The Movie of Your Own Life Does Not Suck
A conversation with Bo Burnham, America’s new favorite comedian
Bo Burnham restored my faith in social media. After a meteoric rise on YouTube comparable to Justin Bieber’s, the 20-something comedian went on a national tour, taped two Netflix specials, and just released a feature film called Eighth Grade about a teenager who hopes to find herself via vlog.
While I expected the story of a girl getting catfished or engaging in the self-destructive antics of 13 Reasons Why, I instead got an inspiring vision of how social media companies — no matter their intent — can still provide young people with the platforms they need to experiment with identity, define themselves on their own terms, and offer up the best, most honest things they have to share with one another.
Bo sat down with me for an interview on my Team Human show, where you can listen to the whole conversation. Below, I’ve transcribed one of my favorite moments.
Rushkoff: As I watched the opening of Eighth Grade — a middle school girl looking into lens making a YouTube video — it felt just like the very end of Generation Like [my Frontline documentary], where I show a girl named Dani making videos with almost identical dialogue. Only her mom realized that shots of her showing full body tend to get more likes than just head shots — for some reason…
Burnham: Yeah, for some reason.
Rushkoff: And it becomes something of a cautionary tale to end my movie: look at where this goes. And your movie starts off with a girl just as incoherent, saying “like” every other word, and I thought: oh man, he’s doing a takedown of a girl like Dani. But then the opposite happens. It becomes Dani’s side of the story: the positive possibilities of this medium for teens.
Burnham: I mean, that was the initial impulse for this movie. Watching kids express themselves online. I sorted the videos by date, so I was seeing kids that had just ten subscribers — the ones…