Thursday, April 20, 2017



Egghead, or: You Can’t Survive on Ideas Alone by Bo Burnham, with drawings by Chance Bone
(Grand Central Press, 2013)

            Ah, Bo Burnham. Aside from being a scorned generation’s poet laureate, Burnham also finds himself the stand-up idol of a group of young people that may be as hard and as cynical as his comedy. Yet, unlike most shock jocks of his era, who are defined by a biting wit and a streak of independence (both of which Burnham has), Burnham is more than willing to pay homage to both the comedians and artists that influenced his style.

            In a sense, Egghead is just that: a gigantic nod to Shel Silverstein, the wonderfully talented poet and artist who managed to straddle the line between childhood innocence and puerile adolescent innuendo. If Silverstein was a master at straddling that line, however, Burnham blows completely by it, middle finger extended self-righteously in the air. What follows is double entendre for the sake of double entendre, (“I put a chameleon on a red dildo/He blushed” is not highbrow writing by anyone’s standards.), along with juvenile wisecracks that serve both as a challenge to the form and as humorous fodder for thirteen-year-old boys everywhere (See: “Why do poets always talk about the ocean’s waves/about their single file march to shore/and yet never talk about my grandmother’s farts…”)

            To call Burnham’s volume a collection of dick and fart jokes, however, sells short what he accomplishes with the volume. Frustrations with relationships in a new society are abound (“I want to have sex really quickly then seriously stop all this kissing bullshit because you need your personal space, apparently.”), as are thoughts on racism (“’Get out of here!’ shouted one of the Squares/’Why?’ asked one of the Circles/’Because this is a metaphor for racism!’”) and even trans issues (“I’m Xia Cobolt, a twelve-year-old Pan-Asian/Euroamerican girl/And I’m a fugitive.”). All the while, Burnham manages to maintain both his trademark sharp wit and his genial “aw, shucks” humor. What follows is a volume that is both painfully-self-aware and artistically arrogant, much like Burnham’s standup acts.

            Of course, the volume would not be complete without the sketches provided by Chance Bone. A lot can be said with pen and ink, and while one could argue that Bone’s sketches serve the same function as a Kurt Cobain guitar solo (a repeat of what we have already heard, or, in this case, read), I would argue that Bone manages to capture a succinct view of Burnham’s minds-eye. The artwork and poetry meshes well, although it must be pointed out that Silverstein could capture much the same attitude and artistic space as Burnham and Bone by himself.

            That does not mean that one should pass on this volume. Less a parody or rip-off, and more a homage, Burnham’s genius is such that he can completely cop another’s style and still create something unique. In an era where mainstream poetry is sorely devoid of any brave new thoughts, Burnham’s volume is filled with just that…even if he must borrow a similar motif to share them.


From works for children to the macabre, from academic research to sports journalism, and from opinion essays to the erotic, M. Earl Smith is a writer that seeks to stretch the boundaries of genre and style. A native of Southeast Tennessee, M. Earl moved to Ohio at nineteen and, with success, reinvented himself as a writer after parting ways with his wife of eleven years. After graduating from Chatfield College (with highest honors) in 2015, M. Earl became the first student from Chatfield to matriculate at an Ivy League institution when he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. The proud father of two wonderful children (Nicholas and Leah), M. Earl studies creative writing and history at UPenn. When he’s not studying, M. Earl splits time between Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Chattanooga, with road trips to New York City, Wichita, Kansas, and Northampton, Massachusetts in between.

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