Published in Film and TV - 4 mins to read

This evening I watched Bo Burnham’s new comedy special, Inside, filmed over the course of a year during the pandemic entirely inside Bo’s home, using only equipment he had and no crew. It had a profound effect on me, and I guess it’s a bit early to tell, but I think it might be the best thing I’ve ever seen.

I look up to Bo a lot. In many ways I feel like I grew up with him - he was one of the first people to ever become famous purely by uploading videos to Youtube, which he started doing back in 2006. I probably found him in about 2008, and have followed his career ever since. He’s only slightly older than me (he actually turns 30 at one point during the special) and I think we have very similar personality types, just he is obviously smarter, funnier, more self aware and more talented than I am. But he’d hate it if you tell him I said that. When I think about male role models, he is invariably one of the first names to pop into my head; when I think about what kind of person I want to be, I want to be like Bo. At least to some extent.

I started by calling Inside a comedy special, largely because that’s what Netflix labelled it as. His previous special Make Happy was also meant to be a comedy and I have cried on multiple occasions at the final song, Can’t Handle This, so I knew I was not in for an evening of comfortable, mindless laughter. This was doubly the case given Bo quit performing five years ago after he began having panic attacks on stage, and has been open about his mental health struggles since; the pandemic was hardly going to have helped. I knew it’d be funny, but I knew there’d be a lot of pain, and it’d make me think too.

And I was right. It was funny. I laughed out loud a few times, all alone in my apartment. It made me think a lot, right from the get-go. Pandemic aside, Bo is broken, which made me realise I’m broken, and everything else is also broken, and covid has just made everything especially broken. He starts off by pointing out the absurdity of politics, capitalism, consumerism, and himself trying to make a meaningful difference to the world by being a white guy who sings songs to fulfill his fundamental craving for attention. The internet also bears the brunt of many of the criticisms of the special, with Bo of course acknowledging the irony of that not only being how he got his start, but also the medium through which he is now presenting his work.

Bo talks openly about making the special being a coping mechanism for him to deal with the isolation of lockdown. He talks about suicide in a way that completely blurs whether it’s a bit or just him trying to persuade himself that it’s a bit. There’s a clip of him bursting into tears that again, is sort of setup to be a bit, but comes across as genuine. Throughout the 90 minutes, you watch his mental health deteriorate significantly as the pandemic wears on. He seems desperate and dissociating by the end. It feels difficult to call the second half comedy at all, as all I wanted was for some kind of redemption arc, for the next clip to be of him clearly doing better, but of course it wasn’t. One of the things that make Bo fairly unique as a comedian is his sense of self awareness and the way he uses that in his work, and the combination of self awareness, declining mental health and talking to a camera seemingly being one of the few proxies for genuine human interaction available to Bo produced something that is incredibly raw and authentic. I feel like I just read all of his private journal entries for the last year, and I think to have that level of insight into anybody’s life is powerful, let alone someone who is struggling in the way Bo was (I use the past tense optimistically).

I feel like I haven’t done a good job conveying just how good Inside was at all, but also I think it was so good I was never going to be able to do it justice. I was desperate for it not to end, and I already want to go back and watch it again. Bo makes the point that we’ve all become so disconnected from what’s really important in our lives, and it took him being trapped on his own for a whole year to realise that, and he’s right, I’m just as disconnected as him and everyone else. This blog is probably part of that disconnection and I didn’t really want to write it, but it’s out there in the world now - just like Bo and his special.