses of the word "fuck", considering it gets dropped about every three words. And that's not even including the background part, which elevates it to a Macross F-Bomb Massacre.
- One instance of him cursing out a heckler.
- During "What's Funny": "Fuck my life, I don't fuck my wife, so fuck my wife, and fuck my life."
- Comedic Sociopathy: Exaggerated in "Sad", and even lampshaded:"The world isn't sad. The world's funny, I get it now! I'm a sociopath!"
- In the live recording of "My Whole Family Thinks I'm Gay" on "Words Words Words", he lets out a giggle and a "motherfucker..." at "Even my boyfriend thinks I'm gay!"
- He chuckles on the album recording of "Ironic" after singing, "I got my girlfriend pregnant on my sterile uncle's pull-out couch!"
- Country Matters:
- All in the name of punning."Go to a vagina orchard / Count one, two, three / Spin that plant around / You got a third whirled cunt-tree"
- Also used more blatantly in haiku form:"Bono, if you want to help poor people, sell your tinted shades, you cunt!"
- At one of his live performances:"My sister hated it when I said the C word. Like, we'd be watching Spongebob, and I'd go, 'C word!' And she'd go, 'It's Squidward, you cunt!'"
- A rather literal one to finish off a song mocking insincere country music: "I do what I do cause I'm a total fuckin' count..ry....boy."
- All in the name of punning.
- Cover Version: At the height of their infamy, Bo couldn't resist covering "Friday" or "Baby" during some live shows.
- Creepy Blue Eyes: Bo sports these occasionally in the "Repeat Stuff" video to accentuate his Satanic persona.
- Culturally Religious: He went to a Catholic school as a child, and some of his works play off of that in a satirical way. In more recent times (starting at the 1:40:30 mark), he has started identifying as an atheist in specific terms. He rejects theismnote and, while he's not fully in the group, has leaned more towards deismnote , claiming that the gaps in privilege he sees around him are what distances him from the idea of a theist god.
- Dead Baby Comedy: Some of his older stuff definitely trekked into this realm, considering how more Bo relied on shock value for comedy. Bo has since disavowed this era of his career whole-heartedly.
- Deadpan Snarker: Bo's persona onstage is that of the "weird kid in high school" telling jokes that involve being mad at the world around him. Snark about the world is thus a frequent source of comedy.
- Death by Irony: In "New Math":An anteater plus a large hungry mutant ant: an ironic way to die.
- Deconstructed Character Archetype: Bo's earlier stand-up persona revolved around dismantling the "weird kid in high school" type that's really shy and a total loner. While it's played for Black Comedy, Bo frequently points out how dark some of his thoughts can get, how utterly bizarre human nature can be, how introversion can really mess someone up, and the weird things people do to try and become popular.
- Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: In "Country Song":No shoes, no shirt
No Jews; you didn't hear that.
- Digging Yourself Deeper: The lyrics of "My Whole Family Thinks I'm Gay" don't do much to convince anyone otherwise, which he lampshades towards the end."You all probably think I'm gay / Man, this song is counter-productive..."
- Digital Piracy Is Okay:
- When asked about the chances of a Make Happy album in a Reddit AMA, he said that "weird legal stuff" was preventing it from being a likelihood, but he didn't mind fans downloading pre-existing audio rips of the special.
- In a separate AMA, a fan asked him how to watch Eighth Grade legally in Brazil, to which he responded that if the film isn't released there, he can go ahead and watch it illegally — and with the addition that said fan had tattoos of Bo's lyrics, he had "more than earned the right" to do so.
- Dirty Old Man:
- Oh, Roger. "BIT OLD FOR MY TASTE!"
- Also, the "creepy old man fishing in the park" little skit from "what."
- Dissimile: "Love is real-life porn, minus all the stuff that makes porn cool."
- Driven to Suicide:
- His poem "Hanged", from the perspective of someone who, well...
- In Make Happy, he has a song called "Kill Yourself" which blatantly advises the listener to commit suicide from their insecurities...but only if they're being led astray by pop stars who they think speak to their problems and not, you know, actual professionals who deal with insecurities like therapists. Bo then ends the song with a laundry list of ways to commit suicide.
- Embarrassing Middle Name: His middle name is Pickering.
- Exact Words: On some occasions early in his career, someone would just decide to go up on stage with Bo. He'd then ask if they want to be onstage, and then he'd give them the mic and leave."So, you wanna be onstage? ... Did you think this through?"
