Written, Directed, Edited, Shot, and Performed by Bo Burnham
Synopsis: Bo Burnham: Inside is an American comedy-drama special by Bo Burnham filmed in his house during the COVID-19 pandemic. Burnham wrote, directed, shot, and edited the special without a crew.
Bo Burnham: Inside is a revelation when it comes to stand-up comedy. Bo began his career sitting in a room and making comedic YouTube videos, and this special takes him back to his comedic roots. From a technical standpoint, this is something truly incredible. Being in one room, Burnham’s cinematography, editing, directing, sound, literally everything from a technical side of it, Burnham did himself. How amazing it looks and sounds is truly special, and further shows Bo’s talents as an all-around artist.
This special is much more than an ordinary standup though. It truly feels as though it is a narrative film following the descent into madness from a comedian who refuses to leave until his special is done. Along the way his work consumes him and becomes the only thing he knows. This is the basic premise for the story that Burnham is trying to tell, but it is done in the sort of grandiose and maniacal way that only Burnham could pull off.
As his hair gets longer and his beard gets scruffier, we watch as Burnham really pours his heart out into this special, giving a truly vulnerable and sensational performance. A performance that, real or not, will be one of the best performances of the year. This special is a tour de force for Burnham as a performer, and if it had been a narrative film I would be calling for his Oscar now. It really is interesting talking about the “performance” in a stand-up special, but through the songs and the stories told, we truly see that descent into madness happen in front of our eyes.
In doing so, he creates this dichotomy in his music that sounds pretty and fun, but has much more dark and depressing undertones. He has always made satirical music in a light and funny way, but in Inside he ramps it up and swings for the fences. The songs throughout this movie are absolutely fantastic, and all touch on a different aspect of the pandemic that affected people worldwide. There are some lighter songs like “White Woman’s Instagram” or “Sexting” and some of his more classic works like “Healing the World With Comedy”, but in songs like “How the World Works” he uses a sock puppet and this lighthearted and upbeat tone only to really cut deep instead of explaining how the world works on a nature standpoint, he jokes about how the world works on a governmental standpoint.
But, it’s not just Bo’s usual musical jokes that highlight this special, but his well performed and planned out skits, that again, really try to reach into the depths of life during the seemingly never-ending lockdown. In “Unpaid Intern” he uses a short clip of a song to tap into the rise of “YouTube Reactionist” that became so popular during the lock down. We’re pulled into the never ending loop of recycling the same content just in a different manner, and in “Streamer” Bo uses the rise of Twitch streamers in a clever but dark telling of how we came so attuned to watching normal do normal things as a way of entertainment. As he says it, “it’s fucking boring, but that’s the point.”
One of the more heartbreaking moments of the entire special is watching Bo reflect on six months of work, and explaining how he is spending the last few seconds of his 20s locked away in this room. It’s moments like these that really take you away from the jokes and the gags and allow you to reflect on the moments over the past year that were lost thanks to this pandemic. Time you’ll never get back and moments you’ll never be able to recreate. There’s even moments of Bo reflecting on himself like in the skit “Don’t Kill Yourself” where Bo is staring off into the distance while a recording of himself projected on his t-shirt talks about how you shouldn’t kill yourself, but then says if he could for a year he would take that. Moments like this truly bring out the despair and sadness of what life was like during the pandemic, when everything seemed hopeless.
As the special goes on, you witness firsthand how much this is taking over Burnham’s life, and the deeper we get into it, the more manic the entire thing becomes. Bo’s mental state is at its lowest, and he is begging for help. In “Get Your Hands Up” Bo pleads to get your hands up, put your heads down, and pray for him. Burnham isn’t a stranger to poor mental health, explaining how his mental health is at an ATL as he says, and in this song he takes a break part of the way through to talk about his past issues with mental health, right before going back to asking us to pray for him. It’s this kind of vulnerability and openness from him that really made me appreciate this special even more and, in a way, helped me come to terms with this past year as well.
By the end, the special as a whole really becomes something bigger than itself as the shocking final moments cause you to question a lot of how you take in media, and how you watch, engage with, and treat the content and creators you take in. The way he attacks a surrealist year in such a perfectly surrealist way made me truly care more for him as an individual and worry about him as a person. All while still being able to laugh at the jokes he was telling, even when they started to become increasingly darker.
When it comes to “Pandemic Era” content, I don’t know if anything will truly capture this time as well as Inside. The longing for wanting everything to be over and not knowing when you will be able to live a normal life again, or if you even want to live a normal life after being so desensitized to what a “normal life” really is, is truly engaging. The depressive nature and self-reflection that so many people went through is shown in a picture perfect way that is both funny and heartbreaking. When people look back on this moment in time, Inside will be one of the best pieces of media to turn to to really understand what this time was like. The entertainment we consumed, the way we felt, the way we lived, and everything in between. Trying to laugh through the pain and the emptiness everyone was feeling.
To be honest with you all, I know this review is chaotic, I know this review is all over the place, and I know this review isn’t very good. I’ve revised this almost 20 times adding and removing, trying to get my thoughts across. Something like this is hard, because I feel as though nothing I say can do my thoughts justice, or the special justice. If you get anything from this, I hope you watch it, and I hope you truly enjoy it as much as I do. This special won’t be for everyone, and I completely understand that, however, I truly believe Bo Burnham: Inside is an artistic masterpiece, and truly one of the best pieces of art that I have ever seen.
Final: In Bo Burnham: Inside, Bo Burnham crafts a surrealist and heartbreaking exploration into the deteriorating mental state that many people experienced during the “Pandemic Era.” Here, Burnham is at his most vulnerable and creates a funny but personal look of some of the worst parts of this past year. Bo Burnham: Inside is an artistic masterpiece that will make you laugh, cry, and truly reflect over the “Pandemic Era” as a whole.
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.