‘Welcome to the Internet’: 33 Trivia Tidbits About Bo Burnham on His 33rd Birthday
To think: Bo Burnham really just wanted to make funny videos and share them with his family when he was a teen. Little did he know that his silly little videos would make their way across the abyss that is the internet, where they’d instantly make him a viral sensation. Sure, that happens with every second person on TikTok nowadays, but Burnham has the talent and ability to keep evolving to bring us fresher, funnier and better comedy performances every single time. That’s lasting power.
To celebrate the comedian’s 33rd birthday, read on and find out where Burnham got the inspiration for that sock puppet in Inside and how he’ll probably never do a song about cheeseburgers…
He Really Gets the Internet
Back in 2018, while talking about his directorial feature debut Eighth Grade, Burnham showed his penchant for being ahead of the curve when he nailed social media platforms. “They’re coming for every second of your life,” Burnham said. “They’re not even doing it consciously. It’s because these companies, like Twitter, YouTube and Instagram and everything, they went public, and they went to shareholders, so they have to grow. Their entire models are based off of growth. They’re trying to get more engagement from you. We used to colonize land. They are now trying to colonize every minute of your life.”
There is, of course, also his masterpiece of a song about the internet from his Netflix special, Bo Burnham: Inside, that couldn’t be more accurate about the sorry state of cyberspace.
On Making a Movie About an Eighth-Grade Girl
“You know, I really set out to just make a story about how I was feeling at the time that I was writing it, which was nervous, and sort of wanting to talk about the internet and how it felt to sort of be alive right now,” Burnham told NPR about why he wrote Eighth Grade. “And I kind of quickly found the world of kids expressing themselves online. I watched hundreds of videos of kids doing vlogs like the vlog you just heard from Kayla. And the boys tended to talk about video games, and the girls tended to talk about their souls. So it was like, okay, I think this is probably going to be a story about a girl.”
He added that he wanted to write something that didn’t feel nostalgic or was based on any sort of memory. “So it being a girl sort of — I couldn’t project my own experience onto her. I had to sort of walk eighth grade for the first time with her.”
He Very Briefly Had an MTV Sitcom
Back in 2013, Burnham created, produced and starred in the MTV mockumentary Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous. The series followed its titular character vying for fame and recording his daily life of being a “pre-celebrity.” Twelve episodes aired before the show was ultimately canceled for what we'll assume were 75 more reruns of Ridiculousness.
The Inspiration Behind His Sitcom
Burnham told Teen Vogue that a poll and his idea of fame led to the concept of Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous. “We read this study polling graduating high school seniors about what they wanted to be when they grew up, and 40 percent chose famous,” he shared. “That was the number-one answer: famous. Doctor was, like, 5 percent. Fame’s presented as this fix-all to your problems. I remember being super young, like nine or ten years old, and thinking, ‘Man, I wonder what famous people eat for breakfast. They must have some special kind of cereal!’ My mind was so warped by the idea of fame. The problem for us, as viewers, is that we want famous people who are passionate about the things they’re famous for because that makes them worthy of the attention. But I think many of those famous people just want to be famous.”
Which is why his character in the show will do every single cringe act imaginable to get folks to notice him.
How He Became a YouTube Star
“I was 16, yeah. It was 2006. It was just when it started,” Burnham said about how he first found himself on YouTube. “And I had written some little silly songs and wanted to show them to my brother who was at college. And someone said, ‘You should post it on YouTube. It’s this site that you can post videos and share them.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, cool.’ And really, it was like — YouTube was just a place for where it was like, you got a funny skit or something, post it here. It was, like, that and Myspace — were sort of the things people used.”
He went on to explain how his videos “were posted on this site, Break.com, and it got like 250,000 views in a day. It just sort of happened. It was a website that sort of featured popular videos, and they just snagged it. And it kind of went crazy.”
His Parents Made Him Take Down His First Video
Burnham’s videos were initially meant for his family only, so when they hit YouTube, his parents freaked out, and the songs, including “My Whole Family Thinks I’m Gay,” were taken down six hours later at their request. His folks told him that he could post them again if he “sanitized” the lyrics. “I thought it sounded homophobic,” his mom Pattie once explained. “I also didn’t want him out there on the Internet. I didn’t really know what it meant.” Burnham agreed with his mom, saying that his early music “was typical 2006 shock-jock offensive comedy done by a 16-year-old without any tact.”