- Fake Texting: "Left Brain, Right Brain" features Bo seeing a girl nearby. The Left Brain responds to this by telling Bo to "puff your chest out, take your phone, and check your email" in order to "gather data" on the girl and see if she can be "a possible mate".
- Felony Misdemeanor: "The world is not funny. 12% of the world's population does not have access to clean drinking water. The world is not funny. Guy Fieri owns two functioning restaurants. The world is not funny."
- Fetish: Subverted in one joke:"My ex-girlfriend had had a really weird fetish. She used to like to dress up as herself and act like a fuckin' bitch all the time."
- Flat "What": The title of his fourth album is what., reportedly representing the state of confusion he had at the time regarding the rules of comedy and its role in the world.
- Flung Clothing: In the what. intro, Bo does this with his pair of red pants, only to be wearing another identical pair underneath.
- Godwin's Law:
- He manages to make it funny, calling upon the audience to yell "ho" when he yells "hey." When they do...Bo: That's basically how Hitler rose to power.
- He also performs a Sieg Heil as the audience sings "Repeat Stuff". He also does another one in the video.
- Speaking of "Repeat Stuff", the studio version of the song features recordings of Hitler.
- He manages to make it funny, calling upon the audience to yell "ho" when he yells "hey." When they do...
- Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Part of his persona."And if I were gay / Though I swear I'm straight / I'd make the fellas say / "Oh, Bo!"
- However, he has occasionally pandered to this assumption. For example, a story about how he saw "the most beautiful dick".
- Heaven Above: In "We Think We Know You", Bo points his finger in different directions to prompt different people to talk. When he points down, he hears an ungodly "I am Satan, Lord of Darkness!" He hopefully points straight up...to hear chirping crickets.
- Hollywood Chameleons: A poem from Egghead reads, "I put a chameleon on a red dildo. It blushed."
- Humans Are Flawed: Played with in "Lower Your Expectations"; the song does state that humans "all suck", but also states that "love can make us suck less", illustrating a message about how everyone deserves a love that can complete them.
- Hurricane of Puns: Too many of his songs to count, especially in his earlier work. "Words Words Words" comes to mind as a particular example.
- Hypocrisy Nod: In one article, he acknowledged that he's trying to become famous while mocking the kind of attention that would come with it.
- Hypocritical Humor:
- Lampshaded in "Words, Words, Words", the catchy chorus of which states: "I hate catchy choruses and I'm a hypocrite."
- While performing "Oh Bo" in his Make Happy 2015 tour, Bo summons fog machines behind him to spurt out fog after he says "fiscal irresponsibility". He then comments that that joke cost fifty dollars.
- In the opening of the what. special, Bo decides he wants to start off with a joke for all the men in the crowd: "Fellas, don't you hate it when you're blowing a guy and he ends up being a faggot?"
- I Am X, Son of Y: When lampooning how Jesus calls himself Jesus of Nazareth:"I am Jesus of Nazareth, son of Orflek the Butcher!"
- I Banged Your Mom:
- An occasional go-to response from Bo to hecklers is to remark about him fucking the heckler's mother.
- One of the gags in Make Happy is Bo's "improv" song; he picks a random audience member for a song he claims to make up off the top of his head to a backing track, only for the backing track to repeatedly sing "Bo had sex with ____'s mom", allowing him to fill it in with the audience member's name.
- Ignore the Fanservice:
- As this picture◊ shows, Bo seems to be very uncomfortable when flanked by a pair of scantily-clad women.
- His live performance of "Welcome to YouTube" on his channel starts with Katy Perry introducing Bo while Sitting Sexy on a Piano. Bo doesn't seem turned on and looks actually quite discomforted by it, judging by how he says "Thank you, Ms. Perry" afterwards.
- Immediate Self-Contradiction: In "Rant", Bo describes God as the "all-loving faggot hater".
- Ironic Name: In "Sad", Bo notes that he once saw a homeless man named Rich."He wasn't."
- Jump Cut: Happens in what., where he starts to make a joke about video editors before the video suddenly jump cuts to a new shot.
- Justified Trope: Bo doesn't really specialize in comedy as he does more in satire, which allows him to specialize in making fun of things, and that's why his songs can get very offensive. Plus it's funny.
- Last-Second Word Swap: Does this from time to time, often combined with Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion.
