Published Jul 06, 2016Exclaim! 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.
It's clear from the extensive use of miming, sound, lighting and dance that Bo Burnham's what. is more a one-man comedic musical performance than it is standup comedy. It's also clear that genre doesn't matter — what. revives the spirit of the vaudeville variety show and refashions it for the YouTube generation. It is a high-energy, fast-paced, silly hour of entertainment that is executed with remarkable precision on all fronts.
Burnham is a performer who leaves everything on the stage. His stage persona is arrogant yet endearing. He keeps the audience on their toes as he jumps between being charmingly creepy and genuinely vulnerable. He presents incredible insight and self-awareness, demonstrating that his work is not just entertainment, but an exercise in introspection.
Burnham's jokes can't be reviewed for their content alone because the punchline often relies on his performance. This is evident in his frequent use of the keyboard to perform funny songs and his performance of several poems. Some of his bits are very short while others are long — all are riddled with word play, misdirects and wit to spare. There are moments in the performance where the content, if not the execution, reveals a depth and darkness underneath the silly surface that manifests itself in a surprisingly harsh criticism of society from such a young performer.
Through the special, he engages with the topics of sexism, racism, homophobia, and more in unique and intelligent ways while also making it clear that he understands his privilege. In fact, he presents himself with being so comfortable with his white male privilege that his engagement with these topics forces the audience to become uncomfortable with their own privilege.
Bo Burnham's what. is clever, form-bending comedy from start to finish in which musical skill becomes a joke and beating off becomes art. "Must see" is an understatement.