I had a rough week. January, you know? I’m not good at winter. I’m really, really not good at winter in complete isolation. So yeah, rough week.
I’m okay, I promise.
In an effort to mitigate the January-ness of it all, I’ve built around myself a cocoon of booze and dogs and fuzzy pajamas. And comedy, which is the point here. Weirdly, Netflix opened a floodgate and released a bunch of new standup specials around the New Year, so I suspect that they’re well aware of people like me (us?) who need a good laugh right about now. Either that or show business is built on the backs of delicate, artistic people who have all synced up their cycles of fucked-up-brain stuff enough that standup specials come in waves. Or both. Either way, it makes me happy. Happier.
My favorite of these nuggets of joy is Bo Burnham’s new show, What. If you’re not familiar with Burnham’s work, and you like snarky comedy with social commentary, lots of fuck words, and bonus pianos, you should definitely check him out. He has an interesting sort of meta-style where he puts on an antagonistic stage persona in order to better make fun of an industry which thrives on antagonists. This is made even more hilarious by the fact that people don’t understand he’s doing a character and take him seriously. He’s like a young Tim Minchin, but angrier and with less extraneous theatricality. Sex, money, religion, culture – all are open to criticism, often at the same time (whether we think about it or not, these things are inextricably connected).
His first special, Words Words Words, came out a couple of years ago and blew my mind a little. Not because it was so good (it was good, but honestly it seemed a bit scattershot and rough around the edges), but because he was so young. He was only twenty at the time. He was angry at all the right things for his age, but I didn’t expect him to be so articulate or insightful about it. Maybe (okay, probably) that’s me being prejudicial toward young people and making a gross overgeneralization. But really, how many teenagers do you know who have their heads out of their ass (or their fucking phone) enough to write super satirical, intellectual, musically solid comedy songs, put them on the YouTubes and build a successful career with no handlers? Probably not many, but I figure it will continue to happen more and more.
We’re in the middle of an interesting comedy and technology convergence right now. All those comedians who missed the comedy boom of the 80s and were labeled “alternative” (a term I kind of hate) in the 90s? Their fans are grownups now. Ish. And while only a handful are going to make it the way Burnham has, through hard work and a sort of constructive single-mindedness, all of them have grown up in a world where making and marketing art is as easy as turning on a laptop. It’s proving difficult for the entertainment industry to wrap its old-school mind around, but these kids are doing it every day. Podcasts, vlogs, Twitter feeds – these are the open mic nights of the millennial generation. And it works.
Which brings me to the coolest thing about the new Bo Burnham show. He released it for free, stuck it up on iTunes, YouTube, and Netflix all on the same day. This is a logical step in a post-Napster world. To me, it feels like just another form of social media, merely an extension of stuff we do every day anyway. Make art, put art on internet, get noticed for awesomeness of art – then tell the system to fuck itself and keep doing what you’re doing because it obviously works. Musicians already knew, for a good decade or so, that the internet was going to eat all their money and they could really only make a profit off of touring. Comedians are catching on, and musical comedians are a weird hybrid caught in the middle. Burnham is just ahead of the game. And good on him. Where folks like Radiohead and Amanda Palmer have had to endure controversy over bucking a well-established media machine’s outdated system, these whippersnappers are pre-programmed to understand that art for free is the new system. It’s cultural and technological and artistic evolution, all in one. I love it. It’s amazing. What an exciting time to be alive.
Anyway, check out Bo Burnham’s stuff. This song in particular makes me really happy (it’s an obvious riff on this Minchin thing, but they’re friends so it’s okay – and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery). He’s already great, and I’m hoping that in another few years he’ll melt everyone’s faces, and not just the twitchy comedy nerds like me. Hooray for smart art! I’d like to think that one day our demand for it will crush mindless pabulum out of existence. One can dream.