Comedian Bo Burnham releases his staggering lockdown special, Inside.

American comedian Bo Burnham, 30, released his comedy-drama special Inside to Netflix, May 30th. Since its release, the special has profoundly affected viewers due to its seemingly unfiltered observations on coping with life during the pandemic lockdown. It also offers a harrowing glimpse into Burnham’s declining mental health.

Inside has already received serious critical acclaim, garnering positive feedback from The New York Times and a 5-star review from The Guardian. Previous Burnham specials, Words Words Words, what., and Make Happy were all performed for a live audience. However, Inside shows the performer in a new context. Due to the unprecedented COVID19 pandemic, Inside was made for online viewing, not as a live show. Expect jump-cuts, flashbacks, 4th wall breaks, and all the storytelling freedoms that a film camera provide.

Burnham approached Inside like an experiment. He worked on the project alone, in one room, with only his lights and film gear as company. It’s difficult to summarise the 90 minutes of “content”, as Burnham distastefully labels it, carrying his ever-copious load of self-awareness. At a base level, Inside moves in a desultory fashion. It jumps from thought to thought and song to song sporadically, much like scrolling down a news feed, tied together by the creative restrictions in place.

However, these environmental limitations enable creativity. Inside is Burnham’s best use of colour and shape, setting striking moods with ambient lighting. He silhouettes himself on overtly ridiculous disco track Jeff Bezos to increase sarcasm to incalculable proportions. “Come on Jeffrey, you can do it, pave the way, put your back into it”, he mocks. During the pandemic, Bezos wealth increased to an estimated $48 billion US.

Burnham also quipped physical performance more than ever before, from working out to singing with a sock puppet who knows an alarming amount about unhealthy indoctrinations.  His time alone also inspired the artist to sharpen his guitar skills, writing and performing a standout original, Funny Feeling. The song bursts with cryptic juxtapositions, like a modern-day Bob Dylan cut. “A book on getting better, hand-delivered by a drone”. Like the best covers of all time, Burnham makes the story unique to him.

The isolated approach to the special also resulted in a jarring amount of exposure to Burnham’s conscience. Donning the signature lockdown-trend of unkept facial hair, he breaks down in front of the camera multiple times throughout the runtime. The privileged artist has fallen far from his days of youth; clean-cut church haircuts and learning how to tie a tie.

Burnham talks to his audience with utmost transparency, revealing suicidal tendencies and filming himself sitting in his dark room alone the moment he turns 30.  

It’s implied to the viewer that directing, writing, performing, singing and editing Inside has been both a blessing and a curse. It’s given the creative something to keep busy with, but it’s also a terrifying reminder that he is alone, left with uncomfortable truths and malaise to tamper with.

And yet, Inside has its bright moments amidst all the existentialism and dread looming over Burnham. Take one of his greatest songs to date, White Woman’s Instagram. The song begins by pointing fun at the predictable habits of a middle-class white woman on social media, “an avocado, a poem, written in the sand”. Then, expectations are shifted, as the listener discovers that the social media poster is only trying to be strong after her mother’s passing. The song’s message becomes – “you don’t know what someone’s going through, be kind”, instead of “white women are unbearable”.

Inside is the furthest thing from background noise. It will capture your attention and hold it, as Burnham’s refined writing masterfully weaves sincerity with sarcasm, storytelling with witticism. If you’re emotionally ready to plunge back into the feelings of uncertainty and isolation that the pandemic conjured, Inside is a must-watch. There’s no clear cathartic release to find, but the project remains a remarkable experiment of unexpected entertainment and unabridged self-expression.

Burnham concludes Inside with the faintest glimmer of perseverance. But it’s something. “It’ll stop any day now. Any day now”.

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