They say art imitates life, which is one of the core tenets of Inside. A new Netflix special from YouTuber turned comedian, Bo Burnham. Created and filmed in isolation over the space of a year, Inside marks the comedians return after retiring from stand up five years ago.
While touring Make Happy, Burnham experienced several on-stage panic attacks that soured his experience of performing in front of live crowds. In the time following Make Happy, Burnham turned to directing, producing the social-media focused Eighth Grade.
Having announced his departure from standup comedy, fans were shocked when he teased a new special a few weeks ago. Much like previous shows, Burnham announced the special would land on Netflix soon.
That soon ended up being this past weekend (May 30) as Inside officially landed on Netflix, marking Burnham’s return to the comedy world.
Filmed in isolation
Unlike Bo Burnham’s previous stand up specials, he filmed Inside in complete isolation. In a weird way, the comedian has come full circle, returning to the format of comedy that made him famous. Inside is just Burnham, a camera and a small collection of instruments and lighting effects. It’s incredibly personal, but Burnham’s work has always had an empathetic undertone.
Inside starts as it means to go on, as the singer-songwriter riffs: “If you’d have told me a year a go that I’d be locked inside of my home, I would have told you a year a go, interesting, now leave me alone.” The introduction sets the tone for the rest of the special. COVID-19, the lockdown and society sit at the heart of Burnham’s writing on Inside.
From here onwards, Inside is a surreal exploration of Burnham’s musical styling, self-realisation over his own privilege and comments on global inequality. It contains all the usual musical beats you’d expect from the comedian. He plays piano, guitar and synths, while singing about white privilege, sexting and exploitation of labour. Tonally, Inside is all over the place, but within Burnham’s unusual brand of comedy it perfectly fits.
Experimentation with the form
Much like his previous work, Inside isn’t structured like a typical comedy special. Burnham’s editing is self-aware, frenetic and perfectly timed. Songs are inter-cut with moments of editing, failed recording attempts and Burnham addressing the camera directly.
Unafraid to share his struggles during filming, he is open with the camera about how the show took much longer than he expected. This is most prevalent during a segment in which Burnham turns 30. Having originally planned to get the special filmed and wrapped up in a short space of time, a defeated Bo Burnham shares the last moments of his 20s with the camera.
Similair to Burnham's previous work, it’s difficult to discern where the performer and real-life crossover. What seems like a moment of comedic ad libbing, or performative characterisation, could well be the person behind the performance seeping through.
Burnham’s performance isn’t the only play on structure. Much of how the special is filmed, shot and edited doesn’t conform to the typical structure of a comedy special. Around a quarter way through Inside, Bo Burnham pens a song about the aesthetic of white women on Instagram. Throughout the song, Burnham plays with the aspect ratio, matching the look and feel of Instagram’s portrait layout. Playing with the aspect ratio is certainly nothing new, but it is seldom-seen in comedy-centric releases.
A reflection of us all
Songwriting and editing aside, Inside stands as a reflection of life in lockdown. Feelings of isolation, hopelessness and apathy dominated society last year. Burnham taps into this, channeling the collective sentiment of a global population, into an hour-and-a-half comedy special.
However, calling it a comedy special almost feels reductive, because Inside is so much more than that. In terms of jokes, it’s Bo Burnham’s least funny comedy special, but it feels like his most complete piece of work. Immeasurably honest and vulnerable, Inside might just be one of the most important pieces of art created during this historic moment in time.
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