The Anguish of Bo Burnham

If I could ask Bo Burnham one question it would be this – how much pain are you carrying in any given moment?

Standing in the cold, brilliant, white light of Burnham’s newest Netflix comedy special ‘Inside” it is easy to get lost in the humour (which is the point I suppose).

But…

What Burnham really excels at putting on display here is naked pain and cynicism that somehow is both sarcastic and self-critical at the same time. It’s a tightrope no one can walk like he does.

The entire production is written, directed, filmed and edited by Burnham throughout a year confined at home during the Covid-19 pandemic. There is a cadence or rhythm to the show where the audience is knocked out of phase or off balance by a back and forth between ridiculous and deep, where one makes the other intensely personal and powerful.

Packed with existential dread Burnham has the kind of terrifying, insightful energy and presence of Robin Williams or Andy Kaufman which makes you feel like the joke is on him as much as it is on you…and this is intentional. He is holding up a double-sided mirror and while you are forced to look at yourself you know he is doing the same.

Burnham makes you feel his discomfort, he pours it into you and maybe this is cathartic for him.

Ultimately Burnham is one of the most honest, anguished comedians or artists I have watched epitomizing the fact that “all the world is a stage”. In the end I wanted to weep as much as I wanted to laugh.

Finding God…

You can find theology in many surprising and unexpected places. My son asked me to watch a YouTube video of a comedian he enjoyed and lo and behold I actually was caught off guard by the depth of it (hidden in plain site).

Ironically I found some good theology in the lyrics of a foul-mouthed, hilarious comedian by the name of Bo Burnam in a song he wrote called From God’s Perspective (found at 37:10 into his video).

The lyrics are toward the end of the song in that place that is saved for what the writer wants the listener to really take away from the whole experience.

You pray so badly for heaven
Knowing any day might be the day that you die
But maybe life on earth could be heaven
Doesn’t just the thought of it make it worth the try?

My love’s the type of thing that you have to earn
And when you earn it you won’t need it (2x)

I’m not going to give you love just cause I know that you want me to
If you want love then the love is gonna come from you

What I read in these lyrics fits very nicely into the kingdom theology that N.T. Wright has been developing throughout his career.

“Maybe life on earth could be heaven, doesn’t just the thought of it make it worth the try?”

This lyric is filled with the New Testament idea that the kingdom was ushered in with Christ and that we are, in essence, empowered at its vanguard to reveal and establish it. We are, in essence, trusted with the task…a task we have so eminently failed at we need to hear about our failure from comedians like Burnham.

Neither shall they say, ‘Lo, it is here!’ or ‘Lo, it is there!’ For behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.” – The New Testament Gospel of Luke, chapter 17, verse 21.

Some translations say “amongst you” but based on the context of the surrounding verses I believe within is the best translation here.

They lyrics being embedded in a bawdy (very funny) song betrays the depth of what Burnham is trying to say and it might be easy to miss the message in the humour.

“My love’s the type of thing that you have to earn
And when you earn it you won’t need it

The absolute brilliance of this statement is difficult to overstate. From a theological perspective it hits at the heart of the Ephesians 2:8 which states “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God”.

It is the exercise of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (the fruit of the Spirit) that one comes to receive these same gifts. Love to be loved, so to speak and when you do this you will not need to ask for God’s love; or to use Burnham’s words:

“I’m not going to give you love just cause I know that you want me to
If you want love then the love is gonna come from you”

This circle’s back to the theological truth that God has empowered us to enact God’s kingdom instead of sitting back and waiting on God or simply checking out and assuming we will be whisked to paradise so why worry about this particular world and the suffering in it.