- A much darker example in "Sunday School":Did you know that Satan wears a cape
made out of a rainbow flag?
And did you know that Jesus hates abortions
unless the kid was a f...Jew.
- Somehow manages to lampshade and play straight SIMULTANEOUSLY in "What's Funny":"If you're a musical comic, just give 'em a little weird voice inflection
Then take a viagra, and slap 'em with a rock-hard misdirection."
- In "#Deep":"The people in my life are like blades of grass
How? 'Cause they're all so grounded
But at least grass stays away from my butthole!"
- A much darker example in "Sunday School":
- List Song:
- "Ironic" is a list of ironic scenarios, ranging from the feasible (ex: a water park burning to the ground, a tow truck breaking down) to the absurd (Bo impregnating his girlfriend on his sterile uncle's pull-out couch, Bob Barker impregnating all of Bo's pets).
- "Kill Yourself" turns into one at the end, with Bo listing a variety of ways to commit suicide, bouncing between realistic and absurd ("stick your tongue in a plug, suck a pipe of exhaust, make some toast in the tub, nail yourself to a cross...").
- Lovable Sex Maniac: Right Brain from the "Left Brain, Right Brain" skit."I'm a little all over the place, but I'm lustful, trustful and I'm looking for somebody to love (OR PUT MY PENIS IN)!"
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Kill Yourself" employs an upbeat melody with lyrics about suicide to send the message that a listener's complex problems and the solution to them can't be adequately boiled down to an upbeat pop song, and that trying to live by what one says isn't a very good idea.
- Machine Monotone:
Mechanized voice: So basically, you're still a little bitch.Bo: Yes, very mature, disembodied voice up there.Mechanized voice: I was just joking, nigga.Mechanized voice: I'm not human, I can say whatever I want.
- "Left Brain, Right Brain" is bookended with one talking to Bo about the problems arising from his left and right brains being in conflict.
- Make Happy starts with a female computerized voice scolding the viewer for laughing with Bo at the world's faults, saying that there is nothing to laugh about and that she is even trying to stop you from it.
- Medium Awareness: In Make Happy, Bo gets in a scenario where he imitates being shit-faced and trying to talk with his offscreen wife. She is unable to hear him, and tells him to talk into the microphone.
- In his PSA."Smoking can kill you, just like cancer. So don't..smoke...tumors."
- Also in "#deep".
- In his PSA.
- Mind Rape: When Bo's left and right brains are isolated in "Left Brain, Right Brain".
- Misogyny Poem: Parodied with "I Fuck Sluts"."See? He was lashing out with sexist language because he had his heart broken. We all learned something."
- Mistaken for Gay: The subject of one of his songs, "My Whole Family Thinks I'm Gay".
- Monkey Morality Pose: Bo did it once for a magazine photoshoot, as seen here.
- Mood Whiplash:
- "Art is Dead" is a reflective song that focuses on his own faults and hypocrisy as an artist. It's pretty bleak and self-loathing in general, let alone when heard in between his other songs, but on the Words Words Words CD, the track containing the song is directly followed by Bo lampshading this and immediately making a hysterical crude joke to get the audience laughing again:"We got serious there. I think fisting should be called 'uppercunting'."
- His first-ever Vine starts with him making funny noises and suddenly cuts to him staring off sadly and saying, "I'm gonna die alone."
- In one of his what. skits, he reads some poems, one of which saying that he wishes for someone to suffer in horrible ways such as being strapped a bed of nails on the hood of Bo's car and having said car run over speed bumps in a parking lot during an earthquake. Then Bo says that the poem is called "Dad".
- Really, all of what. Many many songs and bits in the special start out hysterical and end on a serious note. Examples being; "From God's Perspective", "Left Brain, Right Brain", "Sad", "Repeat Stuff", and "I Fuck Sluts".
- Used quite hilariously in the "Repeat Stuff" video. One second, Bo and his friends are hanging out and having fun. The next second, it suddenly turns to night and everyone is standing solemnly, taking part in some Satanic ritual.
- Uses this repeatedly throughout Make Happy but mainly towards the end which is mixed with a serious Creator Breakdown.
- "Art is Dead" is a reflective song that focuses on his own faults and hypocrisy as an artist. It's pretty bleak and self-loathing in general, let alone when heard in between his other songs, but on the Words Words Words CD, the track containing the song is directly followed by Bo lampshading this and immediately making a hysterical crude joke to get the audience laughing again:
- Motor Mouth: Bo's insane technical skills do enable him to do this, although it's only occasionally.
