Book Review | Bo Burnham surprises with new book ‘Egghead’
Published: Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 08:10
Bo Burnham was 16 years old when he started putting comedic rap and music videos on YouTube to amuse
his sibling. Seven years, four tours, three albums and one television show later, he has transitioned from modern forms of media to the oldest distributable medium in the world — Burnham has written a book. “Egghead: Or, You Can’t Survive on Ideas Alone” features hilarious, romantic and surprising poetry accompanied by equally humorous and quirky illustrations. And despite the fun, lighthearted nature of the book, Burnham manages to maintain a mature, humble voice throughout.
The poetry of the book is, at times, completely recognizable, with Burnham’s classic, slightly cynical and utterly unapologetic voice jumping off of the page. These poems include ridiculous non sequiturs, pointed commentary and puns.
Burnham somehow manages to make the random feel relevant in his often jarring transitions between romantic, poetic assertions and matter-of-fact, swear-filled conclusions. These transitions are echoed in artist Chance Bone’s accompanying illustrations, which stretch across pages and margins while providing the core connective tissue both inside the poetry and between each poem. In the same way that Burnham’s comedy hardly feels like just a series of jokes, the book doesn’t simply feel like a series of poems.
This is partially due to Burnham’s ability to connect seemingly separate pieces and also due to Bone’s beautiful and understated illustrations, which pleasantly lead the eye across the page.
Some poems, however, take on an utterly new voice for Burnham — a voice that is not cynical, but humbly romantic. Though it has become his trademark, in this instance Burnham’s heavy use of non sequiturs, cynical hooks and nearly-corny puns actually makes readers more receptive to other more personal, heartfelt poems about love and loss.
These pieces — drastically different from Burnham’s typical fare — catch the audience off guard. While the juxtaposition may seem awkward on paper, it plays out in the opposite way when reading the book. The more serious, romantic poems hit readers without any warning and consequently have a much stronger impact than they would if they were situated in the middle of a love poem anthology. This juxtaposition also makes the funny poems all the more comical. Midway through the book, readers remain unsure of what turn any one poem will take.
While “Egghead” is versatile, Burnham’s style is definitively present throughout. His tone sometimes changes from poem to poem, but Burnham’s style assures that the book is consistent and helps readers see it as a singular entity rather than a compilation of many different voices. He uses simple syntactical constructions, active phrasing and playful alliteration and assonance in the same vein as Shel Silverstein. Burnham’s book compares to the works of Silverstein not only in style and quality, but also in terms of depth. Though Silverstein wrote children’s poems, many of his pieces functioned on an adult level.
Burnham has achieved something very similar — instead of writing poems for children, he has created sophisticated poems for teenagers and young adults. “Egghead” is extremely re-readable and shareable, as one can always find more than a solid laugh in every poem.
Chock full of surprising, hilarious poetic comedy and romantic, heartfelt notions, Bo Burnham and Chance Bone’s “Egghead: Or, You Can’t Survive on Ideas Alone” is entertaining, touching and impressive. Read it on a bus or plane; read it to your younger siblings; read it before bed, in a coffee shop or for a poetry analysis. It is appropriate in all of these places and on all of these levels.