Carl’s Jr. Offered to Be His Sponsor
When the teenage Burnham became a viral sensation after his quirky songs made it onto YouTube, Carl’s Jr. wanted to give him a $5,000-sponsorship, but Burnham apparently couldn’t find it in himself to write a song about a cheeseburger.
He Was Going to Play Larry Bird in ‘Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty’
The Beginning of ‘Inside’ Continues from the Last Scene of His ‘Make Happy’ Special
At the end of Make Happy, Burnham walks off stage and into the same guest house we see in Inside, which was the first show he had done since the 2016 special.
He Has a Book of Poetry
In October 2013, Burnham published a collection of his poems in a book called Egghead: Or, You Can’t Survive on Ideas Alone.
He Was a Theater Geek at School
Burnham, a late bloomer who would tuck his hands under his armpits to hide his lack of hair at pool parties, was a theater nerd in middle school. He once starred in his school’s production of Footloose as Ren McCormack, the character of Kevin Bacon.
He Got Free Tuition Because His Mom Was a Nurse
In high school, Burnham and his brother moved from public school to St. John’s Prep, a private all-boys Catholic school where his mom worked as a school nurse. Thanks to that, the Burnham brothers got free tuition, and he switched from being into theater and basketball to focusing on his grades. This change ultimately led to his first brush with anxiety.
He’s Been Open About His Struggles With Anxiety
“My anxiety didn’t really wake up until I was maybe a sophomore in high school, and I was, you know, in and out of the hospital with stomach problems thinking I had some gastro issue, and it really was, oh, I’m just nervous,” Burnham said during an NPR interview.
In 2016, he took a break from stand-up after experiencing a panic attack that left him with tunnel vision onstage and shortness of breath. “It was the roughest time in my life that last tour — the roughest,” he told Time. “It felt like every night onstage there was just a fucking ax hanging over my head, and at any point, this thing’s going to fucking drop. And, like, I’m going to faint onstage, and someone’s going to video it and post it everywhere.”
Burnham addresses all of this at the end of his closing song in Make Happy below.
He Wrote a Screenplay With Judd Apatow
Apatow saw Burnham perform at Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival when Burnham started touring fresh out of high school. “Unlike everybody else on earth, who struggles for years to figure out how to be funny and have some presence onstage, he was riotously funny and entertaining from moment one,” Apatow told The New Yorker about seeing Burnham for the first time. “He found a way to express that time of your life when you’re young and both incredibly cocky and completely insecure at the same time.” The two of them would later develop a script together that never got produced and was reportedly a saucy take on High School Musical.
The Inspiration Behind the Sock Puppet in ‘Inside’
Burnham’s song, “How the World Works,” uses a sock puppet called Socko, who is severely oppressed at the hands of his master. Burnham has stated that one of his favorite comics is the Dutch absurdist Hans Teeuwen, who performs with a sock puppet that eats a Baby Ruth candy bar while Teeuwen sings.
He Was a Hit on Vine
Throughout 2013 and 2014, Burnham was pretty active on Vine. Many of his bits still pop up in “Best Compilations” from the platform today.
He Is Not on TikTok
Apparently a Vine-or-Die guy at heart, Burnham does not have a TikTok account. Videos posted of his work, however, have enjoyed a whopping 5.3 billion views there as of this writing.
Chris Rock Begged Him to Direct His Stand-Up Special
When Rock saw Jerrod Carmichael’s comedy special 8 (directed by Burnham in 2017), he knew he wanted the young comedian to direct his own Netflix special, Tamborine. “It blew my mind,” Rock said about watching Carmichael’s special. “The way it was shot, the lighting, and the pace. It reminded me of Martin Scorsese shooting Bob Dylan.” Rock said he “begged (Burnham) to direct my special. I totally put myself in his hands. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. I was Snoop, and he was Dr. Dre.”
He Shot ‘Inside’ in the Freddy Krueger House
It turns out that Burnham shot his COVID cabin fever special in Nancy Thompson’s house from A Nightmare on Elm Street — the one we see the exterior of. His then partner, director Lorene Scafaria, bought the house in 2013, and that’s how Burnham ended up conceiving songs like “White Woman’s Instagram” in the house where Freddy hunted a teenage girl.
