As I sat in isolation during the penultimate week of Easter term, Bo Burnham’s latest special, Inside, resonated with me. Unusual in the sense that Burnham directed, shot, edited, and wrote the entirety of the special, I found myself enjoying every second, despite the uncomfortable sense that Burnham was teetering on the edge of despair. Over ninety minutes, Burnham deals with complex themes such as the Internet and broader social issues, all alongside his contention with his distinct position as a comedian.
Surprisingly, I hadn’t watched much of Burnham’s stand-up before Inside. Yes, I’d seen YouTube videos featuring some of his most famous songs and skits, but found myself recognising him more for directing the 2018 coming-of-age film Eighth Grade as opposed to his unique comedic style.
Throughout the special, Burnham makes the behind-the-scenes process part of the narrative, to an almost uncanny extent. Like a lot of Burnham’s stand-up, satirical and often darkly comedic songs weave their way into the backbone of his jokes. When watching his earlier 2016 Netflix special Make Happy, I sometimes found the frequency of sudden jumps between songs and anecdotes quite jarring. However, something about the breakaway to shots of Burnham setting up filming equipment or writing piano melodies in Inside makes his ideas flow at a more comfortable pace, despite him still quickly moving between different themes and concepts.
An interesting aspect of Inside is its recent success on TikTok. Songs such as ‘White Woman’s Instagram’, ‘Bezos I’, ‘That Funny Feeling’ and ‘Welcome to the Internet’ each have their own distinct trends, conveying how Inside is so much more than a standard Netflix comedy special. Perhaps this is part of Inside’s intention: to engage with its audience on an emotional and almost interactive level. By showing the behind-the-scenes elements of the show, Burnham gives the audience a unique insight into his psyche and sense of self. He is quite literally on the same level as us in contrast to the elevated stage we are used to within the realm of live comedy. Staring directly down the camera he himself set-up, Burnham reminds us of the superficiality of the entertainment industry. Such blunt recognition of the futility of his profession makes this special even more engaging and endearing for a first-time viewer.
It was recently revealed that Inside would make it to the big screen for one night only on 22 July, with Burnham announcing the news on Twitter by ironically encouraging his followers to “come on out”. Inside will work well on the big screen, with its dramatic lighting and musical numbers. Throughout the special, Burnham is constantly aware of the fact that he is being watched, that this is a performance, and there is something oddly fitting about a full cinema viewing his work. However, part of the satisfaction Inside provides is its sense of intimacy. Witnessing Burnham’s innermost thoughts through a laptop screen in the seclusion of one’s own room creates the surreal experience that Burnham’s comedy aims to encompass.
If there’s such a thing as comfort comedy, Burnham has created a paradox with Inside. The special is both reassuring and intensely uncomfortable at various points, mainly heightened by Burnham’s potent self-awareness. It will be interesting to witness the reaction to Inside in theatres across the US. It is clear that many will still resort to watching the special as a semi-comforting reminder that brutal self-awareness and comedy can exist so perfectly on the same screen, whether it be on a laptop or in a cinema full of people.
Image: Jennifer via Flickr