Bo Burnham: Inside (2021)
May 31, 2021 2:43 PM - Subscribe

Stuck in COVID-19 lockdown, US comedian and musician Bo Burnham attempts to stay happy by writing, shooting and performing a one-man comedy special whilst going through struggles within his personal life.

"Shot over many months during 2020, Burnham’s hair and beard grow longer and shaggier with time, turning Inside into something like a captain’s log, with Burnham on a solo voyage through his own pandemic anguish." - Vulture review

"When your show’s premise is tap dancing over an abyss, you have to be a spectacular tap dancer, and fortunately, Burnham is." - Slate review

"The pandemic has created a strange limbo, a place of overstimulated boredom and mental decay, and Burnham somehow captures that inexplicable sensation, through a blend of meticulous performance and raw moments of grief, caught on camera, the all-seeing machine that seems to be his sole companion." - Forbes

"Burnham is hardly the Jesus figure he looks like, but he’s certainly some kind of mad prophet for crazy times. " - IndieWire
posted by iamkimiam (29 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I certainly thought about "From God's Perspective" frequently during the past year:

You're not going to heaven--
Eat a thousand crackers, sing a million hymns--
None of you are going to heaven
You're not My children, you're a bad game of Sims

posted by praemunire at 3:55 PM on May 31

Just finished, and jotted down my thoughts before reading any other criticism.

- it feels a lot like binging a YouTube channel—intentionally so. Besides the YouTube/twitch tropes he employs, there’s an editing technique where a lot of songs or bits are cut short, as though jumping to the next video in a playlist.

- the direction/production is IMPRESSIVE. His use of light and projection is impressive. The craft and choreography are top notch.

- one bit, where he’s acting like a brand consultant, was the one piece of satire that felt really insightful to me. It made me realize how we as consumers, act complicit in the personification of companies, when we ask corporations to perform certain values in certain ways, even when those values have little to do with the operations of the company.

- I did a certain amount of looking for “real” moments, and thinking about how comedic, performative vulnerability is different on stage or on film. There were a few, but I was largely guarded/distant and didn’t feel an open flow of empathy very often. Some segments were casual, but only 3 or 4 felt truly candid. It kept the performer/audience boundary in place more than I expected.

the songs were good and catchy. Maybe more topical/trendy/of the moment than I expected. I usually dismiss headline humor pretty quickly, as it will severely date a comedy special after a few years. In this context, however, it felt right and important. This special *is* a time capsule, and it’s context—claustrophobia and all—is critical to it.

Because I’ve spent so much time on the internet in the past year, especially with memes and YouTube, I didn’t find much of the content to be fresh or original. This was slightly disappointing... but also it feels like a yearbook of 2020. Like the book you get at the end of a school year, it just recaps a lot of events you were there for, but does it on glossy pages.

Related to that, the timing of the release is interesting, possibly perfect, and perhaps intentional. Here in LA, numbers are good and restrictions are lifting quickly, though masks are still required in public buildings. There’s movement in communities around me to resume pre-pandemic life (and parts of pandemic life are ending) so those images at the end of the special of leaving isolation are spot on—but I also personally relate to the impulse to be back inside. (I wonder how much was true and how much was story craft for Bo.) watching this would feel different if lockdown rules were still in place. Instead, it feels like a retrospective of 2020, but not an ongoing concern.

Highly recommended. Watch it now while the pandemic is fresh, or several months from now, when your pandemic wounds are healed, but maybe not when they’re only half-closed.
posted by itesser at 6:50 PM on May 31 [5 favorites]

My god the song “Funny Feeling” wrecked me.

“The whole world at your fingertips / the oceans at your door” and “a gift shop at the gun range / a mass shooting at the mall” came out of nowhere.