- Mundane Made Awesome:
- The "Beating Off In A Minor" bit from what. makes masturbation a lot more exciting, down to the incorporation of Mickey Mousing.
- In Make Happy, Bo turns "I'm a Little Teapot" and "Baa Baa Black Sheep" into hard-hitting raps to demonstrate "beat fetishism", the practice of modern-day rappers using awesome beats to get away with rapping about anything over them.
- Also from Make Happy: "And now, what making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich feels like...when you're high on marijuana."
- New Sound Album: His debut EP was nothing more than simple guitar/piano chords and, in the case of "Bo Fo Sho", GarageBand-sounding beats. From there, he's grown more and more into electronica while keeping the complexity of his piano music, with Inside foraying into genres including R&B and '80s-style synthpop.
- No Ending: Multiple times, most notably "Welcome to Youtube".
- To a lesser extent, "Men and Women", "The Perfect Woman", and "Ironic", the lattermost of which is justified as its non-ending helps it land its final joke.My grandfather had Alzheimer's and
One day we were—
- Also happens in the live versions of "Oh Bo" (partly justified because the bit about the oboe is hard to replicate live).
- "Words Words Words", which just kinda cuts off where the studio versions have little codas and fade out. Sometimes Bo actually does replicate the coda (but without the fade out, of course).
- On the DVD of Words, Words, Words, he performs "I'm Bo Yo" as an encore, and abruptly stops in the middle of the last chorus after changing one of the lyrics to "This song's gonna end really awkwardly."
- To a lesser extent, "Men and Women", "The Perfect Woman", and "Ironic", the lattermost of which is justified as its non-ending helps it land its final joke.
- N-Word Privileges:
- At the start of "Left Brain, Right Brain", when Bo is talking to a disembodied machine voice, it ends up using the N-word. Bo immediately tells the machine to watch its language, but the voice claims it can say what it wants as it's not human.
- In Make Happy:
- Manipulated by Bo in a bit where he does a series of call-and-responses with the crowd and ends up saying "Salt and vi..." so the audience can say "...negar" ("n*gger"). Bo immediately gets exaggeratedly offended and calls out all of the people that said it.
- Said by a backing voice in the first chorus of Bo's nursery rhyme rap.
- One-Liner: Many of his gags are simple one-liners, or collections of one-liners set up by a Framing Device.
- Orphaned Punchline: Intentionally used as the kicker to a series of tweets poking fun at the trend of people breaking a long tweet apart into several, ending each with something like "(1 of 3)", "(2 of 3)", and so on."People need to learn how to tweet long-form stuff. If you're gonna do it, number them so that the order is clear (1 of 4)And make sure you tweet them all at once so people can read them easily. And don't leave anything out or it will be confusing… (2 of 4)And I haven't set foot in a Best Buy since and he's in jail and I can finally sleep at night. (4 of 4)."
- Overly-Long Gag: From the what. intro, "PROLONGED EYE CONTACT." He just stares at an audience member, doing nothing else, while the phrase repeats a few times. Then right when the audience member thinks he's done, Bo comes back and continues staring.
- Painting the Medium: Done with jokes in two specials.
- In what., he begins a joke about editors that gets mysteriously cut off in post.
- In Make Happy, he has a joke about continuity errors."It's where in one shot something's one way, (cut to shot where Bo is no longer wearing his sweater) and in another shot it's another way. You know those things?"
- [Popular Saying], But...: See his take on Hamlet's soliloquy in Sophisticated as Hell and his response to When Life Gives You Lemons... below.
- Porn Stash: In his "Andy the Frog" bit, the character Roger is introduced by having been arrested for possessing a collection of tadpole porn.
- A Rare Sentence: A portion of what. involves him claiming that he enjoys coming up with these when he's feeling low to assure himself that he's unique and capable of creating one-of-a-kind experiences for himself, with examples ranging from "peanut butter tribadism" to "I work at a tollbooth, and I don't want to kill myself".
- Record Needle Scratch: In Make Happy, Bo gets irked with a song that repeatedly calls him a faggot and orders that it be turned off. The song then cuts off with the sound of a record scratch, causing Bo to start questioning why it was being played on a record player.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni:
- A bit in what. involves an argument between the right and left halves of Bo's brain, who follow this dynamic. The colored lighting even follows the color scheme!
