The first book of poems I ever bought was Bo Burnham’s Egghead. I bought his book after watching his first Netflix stand up comedy special, what. The collection of poems is rather silly and humorous, but there’s a moment when the book pauses to ruminate on something Bo has recently opened up about in his life: anxiety.
He made his directorial debut this past year with the film 8th Grade, which he also wrote. While I still haven’t gotten around to seeing the film, I’ve watched a lot of interviews of Bo talking about the project. He spoke on creating something that represented his experiences with anxiety, and performing professionally as someone with debilitating anxiety. Reading Egghead now, with the new knowledge of Bo’s anxiety, I can garner a new reading experience.
The pages of Egghead aren’t numbered, and the content can shift dramatically from poem to poem (which are often more akin to jokes). About ten pages in or so, there’s a poem titled “Chameleon,” which reads “I put a chameleon on a red dildo. / He blushed.” That’s the entirety of the poem/joke. But, immediately following this, is a poem entitled “Flowers:”
“On the third of June, at a minute past two, where once was a person, a flower now grew.
Five daises arranged on a large outdoor stage in front of a ten-acre pasture of sage.
In a changing room, a lily poses. At the DMV, rows of roses.
The world was much crueler an hour ago. I’m glad someone decided to give flowers a go.”
The juxtaposition between these two poems is pretty stark, and it’s clear that Bo doesn’t want to keep you laughing throughout your reading of his book. This is very similar to his comedy specials, too. He’ll take a joke about messy burritos from Chipotle and flip it on its head to show his audience that life isn’t just jokes. That his art isn’t separate from his anxiety and that humor is often a product of pain. Even the title of his book, in its entirety, reads Egghead, or You Can’t Survive on Ideas Alone. I purchased this book when I was seventeen and now, at twenty-one, my reading of it feels more complete. It’s a fun book, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it isn’t dumb. If you’ve never heard of Bo Burnham or Egghead, I suggest you look him up, and I hope you soon find yourself laughing.