Hyphenate Bo Burnham is one of the rare comedians who can do just about anything he sets his mind to. In a dozen years of his 27 spent breathing, Burnham has flaunted his talent for comedy, music, poetry, acting, writing, directing—and now feature-filmmaking. Burnham’s debut, Eighth Grade, will be released theatrically by indie powerhouse A24 on July 13th.
This film was a Sundance treasure; I went to see it twice at the festival alone. In the midst of a tidal wave of limit-busting, attention-seeking spazdom from modern day YouTube stars, Burnham’s work transcends with old-fashioned ‘earnesty.’ As a director, he relies on painful truth … and no longer wants to see himself onscreen. Instead, he has chosen to center his film on a 13-year old female avatar—the remarkable Elsie Fisher as Kayla — and the stress of curating the perfect outward persona.
As usual, Burnham’s timing is impeccable. In an era when today’s teens struggle with social media, when their perspectives are twisted by self-awareness once limited to celebrities, when rates of depression and anxiety are higher than ever, Burnham captures the bittersweet specificity of online posturing, the dopamine rush of sending the perfect snapchat, the pain of a pool party that plays like a horror movie. And he makes it all feel like cinéma vérité.
This film is also an intimate note to Burnham himself — and anyone else consumed by self-doubt. Just as his YouTube videos still evoke embarrassment and nostalgia, his first feature reminds us that looking back can also help us look forward.
As an artist, Burnham loves posing hard questions, so we swivelled our guns back on him to talk anxiety, process, catharsis and legacy. You may have caught our red carpet interview with Burnham at this past Sundance film festival, where Eighth Grade premiered. In anticipation of his film’s wide release, we dug deeper into Burnham with a follow-up interview: