Bo Burnham is an American comedian influenced by the Post-Modernist Movement. His third comedy special, “Make Happy” straddles the line between cynicism and optimism.
The Netflix show is as conceited as it is honest. It starts with Burnham waking up in an hotel, alone, in clown make up and follows him on his circuitous route to the venue. A robotic voice welcomes the audience stating that they are present because they want to laugh and that they want to forget about their problems. However, it informs them that their problems should not be forgotten, that they should not laugh, that the world is not funny and that we are all dying.
This is the ‘first’ beginning of the show, then typical of Burnham there is a second. There is some music, a PA announcement warning the audience that performers are liars who are trying to control them, and then, ironically, commanding them not to make any noise!
This dichotomy characterises Burnham. He is like a magician showing the audience what the trick is, then showing them the trick. For example, he warns them against being open to manipulation, then invites them to volunteer as to their liking weed; when a huge number shout in response, the police sirens screech and Burnham’s response is “Got’em”.
The juxtaposition of treating the audience as equals, then setting them up and abusing them, sets the pattern for the show. The mid-section is quite reflective, pointing out the techniques that are used to manipulate audiences. Ironically, Burnham is one of these manipulators; he is lying to his audience, but he is polite enough to tell them so. He assures them they deserve better than the mainstream entertainment they are getting; he does not claim to be better. This is very tongue in cheek.
Near the end of the show Burnham makes a distinction between his stage persona and Burnham the person. The full House lights come on and this illumination creates equilibrium- as Burnham puts it “kills the artifice”. This show could be said to be a treatise on ‘performance’; Burnham asserts that maybe everyone is acting all the time, which could be seen as nihilistic. However, from Burnham this comes across as optimistic. In his treatment of the elements of the show, Burnham is both facetious and sincere, cynical whilst hopeful, empathetic and reflective whilst being exploitative