Bo Burnham is the mental health icon we need

Published in The Snapper the week of October 18.

Representation matters.

In the media, people crave to see someone like them, someone who is going through similar struggles, but has come through the other side. We need this advocacy in the media; for many it’s the only thing keeping them going.

Bo Burnham is a prime example of someone who is absolutely essential in today’s society; perhaps even the unsung hero of mental health awareness and relatability.

Burnham is a 26-year-old comedian with an eccentric edge and a knack for puns. Though he frequently comes out with new material, his three perhaps most publicized pieces were those that were offered in their entirety for free on YouTube or Netflix: Make Happy, what. and Words, Words, Words.

Unlike most comedians, he doesn’t gain his edge from making fun of different groups of people. Most of his work is self-inflicted and consists of introspection and songs that outline the nature and intricacies of humanity.

Upon watching his 2013 special, “what.,” for what seemed to be the hundredth time since its conception, it was easy to realize the pain in some of his words spoken. Especially after his 2016 special, “Make Happy,” deeper decoding of what his songs meant subconsciously occurred.

No one is disputing the fact that Bo Burnham likely has some sort of depression, or some other monster he’s fighting; it’s evident in the way he carries himself, in the way that he speaks and acts.

Burnham’s personal battle with these things is not iconic because he’s struggling through it silently; he’s brought many issues to the forefront of his work.

In his song, “Can’t Handle This” from “Make Happy,” it starts off on a Kanye West-esque type of rant in which he rants with excessive autotune and begins talking about the diameter of a Pringles can. It starts off silly and laden with jokes and jabs towards Chipotle and Pringles.

Half way through the song, however, it takes an introspective turn, in which he says, “Look at them, they’re just staring at me / Like, “come and watch the skinny kid with a steadily declining mental health / And laugh as he attempts / To give you what he cannot give himself.”

Despite his mental conditions, he puts on shows and continues to create content, because it makes him happy, and overall makes the consumers of the product happy.

For some people, these lyrics have no meaning to them; they’re just words, he’s just complaining. But for some people, this representation says a lot about the sore absence of honesty about mental illness in the media.

Of course, that song is only one instance of him bringing these issues to the forefront, but as a long-time fan of Bo’s, it’s easy to notice such intricacies in his other forms of art.

For someone who struggles daily with issues with relatively moderate depression, self-image and body confidence problems, Burnham’s work gives hope that success can come from even the worst of times. He’s an exemplary role model for this upcoming generation.

To feel alone in this world is a horrible thing, but Burnham is consistently showing consumers that it’s not something we’re fighting on our own.

And, to be honest, it’s just nice to know that someone is going through something similar.


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