By Chelsea LoCascio
The world is not funny. “Can I get a little more pink light?” The world is not funny. “Every building here is made of brick. Why?” The world is not funny. “The cop has retreated to the grassy knoll of the building, which is really unsettling.”
Before Bo Burnham entered the stage, the crowd in Kendall Hall anxiously awaited his theatrical musical comedy, but the audience was instead met with an empty stage, choir music and a Siri-esque voice that warned, “You are here because you want to laugh and you want to forget about your problems, but I cannot allow it. You should not laugh. You should not forget about your problems. The world is not funny.”
The audience thought otherwise.
Following comedian and “Daily Show” writer Matt Koff, Burnham headlined the College Union Board’s Spring Comedy Show on Tuesday, March 1. As Burnham performed bits from his most recent “Make Happy” tour, the audience was smiling, laughing and cheering. They were happy.
Burnham entered the stage to animated applause, while sporting an over-priced sweatshirt from the College, and immediately broke into his first song with “feminine Eminem”-like swagger. After pumping up the audience, the heavy beat changed to a softer, sadder tune as Burnham became introspective — juxtaposing ironic jokes with self-aware observations is an essential part of his comedic style.
During the song, Burnham pointed out the stage’s noticeably-pink lights, as lighting plays a significant part in his shows.
“Look at all these pink lights. Who has pink lights? I have pink lights. It will remain that way,” Burnham said. Despite the technical setback, Burnham was just happy to be playing at TCNJ rather than contracting it.
“I like my colleges to sound like a sexually transmitted disease,” Burnham said. “It’s good. ‘Mom, I got into TCNJ.’ ‘What? Edward, she got TCNJ. How?’ You know how dads are Edward.”
After some jabs at the audience in an attempt to give them their $5 worth of comedy, everything but the pink lights dimmed as Burnham sat down at his keyboard to reveal “some of the problems in my life.”
“God only knows why he cursed me to be a straight, white male,” Burnham sang, interjecting midway, “This song is ironic. I don’t mean any of this, I mean the opposite of this. Are we all clear?”
In an interview with The Signal, Burnham said he could understand why the audience might not be aware that his material is satirical.
“The fact that the young people might be coming into their morals and be a little irony-deaf in exchange of not being bigoted is fine,” Burnham said. “The idea that like ‘Oh, my God, kids aren’t so psyched for my subtle racial humor.’ They should understand that I’m actually making fun of the privilege.”
Not long after some jabs at the College’s architectural style reminiscent of the colonial era — a time heavy with privilege and bricks — a computerized, high-pitched voice asked Burnham to sing a song that calls him a faggot.
Burnham told The Signal that he understands why bits like this can easily offend people.
“If someone were like ‘I don’t like hearing that word. I just don’t like hearing it,’ I’d be like ‘That’s completely fair.’ I can defend it in terms of, like, what it does in the show and what it is for me, but if someone’s offended, then that’s completely fine,” Burnham said. “I mean, that’s what you’re doing. You’re asking for people’s judgement and you’re asking for their approval, so you might not get it.”
Audience members, who spent their Super Tuesday at the show, fell silent at Burnham’s mention of Donald Trump.
“Nothing makes a room quieter than mentioning Trump to a bunch of college-age kids,” Burnham said. “I can feel the tension. Welcome to the next four years.”
Burnham told The Signal that Trump is spearheading the anti-politically correct movement, and even though they might not support the candidate, other comedians think that having to be inoffensive is damaging to their profession.
“I think political correctness is a slight over-correction to a problem that needs to be corrected. It’s a little bit clunky… but it’s young people caring about things, so I don’t really care and I’m a tough guy — supposed to be — other comedians complain about it,” he said. “I just think that if comedians spent half the time working on their shows as they did talking about comedy or talking about the problems of comedy, comedy would be a lot better.”
Burnham interrupted his show by coming down into the audience to “get to know the kids of New Jersey.” After calling out a few students about their majors, he targeted the police officer in the room.
“I know what you do. Justice for the people, baby. Hand on the belt. I am terrified,” Burnham said. “He’s just maintaining eye contact with me. Comedians’ lives matter, all right?”
After praying for Campus Police’s patience, Burnham invited the audience to sing along to his older song, “From God’s Perspective.”
Burnham showed a more down-to-earth side of himself as he uncovered the point of the show: performing on stage and in life. The comedian told The Signal that performing, and the attention he receives as a result, is the only thing he feels qualified to speak about and wants to alert people to how strange the process really is through his show.
“I wanted to wake people up to what was happening, which is like, there’s a 1,000 of you here,” Burnham said. “I’m up here and I’m trying to be relatable and you guys all like me and I’m the cool guy, but this is so weird. This is truly, truly weird.”
To make it weirder, Burnham ended the show by breaking into an auto-tuned tale of his struggles with performing and happiness, inspired by a rant done by Kanye West during his “Yeezus” tour.
Though the song appeared personal, Burnham said in an interview with The Signal that it’s not telling of the person he is off stage.
“Me on stage is still a character. It still kind of is. It is me as a performer. So for me as a performer, them liking me or not is life and death,” he said. “The good thing is truly in my real life, I have strong personal relationships and stuff that fulfill me to the point where I don’t totally 100 percent need this.”
Burnham’s serious side seems to be an honest glimpse into the person behind the persona, but it’s just an exaggeration with a hint of truth.
“It’s funny that I do something crazy and funny and people are like, ‘Ah ha ha, he’s kidding,’ and then I do something a little dark or whatever and everyone is like, ‘This is him. This is absolutely him.’ Both are exaggerations of something, but yeah, I mean I’ve never been great with performing… It’s very strange to me. I feel like I signed up for a life that I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen if I had started now.”