10. “Kill Yourself”
Bo’s parody of pseudo-inspirational pop music, “Kill Yourself,” is one of the most memorable songs from his 2016 Netflix special, Make Happy. A lot of Bo’s comedy is born out of the idea that celebrities, and the media industry at large, are manipulating their audiences. “Kill Yourself” is such an effective use of satire because Bo directly confronts the idea of pop stars handing out hollow, thoughtless, and vague “words of wisdom” in their music, by writing a song that takes the exact opposite approach, and tells the audience to kill themselves.
9. “Are You Happy?”
“Are You Happy?” is without a doubt the most sincere song Bo has ever performed. There is really not one single joke included in this short and intimate tune that comes at the very end of Make Happy. Of course, Bo is currently still in the midst of the indefinite break from stand-up comedy that he took after Make Happy, and that context certainly adds an extra level of weight to this song. Lines like “you’re everything you hated, are you happy?” give the audience an insight into how Bo was feeling about his career, and his relationship to comedy at this moment.
“Sad” is a great example of one of Bo’s songs that starts overtly comedic and absurd, but finishes with a more sincere point or message. The special “Sad” appeared in, what., was really a show about comedy more than anything else. In “Sad,” Bo explores how society uses comedy and jokes as a comforting device. This song, and the next on my list, are two great representations of the themes Bo was examining in what..
7. “Left Brain, Right Brain”
While “Sad,” in a lot of ways, touches on the audience’s relationship to comedy, “Left Brain, Right Brain” is a much more personal song that examines Bo’s own relationship to stand-up. One of the main reasons I love what. so much is because it is rare to see a comedian speak so honestly about his relationship to comedy, and what it is like to be a comedian, the way Bo does in this special. Throughout his career, Bo has tried to navigate his complicated feelings about stand-up on stage and in interviews, but with songs like “Left Brain, Right Brain,” it is clear to the audience that the art-form of stand-up comedy is something that is extremely important to him.
When listening to some recent interviews Bo has given, I get the sense that “Rant” is a song that 2020 Bo may look back on and cringe at a little bit. There’s no doubt this song has a sort-of youthful, rebellious tone to it that can only come from the mind of a “trying-to-sound-smart-and-edgy” teenage atheist, but I don’t hold that against it too much. I still really enjoy a lot of the humor and energy in this song. It is a great example of the writing skills and quick-wittedness that helped launch Bo’s career early on.
5. “Repeat Stuff”
Throughout the years, Bo has waged war on several different genres of popular music. In “Country Song,” he satirized popular, contemporary country music by revealing the way its stars are dishonest with their audiences. Years before that, he took a very similar approach with “Oh, Bo,” a song that highlighted some of the negative aspects of modern day hip-hop. It is his brutal attack on pop love songs, “Repeat Stuff,” that makes my list though. I find this to be Bo’s most effective parody of a popular music genre to date. What I love about this song, and Bo’s comedy in general, is that he uses objectively silly and ridiculous jokes to reveal his true, thoughtful, and honest feelings on certain aspects of popular culture. When I listen to “Repeat Stuff,” I get the sense that Bo has a real hatred for the people creating thoughtless art solely for the purpose of making a profit, and manipulating their audiences.
4. “From God’s Perspective”
In some ways, “From God’s Perspective” feels like a sort-of spiritual sequel to “Rant.” This song, from what., is an updated view of Bo’s feelings towards religion and society’s relationship to it. One of the reasons this song ranks so high on my list, besides from the fact that it is extremely funny and insightful, is because it is just so unique to Bo and his comedy. It’s hard for me to imagine many other professional comedians getting on stage and exploring some of the ideas Bo does in this song.
3. “What’s Funny”
“What’s Funny” comes in at number three on my list for no other reason than I find it to be probably the funniest song Bo has ever performed. Not only is the writing in this song incredibly well done, but when you watch Bo perform “What’s Funny,” you can truly see how gifted of a performer he was, even at such a young age. The rapid fire punchlines and fast-paced lyrics found in this song were both staples in a lot of Bo’s early works. “What’s Funny” remains a great introduction to Bo’s style to someone who is unfamiliar with his comedy.
2. “Art is Dead”
“Art is Dead” is one of Bo’s most interesting songs to listen to and reflect on, mainly because of how his career played out after his first special, Words, Words, Words. It’s fascinating to see the way in which some of the ideas he was working through in “Art is Dead” stayed with him, in one way or another, throughout his later works as well. Furthermore, the closing line of this song, “maybe I’ll grow out of it,” takes on a whole new meaning nowadays, since Bo has in fact taken this prolonged break from performing. Also, this is another song that feels so unique to Bo and his comedy. Throughout his career, he has been incredibly interested in exploring what it actually is to be an entertainer, celebrity, or comedian, and dissecting how a lot of it is just bullshit.
1. “Can’t Handle This (Kanye Rant)”
Personally, I think Make Happy was one of the best things made and released this past decade. I use the word “things” because it is often difficult to accurately categorize Bo’s work. Simply referring to them as stand-up specials doesn’t feel fully correct, but I wouldn’t necessarily call them one-man shows or theater pieces either. Regardless of what you call it, Make Happy was incredible, and a large part of its success is due to the last 20 minutes or so. Within those 20 minutes, Bo performs “Can’t Handle This (Kanye Rant),” which is, in my opinion, the best thing he’s ever done as a stand-up. The beginning of this song is certainly funny, but it is the second half of the song, in which Bo examines his anxieties about performing and his complicated relationship with his audience, that makes it so special. You would be hard-pressed to find a single more honest moment a comedian has had with their audience than Bo telling his fans, “my biggest problem is you,” and “a part of me loves you, a part of me hates you, a part of me needs you, a part of me fears you.” Also, the line “I don’t think that I can handle this right now” takes on a much more substantial meaning since Bo has opened up more, in recent years, about the panic attacks he was experiencing before, after, and sometimes during his performances throughout his stand-up career. If Make Happy is in fact the last Bo Burnham special we get, I can’t think of a better way for him to end his stand-up career than this song, followed immediately by “Are You Happy?”.