Bo Burnham is only 25, but he has already starred in four stand-up specials and co-created the MTV series, Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous. The comic-turned-actor has since featured in sketch programs like Kroll Show and Key and Peele, cameoed in Judd Apatow’s Funny People, and will star in Apatow and director Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick in 2017. For a 25-year-old entertainer who can bring an audience to tears with a song like “A World On Fire,” that’s impressive.
The same can be said for Burnham’s Make Happy, his fourth comedy special and his second with Netflix, which debuts today, June 3, on the streaming platform. As Burnham told us, this new hour marks the “end of something” in his career. Yet this shouldn’t be cause for alarm, for Burnham also told us that — while he’s not entirely sure what he wants to do next — he’s definitely going to do something that’s just as entertaining as his previous work. All he needs to do is what he did for Make Happy, which was to say yes to whatever Nick Offerman asks and say no to clowns.
What inspired the opening segment’s clown bit?
A lot of the posters for the tour included the clown, and for me it was a chance to show what it felt like to be on the road. When I’m alone on the road. I’m definitely aware that the clown thing has been overdone, and we actually cut stuff from it that I thought was a little too much. But once I saw it, I thought, “This is what it sort of feels like.” Are you scared of clowns?
Let’s just say I’m not the biggest fan of Stephen King’s It.
No one ever really likes clowns. It wasn’t a great decision. [Laughs.] Even when I released the poster for the tour, people were like, “Why are you doing this?” But to me, it’s what it feels like waking up in a hotel in a weird town that you aren’t from and walking around all sadly. It’s just a really weird experience.
Your material involves more preparation than most comics. Do you think it’s harder for you to prepare a new hour?
By the time I usually get to the recording, just about everything is staying in. I’ve crowd-tested the material so much with an audience that I can finally be confident in it. My material takes a long time for me to write, so I can never have more than I wanted to. When I did the Comedy Central hour — and those only air 42 minutes of material — I at first just wanted to perform only 43 minutes. [Laughs.] The idea of stuff hitting the cutting room floor is killer for me, but there were some ideas in this that I was hoping would play better in the special. In the live show, when I was touring, there were moments where I thought, “Yeah this isn’t really working but hopefully it works a little better when the cameras are rolling.”
Right, because so much of your stand-up involves prerecorded bits, songs and other gags.
There’s a horrible thing that happens when I’m testing… I can’t really do the thing that other comedians do, like casually bringing up a bit. I went and made a three-minute track, certain it would work, and when I tried it out I knew in the first five seconds I thought, “Oh fuck this isn’t going to work at all!” But I have two minutes and 55 seconds left of the thing. The problem with my act and trying it out is it is trying. I can’t really pass it off as, “Yeah that didn’t work.” I at least have the cushion that when it’s not working, at least the music is filling the lack of laughter.