Bo Burnham was just fooling around on the Internet like any other high schooler in December 2006. Little did the Boston suburbanite know the video he posted for his piano ballad “My Whole Family Thinks I’m Gay” would catapult him into a budding career as a comedic musician.
The viral sensation got the young songwriter invited to last summer’s Montreal Comedy Festival, where none other than Judd Apatow flipped for the 17-year-old’s act. Shortly after his 18th birthday, Burnham signed a deal to write the script and songs for a feature in which he would also star, with Apatow producing.
Not bad for a self-taught musician who picked up piano and guitar when he wasn’t acting in school plays like “The Odyssey.” When Burnham noticed that “Family” was gaining an online following, he followed it up with more self-reflective songs about the doldrums of nerddom, such as outsider-looking-in rap “High School Party.”
Even as the traffic for Burnham’s viral videos surged to more than 30 million hits, it didn’t dawn on the cut-up that he was popular with Hollywood until last fall, when he was called to the principal’s office: The Gersh Agency was on the phone, ready to sign him.
“It was 100% luck,” says Burnham on his Internet fame. “I wish I could say that my online work ethic was on par to Dane Cook’s, who managed his website and built his fanbase.”
Burnham’s blessed with a ’90s alternative tenor; his online performances feel like casual, singing-in-the-mirror tributes to Paul Simon or Elton John. Usually, it’s just him in his room at the synthesizer presenting his latest angst-ridden adolescent ditty. Ironically the clips’ popularity has made Burnham more popular with the “in crowd.”
“The kids who called me ‘theater queer’ are now asking me to come chill at their dorm,” he says. “My response to them: ‘We never hung out in high school.’ ”
Recent breakthrough: He’s the youngest standup to record his own Comedy Central special, timed to air in January when his comedy is released.
Role model: “Steve Martin, because he’s had such a great career canvassing stand-up, playwriting and films. What a comic renaissance man.”
What’s next: Judd Apatow is producing Burnham’s screenplay, based on his adolescent ditties and known as the “anti-‘High School Musical.'”