On Finding the Authenticity in ‘Eighth Grade’
Burnham once explained that, while watching videos of young girls vlogging, he picked up on patterns and saw the experience for what it was. “You know, you could see these kids in an instant grasping for a maybe speech, or a type of speech that they had heard, trying to emulate that, failing to, trying to close the gap of that failure, reacting to their own failure of closing that gap, getting bored, getting sidetracked,” he explained. “All of those things were happening at once. And I remember watching these videos thinking, if this were a performance in a movie, it would be incredible. You know, this is so much more complex than the usual sort of teen voiceover that you hear in movies that’s just kind of, okay, so I’m going to tell you how I went from being this to being that, you know? It was really about the failure of them to articulate themselves. And I just found that very fascinating and true.”
He Likes Singing About Comedy and Its Inner-Workings
Reading so many interviews with Burnham over the years, it becomes evident that ever since he first put out those crass and, at times, questionable first videos, he’s been serious about creating jokes that are both hard-hitting satire and within reason. His performances have often included songs that try and dissect what comedy means and what’s fair game to joke about — especially in our current time — as we saw with his “Sad” song in what. and “Comedy” in Inside.
His Early Inspirations
In an interview with Vox, Burnham shared some of the comics he watched when he first started out making videos at the tender age of 16: “Loved Demetri Martin, loved early Steve Martin, loved Flight of the Conchords. I mean, there are songs that are just direct Stephen Lynch rip-offs and a direct Flight of the Conchords rip-off, and so I was just finding my feet. I was 16, 17, and stuff, so just like finding what I liked and trying to figure out what it was.”
His Favorite Comic Now
When asked during a Reddit AMA five years ago who his favorite comic was, Burnham gave one name: Kate Berlant.
He Was 18 When He Released His First Comedy Album
He Was in a ‘Parks and Recreation’ Episode
Some folks might not remember that Burnham appeared in the ‘“Flu Season 2” episode from Parks and Recreation as Chipp McCapp, a country singer and spoiled brat who sings about his mom and the troops.
He Got into All the Colleges But Pursued Comedy Instead
Burnham sent in his videos along with his college applications and got accepted by Harvard, Brown and New York University’s experimental theater program. He ended up ditching college to go on tour with his comedy.
His First Big TV Appearance
Burnham made his first significant television appearance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon in 2009.
Some of His Best Jokes Happen in Interviews
If you type in “Bo Burnham Savage” on YouTube, you’ll get a number of results of him throwing out punchlines like confetti during interviews. The one he dishes at Marc Maron at the beginning of the video below is a killer.
That Time a College Protested His Appearance
In 2009, Burnham was set to do a gig at Westminster College in Missouri, but 15 members of the college’s Gay-Straight Alliance, Black Students Association, International Club and Cultural Diversity Organization rose up in protest over songs like “My Whole Family” and “Klan Kookout.” “It’s so ironic because gay bashers were the ones labeling me in high school,” Burnham said at the time. “I try and write satire that’s well-intentioned, but those intentions have to be hidden. It can’t be completely clear, and that’s what makes it comedy.”
’Inside’ Won Three Emmys
In 2021, Burnham took home the awards for Outstanding Directing for A Variety Special, Outstanding Music Direction and Outstanding Writing for A Variety Special.
Phoebe Bridgers Did a Cover of Burnham’s ‘That Funny Feeling’
It’s rumored that the two are dating now, so that’s nice.
He Once Wrote Enya a Fan Letter
Burnham was so determined to use Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” in Eighth Grade that he personally penned a letter to the singer, telling her how much the song meant to him. He signed the letter with “Sail Away.”
The Dance Scene in ‘Promising Young Woman’ Was Embarrassing to Film
As Burnham has explained, “It was more just spiritually difficult because as fun as it looks in the movie, you’re recording it in a pharmacy, you have a little earpiece, and they can’t play the actual music in the pharmacy. And you’re just singing Paris Hilton 20 times at the top of your lungs. It’s almost like a real soul-cleansing level of embarrassment to have to sing and dance a cappella poorly at 8 a.m. in Ventura in front of a bunch of crew people who are working harder than you.”