Also, “discount Etsy agitprop” should be a band name
posted by lattiboy at 9:27 PM on May 31 [3 favorites]

It was brilliant! I'd probably mention a suicide trigger warning though.
posted by Pronoiac at 11:14 PM on May 31

Saw it Sunday, and still thinking about it. I would kind of rather not think about it, so this is unfortunate, and I'm going to try to get in and out as quickly as possible:

• I am now sincerely worried about Bo Burnham.
• I am sincerely worried about myself. (Not new, but the intensity's been bumped up a few notches.)
• "All of the Time" (lyrics) is the second thing I've seen that perfectly captures what being on the internet feels like to me (the first being
Patricia Lockwood's The Communal Mind). Which is good, insofar as it reminded me that being on the internet is optional, and I could do it less.
• The recursive reaction video is very funny.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 7:22 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]

There's a quiet consensus that people don't really want to see 2020 as a movie setting, so this special might be as close as we get. It feels a lot like the worst of 2020 felt -- claustrophobic, agoraphobic, helpless -- an artifact already. The world isn't hugely improved from when Burnham recorded this, but the (US) audience is already different. I mean, we're busier. We're outside. From a mental health perspective, that's not nothing.

Inside is weird in a way comedians rarely do in front of a big live audience. Even comedians who are beloved for a dark sense of humor have to balance tone well enough that their audience remembers to laugh! This special has as many darkly unsettling bits as deeply funny ones, and sometimes the point is how they crash into each other (e.g., How the World Works). It was sort of difficult for me. I don't think of myself as particularly depressed or anxious, but I am one of those much-lamented folks who spirals into doomsday talk whenever climate change is mentioned. Slate noted Burnham's apocalypticism here, culminating in Funny Feeling's the tossed-off line about 20,000 years of this/7 more to go. But Inside is good, and very funny, and interesting, too. So...I cautiously recommend this content.
posted by grandiloquiet at 7:55 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]

I... feel seen. Heard. Understood. Bo, don't kill yourself. Me, don't kill yourself.

This feels like an incredible piece of work that I don't know if it'll ever completely leave my brain.

It's funny that I was just back from a walk with my partner between the first and second parts, and we were talking about having kids. And I was expressing that while I hadn't felt particularly called to it, I'd never been opposed. And I kept trying to sort out of if the... funny feeling... I had was because I couldn't see the world going on or if I was using that as an excuse. I had told her right before we watched the second half that I would be grateful for 10 good years with her, I just wasn't sure the world would cooperate was the unsaid part.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 7:55 AM on June 4

I felt like a lot of the time it was too guarded, but not being clever enough. I guess I feel that it did not go very far down the road it created. But I guess it can't it is about being stuck, not being able to build, not being able to be sincere.
posted by fleacircus at 3:35 PM on June 5

This made me cry numerous times, especially Funny Feeling and the unexpected bit in the middle of White Woman's Instagram about her missing her mother. I'm both glad I saw it, because I felt it was a good important piece of art to witness, but also feel very sad; and also, concerned for Bo Burnham. I hope he feels better.
posted by unicorn chaser at 4:12 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah the little undercutting of humanization in the middle of the white woman instagram was maybe the best thing.
posted by fleacircus at 4:25 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]

Someday, my grandchildren* will ask, what was it like living through 2020? And I'll show them this, and I'll tell them that everything that doesn't make sense is exactly how it was for us, too. And they'll say, this isn't funny, this is uncomfortable and a little scary, and I'll say: yeah.

(* Or someone's grandchildren, since I probably won't have any, myself)
posted by meese at 7:10 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]

I sincerely hope he will be okay with how people will love this.
posted by ipe at 8:39 PM on June 5

this isn’t funny, it’s uncomfortable and a little scary

It was excellent, but the above is a good encapsulation. The shift in tone and style from beginning to end is really interesting, it started off as a very quirky “special” but felt much more like experimental cinema the further along it went.
posted by skewed at 9:39 PM on June 5

I’m halfway trough my second watch in two days. meese, I had the same reaction, this is what I’ll show the kids of the future when they ask. If they ask. I never asked my parents about the Cold War. I should have.

I watched his previous Netflix special immediately after my first watch of Inside (we’re back in lockdown here in Melbourne, I’ve been watching a lot of tv) and it was amazing to see the time warp of a younger Bo’s cocky masking of his anxiety. It ends right there in the room, which gave me shivers. We couldn’t ever have imagined this.

