When was the last time that you watched something that you couldn’t stop thinking about? As someone who watches television and movies pretty much non-stop, it has become so increasingly rare for a piece of entertainment to stick with me for days or weeks at a time. However, I sat down and watched Bo Burnham’s latest comedy special, Inside, and haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.
Bo Burnham is an artist, and like any good artist, his work is not for everyone. In my eyes, Bo is one of the best in the business. His comedy has layers to it, and even though some may find it to be a bit pretentious or overtly self-reflective, to me, this is what makes it brilliant. Bo knows going into every new project that he isn’t for everyone, and as an artist, he only becomes more and more transparent about that with each new project.
If you’ve seen Bo’s previous special, Make Happy, you probably are aware that Bo struggled with anxiety and panic attacks during the special and while touring. His performance of “Can’t Handle This Right Now,” which serves as the special’s big closing number, starts as one of Bo’s traditional comedy tracks but then transitions into a very raw and personal confession about his deepest fears and personal struggles of being an artist in the spotlight. After Bo finished Make Happy, he took a hiatus from comedy because of the multiple panic attacks he had on stage while performing. He took the next few years off to improve his mental health, and at the beginning of 2020, he began planning his return to comedy, but then the pandemic hit.
Inside is a descent into madness of what life was like for Bo Burnham during the Covid-19 pandemic. Inside is nothing one would ever expect to experience when sitting down to watch a comedy special, so be aware of that before watching. Also, don’t expect an easy watch. In just under 90-minutes, Inside is an artistic journey, one that explores much of what happened over the past year through comedy, self-reflection, and song. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible for anyone to watch this special without having at least one self-reflective moment of their own. It will hit too close to home for many viewers, but again, that is part of what makes it so incredible. Arguably, there are plenty of laughs to be had, but those laughs are often accompanied by multiple moments of reflection that may end up hitting you in ways that you didn’t expect them to.
Using music and comedy to address sensitive and controversial topics isn’t new for Bo, but Inside feels so of this moment that, at times, it actually hurts. There are 18 original songs performed in the special. Some are light and fun, while others are emotional, intense, and profound. “White Woman’s Instagram” will more than likely be a favorite amongst Bo fans because it is a brilliant satirical recreation of what many white women posted on Instagram during the pandemic. Even though Bo was confined to a room shooting this special, one must applaud the creative lengths he went to keep things interesting. Bo seems to use every little resource he could find and makes the most of it. For example, during his performance of “White Woman Instagram,” he uses simple props and various photo booth-like backdrops to create a playful tone that perfectly fits the song.
All of the songs performed during the special are so damn catchy and addicting. I am so glad that Bo decided to release the album, so now I can listen to them regularly and quote different verses regularly. While it is nearly impossible for me to pick a favorite song from the special, I am a massive fan of “Comedy,” “Problematic,” “30,” and “All Eyes On Me” for different reasons. I think “Comedy” is the catchiest song from the special, while “All Eyes On Me” speaks to me on a deeply personal level that I can’t begin to explain. To me, it feels like “All Eyes On Me” is the unofficial sequel to “Can’t Handle This Right Now,” which still to this day hits me on an emotional level every time I hear it. “Problematic” and “30” are fun, catchy, and oddly poignant. As I said, it is hard to pick a favorite, but those four songs I could listen to on repeat for days at a time.
Bo’s creativity is fully on display throughout the special. He pokes fun at reaction videos. He offers hilarious social commentary on what it is like to be a “Social Brand Consultant” in today’s world as companies shamelessly pander to the public in an attempt to make them feel good about buying something as trivial as bagel bites. There is so much social commentary in this special that even though I’ve seen it three times, I still don’t think I have fully caught everything he has touched upon. There is so much to unpack after watching Inside that you can’t help but think about it repeatedly, making me want to watch it again and again.
I have watched many comedy specials and music artists perform in my lifetime, but I don’t think any artist has been as vulnerable as Bo is throughout this special. He shot, edited, produced, and recorded the entire thing by himself. He had full creative control, so he could have left out the moments of sudden bouts of anger and frustration, but instead, he left them in. In these moments, as a viewer, you begin to wonder if he is actually ok which is uncomfortable and difficult to witness. There are multiple times throughout Inside where I personally wished that I could reach out to Bo and tell him things would be ok. Bo has frequently joked about his comedy being an act, but there are moments throughout this special where the act definitely stops, and raw, unfiltered emotion takes over. There are times where you can see the pain in his eyes, and it is almost heartbreaking to watch because there is nothing you can do to help.
The word masterpiece gets thrown around a lot in our industry, and truthfully I have seen multiple people who have reviewed this special call it one. This is one of those rare instances where I completely agree. Inside is a dark and brilliant artistic masterpiece. It is the type of art that sticks with you and gets stuck in your head. It almost haunts you. Bo Burnham‘s Inside is an experience. A full meal. You will laugh. You will cry. It is profound while being incredibly personal and real. The last 20 minutes hit hard. This is not your typical comedy special, but it is fucking brilliant.