In the beginning (of YouTube), there was Bo Burnham.
For those of you who don’t know, he was the sickeningly talented teenager who burst onto computer screens with a comedy song that quickly spread online entitled "My Whole Family Thinks I'm Gay", now sitting comfortably on over 8 million views.
Back in the early Wild West days of YouTube, vlogging about your day or unboxing a novelty food item wasn't enough to get those sweet sweet clicks on its own. The first pioneers of the platform either had material prepared elsewhere and uploaded online to showcase their talents.
Burnham followed up his first hit with novelty raps, delivering throwaway jokes at a speed most professional stand-ups would kill for. Soon, he was performing at YouTube's 5th anniversary with Katy Perry sprawled across his piano, performing at the world famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival, writing books and producing specials for Comedy Central and, more recently, Netflix. In short, he was the crossover star YouTube needed.
His latest Netflix special, "Make Happy", features the expected elaborate staging, pop music satires and sound-effect heavy punchlines you expect from Burnham. But, more so than ever, his new material takes angry, horrified aim at the celebrity and performance culture found on social media, YouTube and late night TV...and YouTube.
Alongside discussing his anxiety, (which he opened up about in a recent Reddit AMA, “I started to have panic attacks while on stage, and it made performing really stressful and terrifying for a little while”), he debunks the idea that YouTube fame leads to happiness and acceptance, while also subtly throwing some shade at the current crop of vloggers who live their life as an open book online.
Discussing Youtube, he says:
Everyone talks about how great these new internet distribution models are...but I also think they create really toxic impulses. Brand-building, self-promotion. These are fine things to do once you’ve actually worked hard enough to get good enough where you can make something worthy of being shared. But it should never be a starting point. The first step when starting out should always be to get as good as you possibly can at the thing you’re doing.Bo Burnham, Reddit AMA
Wise words for any potential performers out there.
So to all aspiring YouTubers, musicians, comedians or artists or any kind, set aside some time to watch "Make Happy" as soon as possible. Because for Burnham, while it became a platform for showcasing his talent, internet fame isn't always what it's cracked up to be.