Lost for the first time in 10 years … Memories … Who the hell is Bo Burnham … Bo tells his favorite joke … Class clowns should die in car fires
Day two of shooting on Sin Bin took place at the Irish American Heritage Center on Chicago’s Northwest side. I took the train from work—the Blue Line from downtown—to Montrose and then got lost trying to find the place on foot. It’s the first time I’ve been lost in Chicago in maybe 10 years.
After wandering around the corners of Montrose and Cicero for 30 or so minutes, I popped into Memories bar—where memories are actually forgotten, I assume—to ask for directions. It was 4:45 p.m., and there were two people sitting at the bar. A Hispanic construction worker, who gave me specific directions, and an old Irishman with a brogue, who belittled me the whole time I was in the bar.
“Cut yur hair you hippy,” the Irishman said.
“Buy a new pair of shoes,” he snapped.
“Get your hands off me lucky charms.”
I broke away, walked the several blocks to the Irish American Heritage Center—I was so close—and found the set. The crew had transformed the Center into a private high school. It looked like an updated version of Rydell High, the school from Grease. Dozens of extras walked around the set.
I hung near the back, well away from the action, and Billy, the director and my longtime friend, introduced me to Bo Burnham, Internet superstar and standup comedian. I had no idea who he was.
Bo was very unassuming—and tall, very tall—dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt; his soft hair hung on his face, which still carries the signs of adolescent (read: pimples).
“Hey, Michael, have you met Bo, yet?” Billy said.
I told him I hadn’t, and—thinking Bo was a crew member—shook his hand. Billy and I sat at a table with Bo, along with another of our friends, Andy Glarner, who painted the Sin Bin van. Andy told Bo that he was a fan, that he heard him on XM radio. It took a minute before I made the connection—Bo is the kid with tens of millions of YouTube views of the songs he performed in his bedroom. I hadn’t heard of Bo until Billy told me he cast him in Sin Bin. I didn’t watch one of his uber-popular videos until this evening, when my wife and I checked out selections from his Internet opus. Here’s one of Bo’s songs:
Had I seen these videos sooner, Bo would have intimidated me. He’s very clever, and he’s only 19. He was 16 when he shot to Internet fame. Andy and I chatted with Bo for a few minutes about comedians, George Carlin, mostly. And Bo said he had tickets to see Carlin weeks before the iconic counter-culture comedian died. Then Michael Seater—the lead actor in Sin Bin—walked over. He grabbed Bo, and as they walked away Michael told Bo to be careful. “He’s a journalist.”
“Oh no,” Bo replied. “I think I talked shit about Obama.”
When Bo returned I asked him for an interview. He agreed. Here are the best parts.
You’re an Internet celebrity, aren’t you?
That’s an oxymoron, but sort of, sure.
How did your fame get started?
I recorded stuff in my bedroom when I was younger—16—put them on YouTube and they went viral. I don’t know how they end up anywhere. I’ve only put stuff onto YouTube.
It feels like we’re missing a vital step …
It was featured on a site called Break.com. And it got like a million views in one day.
The flaming on the Internet message boards kept me humble and shaped a lot of my adolescent perspective. The first comment I ever read was “go-go gadget faggot.”
Who’s your favorite person on this set, so far?
I think all the actors agree that it’s themselves.
Who’s going to be the first person to hook up in the Sin Bin?
Probably myself and myself. [The time] between takes can get long and lonely.
Your least favorite person?
Probably myself. It’s the self-hatred that drives you.
God, you are an arrogant fuck.
You know, it’s not arrogance; it’s solipsism. You see, arrogants [sic] are pricks. Solipsists are pricks who use big words.
Tell me a joke.
[Long, thoughtful pause]
OK, I’ll tell you my favorite joke.
Me: Grasshopper walks into a bar, hops onto the bar stool; the bartender looks at him and says …
Bo: ‘Hey, we got a drink named after you …’
Me: And the grasshopper says …
Bo: ‘You have a drink named Bob.’
Me: Wow. That’s interesting. I have a different punch line
Bo: What do you say?
Me: The bartender says, ‘We have a drink named after you.’ And the grasshopper says, ‘Me? Leonard?’”
Bo: That’s much better!
[He considers the question about this favorite joke for a minute or two.]
This is the one that had me dying in fifth grade. What do you call the space between an old woman’s breasts? Her belly button.
What did one saggy breast say to the other saggy breast? If we don’t pull ourselves together soon people will think we’re nuts. Oh, man, fifth grade, I was like king of the school for those two.
Were you a class clown?
Oh, no, I was the kid in the back saying, “Will that kid quit quoting Borat?” The class clown is the kid that gets up and is like, “Oh that’s what she said.” That kid needs to die in a car fire.
Bo is doing a show this weekend in Philadelphia. He shoots a special for Comedy Central on May 21 at the Boston House of Blues. It will air in the fall.