- Done again in Make Happy (down to the lighting) with Bo and his girlfriend negotiating a potential separation, with Bo being the red oni and the girlfriend being the blue.
- Refuge in Audacity:
- In Make Happy, he makes the audience indirectly say the N-word, then calls them out for saying it.
- "I Fuck Sluts" is a parody of misogynistic work, with poetry about treating women as objects.
- Religion Rant Song: Bo's takedown of God in "Rant" plays this pretty straight, and some have also interpreted "From God's Perspective" as this.
- Rimshot: One section of the Words Words Words DVD consists of Bo bringing out a basic drum set to perform a bit where he throws out one-liners accentuated with rimshots. The bit ends with him violently knocking the drum set over.
- Running Gag:
- The words "I love the idea of you" pop up in multiple audience interactions.
- Interactions with the doorman (first being here)
- Requests for the "lightman".
- On Words Words Words, Bo often jams his piano, making dissonant noise. He does it near the end of "What's Funny" and concludes the album with it.
- Sad Clown: And how. If him shifting his comedy to focus more on his insecurities as an artist and a person wasn't enough, Make Happy literally starts with a listless Bo in clown makeup trudging through a city on his way to the theatre.
- Saying Sound Effects Out Loud: From the intro to what.:"Play an invisible trumpet. (Trumpet sounds!)"
- It comes back later."Bo wants to make you feel comfortable. (Random voice!)"
- It comes back later.
- Often, most notably in recent performances of "I'm Bo Yo"; in the final line of the chorus he says he "can really find your G-spot", which is followed by a brief self-indicting remark."Oh, but I'm inadequate / Have I gotten that point across yet?"
- "Art is Dead" is chock full of this, and it makes the song really jarring.
- The Opening Narration of what. (see page quote) is basically Bo calling himself out on how much of a jerk he's become.
- The finale of Make Happy features him describing himself as a "skinny kid with a steadily declining mental health".
- Often, most notably in recent performances of "I'm Bo Yo"; in the final line of the chorus he says he "can really find your G-spot", which is followed by a brief self-indicting remark.
- Serial Escalation: "We Think We Know You" spends its 6.5-minute runtime constantly trying to one-up itself. It starts with Bo having a conversation with three in-audio-only characters about his popularity (a bratty high school girl, an agent, and a jock), and then their different sound clips are spliced together to make something of a song, accompanied by Bo pointing at different sides of the stage to activate the voices. Then we hear a sentence from each of them, and Bo splices that into the name of the song. As the Title Drop repeats, Bo starts adding instruments and, while using the voices as a backing beat (he even starts autotuning them), turns the whole thing into an electronic extraganza while playing invisible instruments onstage.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: In what., Bo tells a children's story about a frog named Andy that sees the love of his life and pursues her, only to be abruptly eaten by an alligator along the way.
- Shout-Out: See here.
- Silly Prayer: He gives very satirical ones in "A Prayer/How Do We Fix Africa?" and "Rant". The latter song being a criticism of organized religion, the second verse is a long prayer, in which the churchgoer refers to God by several different and increasingly critical names, thanks Him for making them "rich and white", and ends up asking for Him to fix their dog's leg surgery before tackling serious things like rape, war, and Soulja Boy.
- Smooth-Talking Talent Agent: One of the characters Bo meets in "We Think We Know You" is a Los Angeles agent who rambles on for a while about how Bo needs to "pander to kids" and "reestablish his presence on the internet" while pretending he cares about Bo's music and not just money. Later, he gives a condescending "We know best", and tries to get Bo to call him to continue their "conversation".
- Sophisticated as Hell:
- One of his routines on Words Words Words involves quoting Hamlet's "To be, or not to be" soliloquy and then, after a beat, saying "Pff, like, WHAT?"
- The lyrics to "Sonnet 155", or "If Shakespeare Had Written a Porn".
- From "Ex-Girlfriend/Racial Humor" on the same album:
- Soundtrack Dissonance: In a skit in the intro of what., Bo meets a a pentacorn (five-horned unicorn) while happy music, and then abruptly shoots it, reloads, and shoots it some more — all while the same happy music is still playing.
- Stealth Pun:
- In "I'm Bo Yo": "Because if I'm in the closet, then you are below me / taking the B-A-T outta 'basement', homie." He does sometimes explain the joke ("semen") when playing it live.
