Bo Burnham screams potential. Figuratively, of course, since the man-child ne’er screams in his videos, but rather tentatively raps and sings with the vocal stylings of a kid explaining a homework problem in calculus class after listening to way too much.  

It wouldn’t be at all surprising if Bo Burnham actually took some form of advanced mathematics since the self-taught musician and 17-year-old YouTube star from Massachusetts seems really smart, or at least geeky (he openly admits to liking Rubik’s Cube, if that tells you anything). And though I’ve avoided precocious teenagers for most of my adult life, even I can admit that there’s something special about NSFW Bo.

Robert “Bo” Burnham started posting videos on YouTube as a way of sharing them with his brother, a student at Cornell University. Bo, a recent high school grad from an all-boys Catholic school, whet his performing appetite a couple of years ago, partly in the school’s theater group and partly after rehearsals, tinkering with the school piano. He started writing songs to amuse his friends and after only a couple of months, one of his videos was featured on

Indeed, it was a big break for the young thesbian, whose sexually-charged, irreverent wankster rhymes about Helen Keller and the Ku Klux Klan have earned him millions of eyeballs.

The Bo you see on screen is not necessarily the Bo you might meet in real life.  “Maintaining that character takes a little bit of honesty and a little bit of inflammation. and in some ways, he’s a little more smart than I am and in other ways, he’s a lot more ignorant than I am. He’s definitely more shy than I am.”  I buy it, except the shy part.  After watching Bo preform a handful of songs, it’s difficult to picture someone less diffident.  

Burnham also looks deceptively weenie-ish in his broadcasts. “I’m actually 6’5”,” he said over the phone. (And I just thought his bedroom was in a really low-ceilinged attic). In other words, it’s quite possible that Bo is far more studly than he appears – a realization that could be damaging to his persona being that the basis of his comedy relies on being a dorky-looking kid who talks an absurdly big game.

Admittedly “goofy,” in many regards Bo fancies himself a satirist – a lofty aim of any humorist, never mind a pubescent comedian.  His clever lyricism about math and Santa and g-spots is, hopefully, Bo’s comedic point of view in its infancy. I expect big things from Bo; he’s already got an L.A. agent, an acceptance letter into NYU’s prestigious acting program and a deal with Comedy Central Records, placing him among the likes of Denis Leary, Jim Gaffigan and Dane Cook.

In spite of the Comedy Central deal, Bo is distributing his first self-produced EP on iTunes, in keeping with his homegrown flair. It’s a fitting business model for Bo’s gangly on-camera persona, which broadcasts mostly from a bedroom in his parents’ house.

“Even if things blow up,” Burnham said, “I’d like to keep the character in tact.” So, perhaps in a few months, we’ll see this dorm-bound Michael-Cera-meets-Eminem plunking on his keyboard, against the backdrop of a black-lit Tupac Shakur poster and a wall of Miller Lite cans, either on YouTube or maybe on the boob tube.  Fo sho.

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