The YouTube vibe is funnier if you know it’s intensely self-referential.
posted by third word on a random page at 3:51 AM on June 6

Immediately upon finishing this I wanted to watch it again. It's so dense, and I'm sure there's more to pick up on with a second viewing. It's like a razor blade hidden inside a candy bar; cutting social commentary and painful introspection wrapped in catchy tunes and shiny lights.
posted by Rora at 11:24 AM on June 6 [6 favorites]

As someone who’s been inside, alone, for almost every one of the past 445 days, this felt... er... relatable.

Has Bo Burnham now made the Pink Floyd’s The Wall of confessional, solipsistic indie comedy? Maybe so. (Is it indie if it’s Netflix? I guess not.) Anyway, it’s really something. I laughed, I cried, I watched it twice.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 3:05 PM on June 6

I don't know what to make of this, but it was interesting.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:29 PM on June 6

Halfway through, and Socko is far and away my favorite.
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:20 PM on June 8

Bo Burnham tweeted: "inside (the songs) is out as an album on thursday. sorry for the delay."
posted by Pronoiac at 3:14 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]

Yeah, this is brilliant. Also, it is funny. The world is ending perhaps, that’s pretty hilarious all things considered.

Certainly, brains have been irrevocably snapped. He highlights that physically yeah we’re maybe doomed but also the Internet has done it no matter what.

Check back in 5, 10, 20 years. Pay attention to that funny feeling next time you see those wascally wabbits pushing our US election was stolen, vaccines are microchips and mmm martial law. You think this will get better because each crisis has a breath after.

Call me and I’ll tell you a joke.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:27 PM on June 8

I watched his previous Netflix special immediately after my first watch of Inside (we’re back in lockdown here in Melbourne, I’ve been watching a lot of tv) and it was amazing to see the time warp of a younger Bo’s cocky masking of his anxiety. It ends right there in the room, which gave me shivers.

I did almost the exact same thing. I'd never seen his "Make Happy" special, and after seeing how much the lighting worked into his stage show, it informs a lot of what he's doing in "Inside." I feel like the first half-ish of the special might have been intended for his canceled tour, but then it takes that turn into something else.

Oh yeah the little undercutting of humanization in the middle of the white woman instagram was maybe the best thing.

Now that I've watched it a bunch, I finally noticed that the aspect ratio changes during that verse, widening from the Instagram square, and then shrinks back. Love that detail.

I love "All Eyes on Me" in an unironic, unfunny way. I love the entire special but I especially love watching him swaying in the room to that song and then kind of laughing when he goes and gets the camera.
posted by gladly at 6:49 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]

Charlie Warzel (Substack): Bo Burnham And The Online Condition. "The Bezos interlude feels similar: the product of a overstimulated mind — one that’s so used to processing endless random morsels of tantalizingly packaged information that one’s synaptic connections start to scramble. To live in this state is to feel like your neurons are firing indiscriminately, constantly cycling both extremely important and totally worthless shit into your consciousness....All of it blurs into some kind of exhausting cognitive slurry. This is all happening inside your head but it somehow feels beyond your control."
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:55 AM on June 9 [4 favorites]

Finished, and I think I appreciated this without liking it (excepting the terrific Socko and "Can I Interest You in Everything All of the Time?"). So technically accomplished, given the constraints; great highlighting of artifice and the physical making of the thing; good self-awareness and meta-commentary (and at the end, was he really contemplating his own navel? Or just hanging his head in defeat? Both?). I think I found his moments of vulnerability and struggle indistinguishable from his simulation of it, and from the rug-pulling aspect of it; if I felt empathy, I was answered by irony, and if I chose to see all of it as ironic, I was left feeling hollow toward what I was watching. The Boy Who Cried "Look at Me" Wolf is emotionally exhausting to watch, and post-intermission I was increasingly reluctant to connect with it. I felt trolled? Manipulated? He's so good at admiring the problem that there was no reliable way for me to connect with anything sincere on his part other than his technical skill. It pushed me out of his navel entirely by the end. The house has been on fire for more than a year, and the whiplash of "look at me/made you look!" is not helpful to me. But I am not the intended audience, so. I hope he's OK. So yeah, appreciated this well-wrought thing without liking it.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:27 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]

I've never heard of this guy until a few days ago when mentions of this show started popping up in my social media feeds. So I gave it a look ...

