Bo Burnham’s ‘Inside’ Isn’t Just a Comedy Special

Bo+Burnham+in+%22Bo+Burnham%3A+Inside.%22+%28Courtesy+Netflix%29

Bo Burnham in “Bo Burnham: Inside.” (Courtesy Netflix)

By Luke Jackson, Arts Writer

 

Bo Burnham has always presented an interesting dichotomy of feelings about his successful comedy career. When asked what his advice would be to someone wanting to follow in his footsteps he said, “you gotta just take a breath and give up.”

In his 2016 comedy special “Make Happy,” Burnham furthered this sentiment by saying, “I had a privileged life and I got lucky and I’m unhappy.” Much of this special was dedicated to expressing Burnham’s complicated feelings regarding his gratitude and simultaneous despise of his fan base.

Having achieved great comedic success at such a young age, Burnham has only really ever known performing. The powerful aforementioned feelings coupled with this early success has led to a brand of experimental meta-humor where the audience is often left wondering “Is Bo doing okay?” I found myself asking that same question more than a few times watching Burnham’s newest special, “Inside.”

Dark, Playful Comedy 

“Inside” follows Burnham over the last year as he strives to make a comedy special entirely from inside his room. It’s incredibly intimate and almost claustrophobic at times as he speaks directly through the camera at us individually. Burnham wrote, directed, and edited the special, and it truly is a feat of technical brilliance that is extremely impressive to behold. The passion and dedication is clearly evident as Burnham manages to turn his room into what might as well have been a professional studio.

Much of the special walks a hilariously depressing line of reflecting upon the stress, anxiety and loneliness all of us felt in the garbage pile that was 2020. Burnham also uses the special to comment on our culture’s obsessive need to constantly broadcast everything we are thinking and our often unwarranted trust and reliance on brands and celebrities.

One of the opening songs finds Burnham in the dark sitting at his piano. A spotlight flashes on and he begins to lament on the many serious world events that occurred in 2020. Burnham begins to wonder what he is to do, as he wants to help make the world a better place, and he sarcastically quips, “there’s only one thing I can do about it … while being paid and being the center of attention.” He goes on to sing how what the world needs is for a white man like him to tell jokes and sing silly songs.

For around 35 minutes, “Inside” follows this theme of jokes and songs about inappropriately processing the seriousness of our current world climate. Then, suddenly, the tone shifts, and we live behind the bright colored silliness typical to Burnham’s style.

Slowly we begin to watch as Burnham descends into madness: his hair and beard become progressively more wild and untamed as he expresses concerns of never being able to finish the special. Then he expresses concerns that this special is the only thing keeping him sane and that if he ever finishes it, he’ll lose his mind. Between these concerns are brutally honest layers of desire to know if we’re enjoying the special and if it’s any good.

The Perfect Mixture of Sadness and Humor 

Burnham wraps up the special by reiterating his conflicting feelings — how he is supposed to tell jokes in a world so broken? He wonders: once he is old and irrelevant, will anything he said or did matter?

As I listened over the course of an hour and a half of content, I could barely withhold my tears. Burnham, like most of us, simply wants to be a good person, but isn’t quite sure how to do that.

“Inside” is a comedy special that is hard to put into words, it moves past being just a comedy special and needs to be experienced. It’s thought provoking, hilarious and genuinely sad. For me, it was a perfect summary of everything I went through in 2020 and I can’t stop thinking about it.

“Inside” is available to stream on Netflix.

 

 

[email protected]

@__lukejackson