Review: Bo Burnham: Inside
Plot: Written directed, filmed, edited, and performed by Bo Burnham from his guest house during the pandemic, Inside is a collection of sketches, songs, and standup comedy that covers the day-to-day life of Burnham for over a year. The subjects range the gamut from mental health, to the Internet, climate change, sexting, and video game streaming.
Review: I know I’m a day late and an NFT short when it comes to the Bo Burnham train, but musical comedians have never held much interest to me. With the exception of a few Weird Al songs, I never really saw the appeal. In fact, up until Inside my knowledge of Bo Burnham was limited to his incredible directorial debut with Eighth Grade and his turn as Ryan Cooper in Promising Young Woman (also excellent). Several of you reading this are probably thinking “Have you never heard of Vine??? Do you not have access to YouTube??? How have you not seen Make Happy???” First off you don’t have to yell, and secondly, mea culpa.
Even though I remain apathetic when it comes to musical comedians, believe me when I tell you that Bo Burnham’s Inside is nothing less than a masterpiece. Insightful, lyrical, heartbreaking, hilarious, and thought-provoking, the emotions that Inside generates in the viewer are just as vast and diverse as the topics he covers. It has been quite a while since I felt a personal, visceral connection to a piece of art but here we are.
It’s a little different for me to write this kind of review about a comedy special as I’m so used to critiquing film and television. I hesitate to even call it a “comedy special” as Inside is so much more than that. Certainly, there are plenty of hysterical moments throughout whether it’s Burnham crooning about sexting in the appropriately named “Sexting” (“It’s not sex it’s the next best thing”) or the catchy synthesized “Bezos” about the Lex Luthor Lite founder of Amazon. I mean come on, it’s hard not to laugh during a song where the lyrics are “Zuckerberg and Gates and Buffett, Amateurs can fucking suck it, Fuck their wives, drink their blood, Come on, Jeff, get ‘em!”
Other songs come off self-reflective while concurrently being an indictment of cultural trends such as “Problematic” where Burnham addresses some of the earlier “offensive shit” he wrote at seventeen and apologizes for it. Yet the song also seems to imply that in the era of cancel culture and social media we tend to overreact. In fact, Burnham sites a specific instance where he dressed up as Aladdin but didn’t darken his skin, but it felt weird anyway in hindsight. It seems preposterous and ridiculous yet in the next verse he comments on how he shouldn’t hide behind his childhood, which is in and of itself an indictment of what celebrities sometimes try to do to explain away their shitty behavior. He even goes on to say that we all have “vaguely shitty” stuff hiding in the closet. This song, like most of Inside’s songs, functions on multiple levels. It’s a testament to Bo Burnham’s lyrical mastery and his authentic musical genius.
Burnham’s lampooning of online culture is nothing less than sublime. His reaction video to his brief song “Unpaid Intern” becomes an infinite Inception-like piece that made me laugh while questioning my own obsession with watching reaction videos. He even has a Twitch send-up which consists of him “live-streaming” a video game of himself moving about the room he’s residing in, making the video game version of Bo walk and cry. The crown jewel and my personal favorite of the special is “Welcome to the Internet” where Burnham exposes the evolution of the Internet from “Catalogues, travel blogs and a chat room or two” to an integral and often times insidious part of society where you can “fight for civil rights or tweet a racial slur.” It’s a zany keyboard rendition that gets faster and more intense as time goes on asking the viewer if the Internet “can interest you in anything all of the time.” Favorite song of the special? Hell, this might be my favorite song ever.
The heart of Burnham’s special however is when it addresses more serious and somber topics that most of us have dealt with on some level during the pandemic. Stating that we are in the midst of an existential crisis is an understatement the size of Elon Musk’s ego and Inside perfectly captures our tendency to be disconnected, distraught, and depressed. I felt most connected to Burnham when he’s at his most vulnerable. His song “30” where he laments aging ends with a line saying he’ll commit suicide at 40 which is immediately followed by a plea for those who are thinking about suicide to not do it and to seek treatment. What absolutely put my jaw on the ground was when halfway through the plea it cuts to Bo projecting his anti-suicide speech onto his own t-shirt several months later when he is clearly in the grips of a deep depression. As someone who has struggled with his own mental health issues for twenty-five years, I felt this in my soul. Ditto the several times that Bo Burnham cries in earnest while on camera.
Mental health is a topic that consistently reoccurs during Inside whether it’s the surprisingly upbeat “Shit” or the song that won him a Grammy “All Eyes On Me.” The latter describes in detail (complete with a laugh track) how Burnham walked away from performing for five years because he was having severe panic attacks. After a lot of therapy, he had just decided to start performing again when the pandemic hit. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that mental health issues are a theme that permeates Inside. America and the world at large are in the midst of a mental health crisis of massive proportions. The fact that Bo Burnham was able to make something so masterful in the grips of his own mental health struggles is nothing less than astounding. It truly is an inspiration and I say this with no hyperbole, I honestly believe this special saved some lives.
Undoubtedly the most impactful and memorable song has to be “That Funny Feeling.” A haunting, lyrical masterwork that feels like a more somber, mournful, introspective, and vastly superior version of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to this song in the days since I saw this special. Lyrics like “a gift shop at the gun range, a mass shooting at the mall,” “the whole world at your fingertips, the ocean at your door,” and “ full agoraphobic, losing focus, cover blown, a book on getting better hand delivered by a drone, total disassociation, fully out your mind, Googling derealization, hating what you find, the unapparent summer air in early fall the quiet comprehending of the ending of it all” hit me on an emotional core level that I can’t accurately describe. This was the first song to make me cry by its sheer beauty in I don’t know how long.
Aside from the songs and Burnham’s performance itself, I can’t overstate how amazing the technical aspects are as well. Whether it is the lighting, the cinematography, the direction, or the editing – everything is pitch perfect. Moreover, it is innovative and despite the wide range of topics, somehow fits and flows together seamlessly. The fact that Burnham took care of all these elements—by himself—truly boggles the mind.
Years from now when the pandemic is over (please let it end) there will be countless books, graphic novels, movies, and television shows created about this particular period in humanity. When people look back on this era, Bo Burnham’s Inside will be one of the definitive works people turn to that accurately portrays what it was like to exist during the pandemic. As legacies go, I can’t think of a more ringing endorsement than that.
My rating system:
1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
4 Sub Par
8 Very Good
10 A Must See
Bo Burnham: Inside: 10/10