And then the funniest thing happened...
I’m turning 30 later this year. Exciting times, I suppose. I never really put that into mind as I was going into it, but as that number grew closer, I thought more on it. Then I was asked to stay inside and away from work, traveling, friends, and family. 28 came and went then I wondered, is this really how I’ll spend the last bit of my 20s? Luckily, I wasn’t alone in that thought because out of nowhere, a mostly naked Bo Burnham sings about turning 30 and how all of his friends are having stupid children. Bo Burnham’s solo-acted, directed, edited, and written Inside is the first special from the comedian since 2015’s Make Happy. While I was aware of him, I went into Inside with a vague knowledge of what his “shtick” was. I knew from others that Inside would be a hell of a ride, I was still blindsided. Calling this a comedy is selling it short and calling myself a new fan of his work is underselling how I actually feel too.
Bo Burnham is all about self-deprecation, self-awareness, and contextualizing the world we’re living in while putting most of it into catchy songs. Songs range from FaceTiming his mother, and stereotypical Instagram pages from white women, to songs about the way the world works and how his entire roadmap towards a full recovery from the mental drainage of performing live was derailed. Intermissions about faux corporation support, parody video game streams, to saying not to kill yourself while projected on a very empty looking Burnham. Clocking at 90 minutes, the special feels an eternity, a lot of talk about everything and nothing at the same time. Yet, I’m thoroughly compelled by it. The final act of Make Happy ended with a very vulnerable Burnham explaining to a live crowd his inner demons over Kanye West inspired beats and auto-tune, at one point saying “you can tell them anything if you just make it funny, make it rhyme.” The line alone is the thesis behind what Burnham attempts to do with his comedy and more specifically Inside.
The special has Burnham stuck inside his shed for the duration of the production, as time goes on, Burnham becomes visibly more shaken, dire, hysterical, and withdrawn. Occasionally he comes on screen to express how he’s 6 months in development, 12 months in, and starting to lose sight of the ending. The ongoing dread of being stuck inside doesn’t stop his singing or impede it, but as time goes on various moments of brokenness start to take hold and are captivating. He has a way of adapting those feelings that anyone in his age range could be thinking with the world. Rare moments of outbursts or introspection begin to become more prevalent as the special goes on leaving viewers on a wave of emotion as he fights off his own emotions with an escape of song, sometimes leading to a song that needs to have an escape of its own as they suddenly get far too meta and real.
There’s a really small written goal that Burnham made in this special that I think goes unnoticed, at no point does he reference “COVID-19” “Trump” “BLM” or any major mainstream current topics of interest. He produces “Inside” with a more generalized approach that makes it a more digestible time capsule. It may seem counter-productive, but the choice behind this leaves the window wide for people of all ages in the future to look back on what the extent of this did to everybody without directly pointing fingers one way or another. Rather, “this is how I feel, this is what I see, this is how bad off I am, this is how I feel.” Rather than throwing his hat into the major oceans of topics that the world or even more specifically things in America are going through he will point fingers at the corporations for making stands with a side as if they genuinely care. Burnham is careful to not look hypocritical by doing the same as a “straight white male” is unable to do much in the grand scheme of things, so instead as one of the first songs in the special declares he’s “healing the world with comedy, making a literal difference metaphorically.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Comedians are what I’d consider some of the best actors. They can be real with their audience under a guise that throws everyone off to the reality of the situation. Comedians are sometimes the saddest people of them all. Many comments following viewer’s watching Inside might be “I hope he’s okay and being checked on.” The reality of Bo Burnham and how much of what he shows the audience when he performs speaks to how incredibly precise and relatable he sets himself up to be. You feel every piece of sadness, ironic laughter, and foreboding that he imposes on you. You feel for Burnham, just like you may have felt for yourself. You wait for this to end. You struggle daily to get up, then suddenly a news story about how Jeff Bezos floods the news about being able to afford a new planet, but in the midst of all of that frustration and dread, you’re horny, so time to sing about sexting. Burnham’s attention span and meticulous nature of everything is scary because he’s too real.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
As mentioned, Inside was created completely alone. The lights, camera, the editing, all done on his own, which is absolutely crazy, because of how gorgeous and claustrophobic he makes the shed look the entire time. From disco lights, laser lights, to projected clouds, and small beams of natural sunlight, while having multiple cameras capture different sides of him. Everything is directed to an insane detail. His growth and look as the special goes on is completely natural as well. He starts the special looking slightly disheveled to the end where he’s sporting long hair with a very scraggly beard and almost any resemblance of the man you saw in Make Happy is gone. You could barely tell the two apart if they were put side by side.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The final and arguably most important part of the special is the sound and music. That’s Bo Burnham’s specialty: making funny voices, noises, and rhymes and telling you what he thinks. This is where this special really captures everyone. Suddenly the song where Burhman is extremely candid about his health after touring is stuck in your head, or perhaps you can’t get the “anything and everything, all of the time” line from “Welcome to the Internet” is on loop internally. The songs will plant a firm footing permanently in your head and that’s the genius. It’s not just a punchline or one line joke that he leaves you with, he leaves you with an entire bit to sing along with, even if the poppy background is completely innverse to what you’re actually singing. Burnham knows his strength and the production value of the music, which again, was created all on his own, is phenomenal.
I watched Inside last week. I watched Make Happy a few days later, then the next day I watched them both back to back. I still find myself revisiting parts of Inside even now, as I write this. Burnham’s ironic ways of showing how the world works via sock puppet will stick with me. That phrase may not speak to you if you haven’t watched it, but come back once you do, and you’ll see that his spin on how to showcase things and write every little detail with a meaning is an absolute masterclass in whatever it is you can call this special.
NOW STREAMING ON NETFLIX