- "Words, Words, Words" has a ton of them. For example, "Take off your bras and burn 'em [..], you can let Bo Burnham burn 'em."
- After reenacting his "Smeagol having sex with a black chick" skit in "One Man Shows", Bo mentions that he received a Danza nomination for it. "It was right after the Tonys."
- Stylistic Suck: The "Words Words Words" video. There's no better way to describe it.
- Subliminal Seduction: The final minute of his video for "Repeat Stuff" flashes numerous "subliminal" messages for a single frame that start out ominous ("DISSENT IS DEATH") before gradually turning ridiculous with things like "GOD DIED IN 1993", "MICHAEL CLARKE DUNCAN IS ALIVE AND LIVING IN AMES, IOWA" and "ACCEPT CONVENIENCE FEES".
- Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: Several times."Maybe it's 'cause of the way that I walk/That makes them think that I like...boys."
- Take That!: To everyone including himself.
- Tall, Dark, and Snarky: Bo stands approximately 6 feet and 5 inches tall and, as shown under Deadpan Snarker, uses snark around the world as a frequent source of comedy. It's downplayed, though, considering his hair is more light than dark.
- Technician/Performer Team-Up: In the song "Left Brain, Right Brain", Bo gets his neurological functions split between a cold, harsh, logical Left Brain and an emotional, childish, horny Right Brain. The two initially fight over their separate roles, culminating in calling each-other out for causing Bo's depression. Just before the experiment ends and the two merge back, Left Brain decides that he and Right Brain should work together and perform comedy as a means of helping Bo, with Left Brain manning the form and analysis and Right Brain managing the themes and feelings.
- This Is Your Premise on Drugs: In-Universe: In Make Happy, Bo demonstrates the act of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich under the influence of marijuana and alcohol.
- Title Track: Bo Fo Sho and Words Words Words have one. Actually, the latter has two - a studio version and a live version.
- Truck Driver's Gear Change: Invoked in Bo's country song in Make Happy, where he directly precedes one by saying, "Y'all dumb motherfuckers want a key change?"
- Visual Pun: Almost all of his Vines have one."This fire extinguisher's so heavy. Do you have one that's a little lighter?"
- Voice of the Legion: Used in the "Repeat Stuff" video.I am a servant of darkness.I am the void.The rivers shall run red with the blood of virgins.I take many shapes. This is one of them.The strong will be made weak, and the weak shall bow before me.SWAG.
- And the best one:
- Wham Line:
- The final line of "High School Party", which consists of a story of how Bo managed to attend such a party, get in bed with a girl and almost sleep with her:High school party, senior year
None of that happened, 'cause I wasn't invited.
- After spending a good half of "From God's Perspective" shooting down religious beliefs and taboos, Bo then says the below line, which is when the song changes direction and starts shifting towards constructive life advice.You pray so badly for Heaven,
knowing any day might be the day that you die.
But maybe life on Earth could be heaven.
Doesn't just the thought of it make it worth a try?
- The moment in "We Think We Know You" when the different vocal clips of the three "characters" are spliced together to form a Title Drop.Jock: We think you've changed, bro.Agent: We know best.Girl: You suck!Jock: We think-Agent: We know-Girl: You.
- "Can't Handle This" drops a hard-hitting one after four minutes of auto-tune comedy, taking a severe left turn from comedy to brutally honest self-reflection:"I could stand here and pretend like my biggest problems are Pringle cans... or burritos... the truth is, my biggest problem's you."
- The final line of "High School Party", which consists of a story of how Bo managed to attend such a party, get in bed with a girl and almost sleep with her:
- What Did I Do Last Night?: One of his songs in what. is named after this trope. It consists of the one line "I cried myself to sleep!"
- When Life Gives You Lemons...: In one of his bits in Words Words Words, he states that he's a realist, and thusly believes that when this happens, "you probably just found lemons."
- Wink "Ding!": Used to accentuate the punchline of a small skit in what. where Bo plays a Dirty Old Man fishing in the park with a candy bar at the end of his line to try and catch a kid.
- World of Pun: "Words, Words, Words". And what a world.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: In "Lower Your Expectations", Bo spends the first verse saying how the "perfect guy" only exists in women's minds. The second verse goes on to describe the "perfect girl", but it ends a little differently:
- Your Mom: See Sophisticated as Hell and I Banged Your Mom above.