Warning: This article contains sensitive material, please read with caution
Navigating our way through such turbulent times has undoubtedly been difficult for many of us and Bo Burnham is no exception. For the past year, Burnham has been creating his comedy special, ‘Inside’, all while in lockdown, with no crew or live audience. Just himself, alone in one room.
The special consists of several musical numbers, each going through various stages of Burnham’s creative process as he tries to put together his show. These pieces, though delivered rather humorously, poignantly commentate on what the pandemic has revealed about the current state of the world as well as exploring Burnham’s struggles with self-awareness and mental health issues. He taps on themes of dissociation and derealization: feelings that leave you disconnected from society as you start to view your own role within it.
In a time where we have access to ‘a little bit of everything, all of the time’, never have we felt so numb to the real issues in the world and our own lives.
‘Inside’ follows on from Burnham’s previous 2016 special, ‘Make Happy’, where Burnham is shown at the end leaving his room after performing. Since then, Burnham has stated that he stopped performing stand-up comedy for 5 years after having suffered with numerous panic attacks while on stage. The comedian has often talked about his own struggles with anxiety, which is something ‘Inside’ seemed echo further, especially given the pandemics effects on people’s mental health globally. Burnham’s mental state is shown to deteriorate as the show progresses: his hair grows wild, his beard is unkempt and, apparently, he smells like ‘Shit’. There is even a harrowing moment where a now crushed Bo Burnham is watching an older video of himself talking about suicide prevention.
Sprinkled throughout are shots of Burnham watching himself as well as shots that show us the behind-the-scenes setup – emphasising how exhausting the creative process can be on oneself. The special therefore questions the art of performance, particularly in a digital age where anyone can perform and be the star. ‘White Woman’s Instagram’ is a perfect example of this, where Burnham humorously mimics common Instagram images you would typically find, particularly on a woman’s feed. These images of posed smiles and cheesy quotes often try to make the user come across as if her life fine, when in reality we find that she has been dealing with the loss of her mother and father who are missing out on important milestones in her life. Despite the song being one of the more upbeat numbers, there is still a melancholic undertone as we realise that behind all the selfies and aestheticism, there is a real person dealing with her own pain and problems. Instagram has often been criticised as being a superficial platform that makes people feel bad for not living the perfect life others a shown to be living.
Burnham casts a light on how shallow and selfish people really are, particularly when it comes to social issues. All of the fake personas and activism that is broadcast online from both individuals and corporations, only showing support to try and make themselves look good. People are only ever looking out for their own best interests instead of the wider cause. And yet, when we see these facades fit so neatly alongside global tragedy, all we have is ‘That Funny Feeling’ that we cannot describe. A feeling of knowing how corrupt, shallow, and pointless everything is but you know you will distract yourself from it even if that distraction is something as pointless as Carpool Karaoke and celebrity lip-syncing, something Burnham had stated in his previous comedy special:
“It’s the end of culture. Culture’s over, everybody. We lost. This is entertainment. How is this entertainment? People we’ve seen too much of mouthing along to songs we’ve heard too much of. … Fuck these people. How dare they think that them fucking around is worthy of your attention? Them playing Pictionary? Your attention’s a valuable thing. I worked for three years to get it for an hour. And I barely get there.”
With Burnham’s appearance, there are also a few moments that refer to biblical and religious iconography such as Burnham’s resemblance to Jesus and a shot in ‘Problematic’ where it looks like Burnham is tied up on a cross. The latter fitting in with the song’s themes of ‘cancel culture’ and political correctness which often demands people to hold themselves accountable for the mistakes they’ve made in the past, even if those mistakes were made 10 years ago and you, yourself have grown and matured since then (we forgive the Aladdin costume, Bo!). In a way, Burnham is seeking repentance for his “problematic” ways. Though it is not necessarily God he seeks this from but rather the court of public opinion.
This issue on who is playing God can also be linked to one of the major themes throughout this special: The Internet. ‘Welcome to the Internet’ is a jaunty, almost Disney villain-esk song that highlights how all our lives have become tied to the internet. Everything we do and everything we consume is all online. The Internet draws you in with this image that it is a fun and quirky place to be where you can watch cat videos and memes but with the good comes the bad as the Internet provides a platform for misinformation, corruption, and radicalisation.
This is perhaps the most vulnerable comedy special that has ever been made and undoubtedly Bo Burnham’s best work thus far. This ‘deranged masterpiece’ is raw and honest. It calls attention to the things we dismiss or choose to ignore in our world because reality is too hard to face. I would highly recommend watching this special; you may not fall off your chair with laughter, but you will certainly see things with a new perspective.
Written, edited and header image by Sophie Alexander – Entertainment Editor