The eighth grade can be a traumatic time for many teens, as shown in the new A24 film Eighth Grade. Actress Elsie Fisher plays Kayla, who navigates her way in life while attending the last week at a suburban school.
Bo Burnham writes and directs Eighth Gradehis first feature film. He began his career by making YouTube videos that have been viewed more than 228 million times.
He acted in The Big Sick and starred on television in Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous.
Burnham's stand-up was released on Netflix most recently with Make Happy and before that as a musical called Bo Burnham: what.
He talked about the new middle-school movie that already has critics raving.
Windy City Times: Where is your name from?
Bo Burnham: Robert is my real name, but I was always called "Bo" since I was a child. My mom wanted to name me Bo, but thought if I became a doctor I would need an actual name to fall back on. I became the opposite of a doctor!
WCT: So the movie Eighth Grade is about the anxiety that people face. The character paces when talking on the phone. I have always done that.
BB: Ohme, too. I won't even be on the phone. I will just pace outside and people will come up to me to see if I am okay or not.
WCT: Did you see another A24 studio movie The Florida Project?
BB: Yes, I did.
WCT: It is a different age group, but another example of depicting young people realistically.
BB: The Florida Project was a beautiful version of that. It was about the freedom of being free at that age. There is something infectious about how free she is. In this it is a lot heavier to be 13 than five.
WCT: Had you seen Josh Hamilton, who plays the father in Eighth Grade, in 13 Reasons Why?
BB: I had seen some of that. I saw Kicking and Screaming, so I was a big fan of his.
WCT: Were you worried about putting a recognizable actor in with the relatively unknown cast?
BB: No. Josh is pretty transformative. When you shave his beard off you can't totally recognize him, so I wasn't worried about that. Josh is a chameleon of an actor.
WCT: Was there any LGBT students in the school?
BB: I don't know that there isn't. Whose orientation is said other than Kayla's? You don't know Gabe's.
WCT: I thought Gabe was gay at first.
BB: Kayla's sexuality is not meant to be clarified so he could be. You are there for five days so we are not panning from kid to kid and explaining them.
It is there without being voiced. There are posters all over and you might not be able to see them up close, but there are LGBTQ+ inclusion posters going around to these schools. There are trans posters in public schools and that was mind blowing to me. I didn't realize how far the conversation had gone so quickly. It wasn't like that for me 13 years ago. It is a great thing.
The entire spectrum of sexuality with kids is an entire conversation that has to be held with sensitivity. The film across the board was to lend the kids some privacy. It was five days of their life where we cruised around.
It isn't about her getting her first training bra. We want that to play out without being said and engage with the emotional aspect of it.
WCT: Would you make a Ninth Grade?
BB: I would. I might make a Fifth Grade first.
WCT: Where did you find Elsie Fisher?
BB: She is from two hours north of Los Angeles. She doesn't have a Los Angeles vibe as a kid or like where I was from north of Austin. She came in and it was no question.
WCT: I noticed the acne on her face was shown realistically.
BB: That was another thing that we wanted to show and not state it. It is not pointed out or referenced. It was just thereas it is in life.
WCT: What do you think about how social media is depicted in the film and what it will be like down the road?
BB: I think it will be like smoking and we will realize we shouldn't have been doing it. I didn't want to be preachy about it or talking from some ivory tower about it. I wanted to take inventory of it and what is happening to us emotionally.
This is what it feels like but people should have the conversation about what should happen or what it means. I didn't want the movie to be instructive but instead descriptive.
WCT: Aren't many comedians full of anxiety?
BB: Yes. Comedy can be truthful or defensive or both.
WCT: Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
BB: I am think I am both, but truly an introvert. I think I am naturally introverted but my interests pull me to be extroverted. I think everyone has a little of both.
I don't crave going out, but my interests pull me into where people are.
WCT: You have a new teen drama called Gay Kid and Fat Chick?
BB: It was a script I wrote when I was 21 before all of this. I tried to get it made and direct it. I wasn't able to do that. I made the script for Eighth Grade and then returned to it.
In reexamining the script as an adult I realized it was not my story to tell. I personally understand Kayla's anxiety. but I don't personally understand the stories of the two characters in this script as much. Amy York Rubin is directing the movie who can speak way more to the actual experience of it being a lesbian. We are going through the process of upping the script that was written in 2012. I am taking my cues from her. She will be more the voice of that film. She is incredibly talented and I am excited.
WCT: Does your family still think you are gay? That was a joke in you used in the past.
BB: They may. That was 2006.
WCT: It seems like you have grown a lot.
BB: Oh, yeah. My initial stuff where you saw my songs online, I was 16. I disavow that. I find that stuff offensive and cringeworthy. In 2006 it was a whole different world. If anyone looks back at the stuff they wrote at age 16 I bet they can't stand behind it. I was writing insensitive, weird, stupid stuff. I tried to keep an open ear and mind and learn.
I think that script will turn out to be something good and substantial. It was culturally very different I wrote it the first time.
WCT: That goes back to social media and the Internet where things are out there forever.
BB: Exactly. I can never obliterate that, but I can say I have grown and can forgive myself for not being fully formed.
WCT: When you set out with Eighth Grade what did you want people to get out of it?
BB: I wanted to make a movie that I really wanted to see. I really craved seeing something depicted real that I hadn't seen before.
Even on set I was a fan of Elsie and what I was seeing. That has always been my thing. I make what I like and hopefully there are other people like me that like what I like.
WCT: Do you want to do more stand-up?
BB: If I feel the need to express something onstage in that way. Hopefully I will soon. It feels less necessary than ever.
Everyone is giving their opinion all the time. Do we need to sit in a room and watch someone get up to give their opinion for an hour and a half? The whole world is stand-up comedy and the president is a stand-up comic.
That is why I wanted to do this, to tell a human story with someone who is struggling to find the words, rather than get up and give a cool monologue.
Revisit junior high when Eighth Grade premieres in Chicago theaters July 20.