May 02, 2013 2:01pm PT by Sophie Schillaci
'Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous': Bo Burnham on TV, Fame and the Irony of Mocking It (Video)
Bo Burnham is gonna be famous.
More famous, that is.
The 22-year-old Internet phenom, who achieved success in the comedy world after videos of his off-color songs went viral on YouTube, stars in MTV’s latest scripted comedy -- Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous -- on which he also serves as co-creator, executive producer and writer.
The series, debuting at 10:30 p.m. Thursday, finds Burnham as a teenage “pre-celebrity” who blows his entire life savings on hiring a film crew to document his life for an eponymous reality show.
“It’s a story of mocking fame, the idea of mocking people getting fame,” Burnham tells The Hollywood Reporter, acknowledging the incredibly meta nature of the concept. “But I’m doing this and, in theory, if the show works, I’ll get more famous.”
While not yet a household name, Burnham’s material should be familiar to the young male audience that is MTV’s bread and butter. The funnyman has released three albums through Comedy Central Records, with a fourth slated for this year, and appeared as the youngest comedian ever to be featured on Comedy Central Presents in 2009. In 2010, he taped a one-hour stand-up special titled Words Words Words for the network.
And for those with a keen eye, Burnham can be seen in Judd Apatow’s Funny People as a Yo Teach! cast member and in the Farrelly brothers’ 2011 hit Hall Pass as a bartender.
But for those fans of Burnham’s politically incorrect comedy, which targets race, sexuality and disabilities, among other subjects, Zach Stone can be found somewhere along the complete opposite end of Burnham’s comedy spectrum. A wide-eyed, innocent high school grad, Zach’s humor comes from a place of clean, naivete, making his show one of the few parent-friendly options on MTV’s airwaves.
“In the beginning, I think the conception of him was much more edge than satirical,” says Burnham, noting that he first set out to poke fun at youthful enthusiasm. “But when I actually had to plan, I realized that I had to embrace and empathize with the enthusiasm.
“I had a journey with Zach,” he adds. “I’m so annoyed wit this kid up front. He’s so obnoxious, he’s so abrasive, I want to hate him because everything about him seems hate-able, and slowly I realize that, no, no, he’s a good kid.”
Burnham and co-writer/executive producer Dan Lagana modeled the series and its cast of characters after their own New England roots, having grown up in the same area outside Boston, approximately 10 years apart. Unbeknownst to Lagana, the show would end up hitting even closer to home for Burnham when casting Zach’s parents.
“We kind of went with our gut [when casting],” Lagana tells THR. “Who felt like a New England dad to us, who felt like the mom that would not give you crap and then go fold your laundry for you.
“I had never met Bo’s parents,” he adds, laughing at the similarities that he would come to see between Burnham’s real-life parents and the actors cast to play them on television.
But how do Burnham’s mom and dad feel about being portrayed on the small screen?
“They love the show,” the comic smiles. “Even if it goes nowhere, at least I have a box set of DVDs to give my mom.”
Zach Stone is written by Lagana and Burnham and executive produced by Lagana, Burnham and Dave Becky. Kari Coleman, Tom Wilson, Cameron Palatas, Caitlin Gerard and Armen Weitzman co- star.
See more from THR’s interview with Burnham and Lagana in the video above.
Email: Sophie.Schillaci@THR.com; Twitter: @SophieSchillaci