The Verge: Bo Burnham
In an age where well-known actors aspire to become viral video stars, 18-year-old Bo Burnham is attempting the opposite. Already well-known to a certain age group for the witty songs he posts to Youtube ("My Whole Family..." and "High School Party" are two of his biggest hits), he's been taken under the wing of Judd Apatow, who's shepherding a Burnham-written rebuttal to High School Musical. That association has landed him a cameo in Apatow's upcoming Funny People (where he harangues Jason Schwartzman in the film's sitcom spoof Yo Teach!), an accomplishment which might seem more impressive if Burnham hadn't already put out an EP and headlined his own Comedy Central special. We talked to the young multihyphenate about how it all came together.
You've said that you want your high school musical to show things other high school movies don't. Like what?
You don't see everybody getting along. You know, even in movies like Superbad, they're all lovable kids. First of all, there's not many lovable kids [in high school], and even the lovable ones don't get girls that are way out of their league. Also, this is a lot more fast-paced. Pep rallies and all that shit's, like, gone. It's been replaced.
What's replaced it?
Half of all that interaction now goes on on a computer. Naked pictures are floating around, there's school shootings...it's much different than people think. And I don't mean it like everybody's talking about dicks and porn and stuff, but...
So we're not going to see the usual high school movie tropes like prom and makeovers?
It has that in the beginning frame, and then all that stuff just sort of dissolves. That just doesn't work anymore.
Bo, we know there will be singing -- but will there be dancing?
Oh, yeah. But all that stuff is way down the road.
How far down? What's the state of your script at this point?
I wrote a first draft and I've written six or seven songs out of ten. So right now I'm just rewriting the script a bit, and I'm working on the songs.
How are you going to find time to finish it? How are you managing all your work now that you're done with high school?
Right now I'm just staying home for the summer, writing my musical furiously. I'm also trying to write my big hourlong standup set. I'm definitely putting off college -- I'm starting my tour up in December.
So is the Yo Teach! stuff the sum total of your time in Funny People?
Yeah, there's one other little scene, but that's basically it. It was near the end of the shoot, and we shot three or four five-minute episodes. I think [Judd Apatow] thought they'd make a good DVD extra.
How did that come about?
I told Judd I had never been in a movie, and so he just was like, "Oh, well, I'll put you in my movie." And that was sort of it! [laughs]
And you'd originally met him when you performed at the Just for Laughs show in Montreal?
Yeah, yeah. I was doing sort of like a musical comedy show and Craig Robinson was there so Judd got up and sang a duet with Craig. He hung out in the wings while I did my set and then we talked after the show. I told him about this high school [television] pilot I was writing and he was like, "Oh, that should be a movie." Then we set a meeting for a couple months in the future, and when we met we talked about it and he seemed to like the concept.
You're not the first teenager he's mentored...he started nurturing Seth Rogen as a writer when he was just out of high school. What is it about Judd that makes him such a scout for young talent?
Hmm, I don't know. One thing is that when I walked in, he totally treated me like I'd been doing it for ten years. He gave me a lot of respect and listened to all my ideas. He's very selfless and he's always looking for new talent and new ideas. He's a very, very progressive collaborator, and I think that's why he's so talented and prolific. I mean, who else is going to sit down with a seventeen-year-old and honestly talk about collaborating on a script or backing their project, you know?
Before you had that meeting, were you worried that he wouldn't take you seriously?
Well, I thought that if anyone was, it was gonna be him. He just has that "new" feel, like he's going to be taking risks and dealing with people he trusts to collaborate with rather than the people who are necessarily the biggest stars. That's what's I think is so great about him. He's just so laid-back, and so talented. ♦