Holy shit, this is amazing. This isn't a "comedy special," this is performance art.
This is the first, best thing I've yet seen that deeply engages with what the last year and a half has been.
This guy gets to come out of the pandemic with this amazing explosion of creativity to show, and I've got... diddly.

And yeah, I'm concerned for his mental state. His self-deprecation about suicide seems like exactly the kind of "humor" one heard from the likes of Anthony Bourdain, David Foster Wallace and many others... right up until the day they turned up dead. Please, please, I hope the work on this piece has helped this guy work with his demons in a productive way, so he can stick around, because I really want to see more of his insights on our crazed current life.
posted by dnash at 8:12 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]

I really, really liked this. I had heard it was funny but dark, but wow, is it ever dark. I'm still thinking about the sock puppet.

Agreed with others that I'm a little concerned, but I hope he sees how much this resonates with people. The editing and lighting are top-notch and extremely impressive, and I would be the first to say how much I don't know about those subjects. Knowing he did all the camerawork and editing himself, I saw every scene a little more differently, wondering how he worked out those shots; how long it took him to do the YouTube react segment and how he scripted it for it to work like it did; how and why he made the decisions he made.

I really loved this a lot and I might actually buy the album. The songs are all pretty varied enough to keep my interest throughout.
posted by lesser weasel at 6:27 AM on June 11

It's definitely weird to explain why I enjoy this without invoking mental illness, but happily, Kim Renfro wrote about "All Eyes on Me" and explained how I feel about it perfectly:
The vocal distortion on Burnham's voice in this song makes him sound like the manifestation of depression, a force that's trying to convince us to sink into the comfort of inertia.

The song's melody is oddly soothing, and the lyrics are a sly manifestation of the sometimes-inviting nothingness that depression can offer ("It's almost over, it's just begun. Don't overthink this, look in my eye. Don't be scared, don't be shy, come on in, the water's fine.")

But of all the brilliant lines in "Inside," nothing has shaken me the way this verse did:

"You say the ocean's rising, like I give a s---
You say the whole world's ending, honey it already did
You're not gonna slow it, heaven knows you tried
Got it? Good. Now get inside."

New harmonies kick in after this line, adding to the haunting beauty of the song. Listening to "All Eyes on Me" is like having a religious experience with your own mental disorder. Burnham's voice crawls into your skin, speaking to a dark corner of your mind that's been waiting for permission to give up.
posted by gladly at 8:19 AM on June 11

I am back in this thread to say, it's been a few days since I saw Inside, but it hasn't left me at all. In fact it has haunted me. Since the album dropped on Spotify it's all I've been listening to. Burnham has created a really important work, in my opinion.
posted by unicorn chaser at 1:05 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]

Similar, though it's been two weeks and I'm really angry. Inside did really bad things for my mental health, and I wish I could unwatch it. (Though I've also had surprisingly strong impulses to watch it again, I guess because my brain is impatient with how long it's taking to kill me? So far, we've compromised by rewatching only the segments that have been posted to YouTube.)

It's important! It's art! It's a technical marvel! I'm really impressed by the way that the bridge saves "White Woman's Instagram" from being shallow misogynistic garbage (at least in my reading of it; no doubt people disagree)! The disco ball was surprising / hilarious / awesome! The tiger (?) roar in "Problematic!" "The whole world at your fingеrtips, the ocean at your door!" Socko! It's all very clever (if not funny) and I don't think "genius" is necessarily too strong of a word!

But my mental health did not need this shit right now.* So in the future, if a Bo Burnham special includes "suicide" in the rating information at the beginning of the show -- and maybe even if it doesn't -- I'm going to skip it.

Also I really liked these pieces about 'Inside' on Medium, which all make points I would like to make but wouldn't make as well:

I Am Not Feeling Good: My Experience with Bo Burnham’s “Inside”, by William Young

REVIEW: Bo Burnham’s Milleresque One-Man Show “Inside” is Painful, Uncomfortable, Beautiful, and Vicarious, by Olivia G

'Inside' by Bo Burnham, by Ayesha

* (I'm currently waiting to see a psychiatrist about changing medications; I made the call to set up the appointment on 30 November 2020. My appointment is on 7 September 2021. Today, I am 196 days into a 281-day wait.)
posted by Spathe Cadet at 9:34 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]

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