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, which airs every Thursday at 10:30 p.m. ET on MTV. Ahead of tonight’s episode, we sat down with co-writer and executive producer Dan Lagana to hear more about the astutely funny mocumentary and the rungs Bo’s character, Zach Stone, climbs toward fame, on a ladder which Lagana says “really runs straight to space.” Hilarity ensues.
How will Bo’s character differ from what we have seen from him as a comedian?
DL: I think the character is very different from Bo’s stage persona and very different from whom Bo is as a person in real life. In Zach Stone, Bo Burnham is trying on a character. He’s really taking on something that his fans have never seen him do before and there will be traces of his comedy. He’s really exploring new territory here and doing so very creatively.
What sets this show apart from others on TV?
DL: There are other “mocumentary” shows on television but I think the fact that our show has this built in piece where this kid really wants something. He really wants to be famous, and he’s taken that passion to the extent of spending every dime of his life savings on this camera crew. Every week we see him try and fail at this very ridiculous goal. There are other “mocumentary” shows on television like this but I don’t know any other ones on television where the main protagonist is in control of what we’re viewing. Zach is controlling his own show really from within the belly of the beast. The moments of the show that really strike a chord, in Bo and my opinion, are the ones that Zach wishes we hadn’t seen: those moments where we see Zach as a vulnerable and very self-conscious kid; those moments where we see that his whole goal came from not loving who he is and wanting to be something more – wanting to be something better. I think that’s what separates us – those little moments of humanity.
How do you think Bo’s character on the show might impact his relationship with his original fan base (i.e. his YouTube following, fans of his standup)?
DL: I think it’s awesome that Bo is able to show his fan base a new and different facet of his talent. Bo has gotten on the stage and been a music performer, a poet and a fantastic standup comedian, and I think it’s such an incredible opportunity to show his fan base how really talented he also is as an actor. He has incredible emotional range and I think it must be exciting for his fan base to see that he’s capable of even more than he was giving them.
Can you tell me a little about your working relationship with Bo?
DL: Bo and I were really a two-headed monster on this. We talked through every story; we talked through every joke. Every script made it through the filter of Bo and me. We sat in my office and made every script exactly how we wanted them, and those are the scripts we helped our cast and crew breathe life into. We’ve lived with this project about two years now. We knew those scripts backwards and forwards. We dug this trench together, and it’s been quite a journey to work on this project with Bo.
Is there a point Zach’s character is raising about a sort of “instant celebrity” phenomenon within popular culture?
DL: I think the point that we were trying to make is that instant fame is like getting struck by lightning. Bo and I both believe much more in hard work and loving whatever it is you want to do, loving your craft and being passionate about something rather than striving to be instantly famous for anything.Because truthfully people that want to be famous, people that want to be loved by many strangers – I think that’s a lowlier road than you would imagine. We wanted to create a character that goes on that very journey: someone who ultimately turns his back on his family and friends to pursue this love of strangers. There seems to be this generation of people who think that fame is the ultimate outcome. Bo and I had a good time shining a light on how silly that is.
Is your goal purely comedy? How do you communicate the show’s underlying social comment?
DL: I think we want to make a comment and do it as comically as possible. Bo is naturally very funny because he is socially aware. We set out to say something and we felt like it was filled with laughs every step of the way. It’s a blend of social commentary and comedy to the best of our ability.
How would you have attempted to become famous when you were Zach’s age?
DL: I’m terrified of attention so I can’t imagine any pursuit of fame that I would have pursued at his age. I’ve always been someone who’s kept to myself and I’m more attracted to really the solitude of the writing, of exploring ideas and being off on my own. I can’t imagine being in any sort of spotlight – I’d probably melt!
Can you talk to me about the love interests Zach will encounter over the course of the season?
DL: Zach certainly encounters a few love interests over the season. When the season begins he finds himself in a love triangle. He has this longtime friend named Amy who is just about a perfect match for Zach, and I think he’s having trouble accepting the fact that he’s even good enough to be with someone like Amy. He turns his cheek to that idea and pursues an easier mark, Christy Ackerman, who is the girl who is sort of giving him attention just because he has this new camera crew following him around.
New Episodes of Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous premiere on Thursdays at 10:30/9:30C on MTV.