Comedian Bo Burnham keeps us humble


By Camron Owens

Because we are trapped in this campus bubble for somewhere around four years, we often don’t realize how ridiculous and strange some of our school customs are, even though we might consider them normal. Last Sunday, I attended comedian Bo Burnham’s sold-out show in Foellinger Auditorium. 

While I found Burnham’s show to be entertaining and hilarious, I particularly enjoyed that he provided a critical but funny look at the different aspects of being a student here. His comedy was a reminder that we shouldn’t take ourselves, or the University’s traditions we practice, too seriously.

If you’re unfamiliar with Burnham, he could be described as George Carlin meets Justin Bieber. He presents his crass and clever ideas through songs and productions not usually found in stand-up comedy. Burnham rose to fame after posting original comedy songs on his YouTube channel. After gaining popularity and moving on to stand-up specials and acting,  Burnham has become a favorite among many college students. Star Course, a registered student organization who organized the show, stated that this was its first sold out show in 13 years, further affirming his claim that he is “the greatest rapper ever.”

While I expected the show to be funny, I didn’t realize how much Burnham would work with the crowd and reference campus. Burnham made fun of various aspects of campus life, including different majors and our use of the letter “I” in place of a mascot. He theorized that the founders of Champaign included the letter “I” in the spelling so that students would be able to use it as a mascot. He even mocked our “I-L-L” chant with his own panini chant, representative of his love of flat sandwiches (P-A-N! I-N-I!).  

In doing so, he made us Illinois students out to be weird — and he presented a pretty convincing case.

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When I was just a lad, I took the University tour. During it, a student shouted “I-L-L!” Being from the area, I knew the correct response was to yell back “I-N-I!” However, others on the tour seemed confused until the guide explained how that this was a University tradition. As Burnham later pointed out, our “I-L-L” chant sounds more like a military chant than something college students would yell.

To outsiders, I’m sure this and some of our other traditions and interests do seem strange.

I probably would not own or seek out orange clothes if I were not an Illinois student. Nor have I ever have seen phrases like “Oskee Wow-Wow” used anywhere but the University of Illinois.

It is easy to get caught up in school pride, rivalries and traditions. While these are part of what makes being a University student unique and are certainly a fun part of campus life, when we actually step back and look at these traditions, they do seem weird and somewhat ridiculous. I can’t think of another place where I could yell out “I-L-L” and get a response back from numerous strangers. In other places, Orange Krush is just a soft drink, and corn fields are not found in the middle of campus.

As a student at the University of Illinois, I take pride in our quirky obsessions and traditions that Burnham mentioned, like the fact that our mascot is basically the letter “I” and that many students here are obsessed with the campus squirrels. These aspects of the Illinois experience are what separate us from other schools.

However, I am also not afraid to stop and think about how strange and silly some of these things are. As students, we want to show our friends, family, employers and others just how passionate we take our campus pride and Illinois tradition. But just like everything else in life, I think that we should also try to keep these ideas in perspective.

Due to the uproarious laughter and standing ovation Burnham received at the end of the show, I think many would agree that he put many aspects of our campus in check in a lighthearted way. Had anyone else made these remarks, I’m sure many students would get defensive and maybe upset with the speaker. After all, I wouldn’t want someone coming in and making a mockery of a place that I worked hard to attend. But for some reason, I was fine with Burnham doing it. Maybe it’s because Burnham’s style operates so that nothing is off-limits, and there is a joke in every situation. Whatever the reason, the audience was able to laugh along with Burnham’s somewhat critical views of our University and its traditions. We should remember this lightheartedness the next time we get into a debate about why our traditions are the best or why we can’t adopt a new mascot.

After all, many of our traditions are unusual, and I hope that we can all acknowledge and embrace this weirdness that makes us who we are. I-L-L!

Camron is a junior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected].