Published Aug 02, 2016Bo Burnham's latest standup comedy special Make Happy, a Netflix original, is the followup to Burnham's what., which set the bar incredibly high and Make Happy does not disappoint. It is clear that his stage persona has evolved as his arrogance, anger and mildly creepy vibes in what. have matured through the introduction of an internal conflict about his work in Make Happy. It is clear that he is transitioning in this special — he uses theatrical devices that allow him to deliver the messages he wants, while making sure that his performances still make happy.
In the special's opening, Burnham communicates his conception of his work and his stage persona with remarkable clarity before ever speaking a word. The image of the sad clown is made contemporary as it contrasts with Burnham's clothes, which suddenly look like the official uniform for middle-class, straight, white male privilege. And if you think it's reading into what he does too much, his song about the problems associated with being a straight white man will set you straight.
Burnham's criticism of mass media entertainment as opiate of the masses is fascinatingly self-aware of its complicity. The aim is to create discomfort in his audiences in hopes of altering our culture's addiction to escapism and our habitual ignorance of more serious issues. To do so effectively requires that Burnham participate within the oppressive systems he seeks to critique. Throughout the special, it's clear that Burnham feels conflicted about this and the impact on him is moving.
As in what., Burnham's performance is engineered with such precision that even when he is not explicitly discussing performance, his stuff is very meta. His commentary about our generation's desperate need to perform for each other without purpose constructs social media as a kind of self-imposed Panopticon where we are all simultaneously the watchmen and the inmates. While the moment may be somewhat heavy on didacticism, it's clear that it comes from a place of genuine dissatisfaction with the state of things.
Make Happy offers a calculated balance between silliness and things that matter. Burnham flips back and forth between heavy topics like mental health and race to light-hearted topics such as peanut butter and Pringles (not together, that sounds gross). Through this back and forth, he is able to maintain the attention of younger audiences with ease, which in itself is a feat.
If brilliance is when intelligence meets clarity of expression then Bo Burnham is brilliant. Now go watch him make happy.
Exclaim! is reviewing every standup comedy special currently available on Netflix Canada, including this one. You can find a complete list of reviews so far here.