A stream of consciousness review / reflection on Bo Burnham's new special, "Inside"

I don’t anticipate this will be particularly well-written. I just need to get stuff out of my brain.

WTF did I just watch?

I finished Bo Burnham’s new Netflix special “Inside1 about two hours ago and I’m still pretty fucked up about it. As a palate cleanser my partner and I watched a John Mulaney performance from a few years ago. I guess it worked. I’m not crying anymore.

“Inside” encapsulates the last year. Shot in a single room in his house, the special brings to mind Bo’s origins as a hilarious kid making music in his attic bedroom, but, like, if Andy Kaufman was doing it. It’s a commentary on society and mental health and descent into whatever comes after a year like we just had.

Sure. There are laughs. The song about white women’s Instagram feeds had me in stitches, mostly because my friends and I were just talking last night around the fire about all our basic bitch gay friends and their beach photos and terrible cell-phone-recorded concert videos (bet you don’t miss those, do you?). There’s a song about sexting. There’s a sock puppet. It’s funny.

It’s all about isolation

Really, the whole thing is about isolation. Bo used to tour. I’ve seen him live. He’s a fantastic performer. But a few years ago he started having panic attacks on stage, which isn’t really ideal for a solo stage performer. So he stopped.

According to his telling in this special, in January 2020 Bo decided he’d give touring another try. The government shutdowns of venues obviously put the kibosh on that plan, so, like the rest of society, Bo descended into (theatrical?) madness and made this special instead. I honestly couldn’t tell how much of this was genuine and how much of it was completely staged. Hence the Andy Kaufman comparison above.

At the end, Bo tentatively emerges from his house, only to freak out and desperately try to get back in his locked front door, only to find that he’s actually been watching himself on a projector the whole time, safe in his chamber.

There’s a lot of meta stuff like that. In one of my favorite bits, he plays the part of a Twitch streamer playing a video game where he controls himself. In-game Bo doesn’t have many real objectives, but after he’s pressed A to cry a few times, walked around the room a bunch, and fallen asleep, the level ends. Goal achieved!

What else?

I don’t really know what to write about it, to be honest.

His first song is about his ambivalence surrounding making comedy in 2020. He turns 30 on camera and laments getting old. He used to make fun of boomers and now zoomers are telling him he’s out of touch. In one song he apologizes (kinda?) for dressing up as Aladdin for Halloween one year, not because it was illegal or even immoral, just because it seems a little weird now.

In another bit he’s got a sock puppet who is sort of a Marxian proletarian, and Bo’s the innocent, sympathetic, bourgeois guy who’s willing to listen…until the sock gets a little too uppity and Bo has to put him back in his place. It’s tough. It’s funny.

It’s not an anti-woke performance. There’s plenty of “I’m a white man, so really why are you listening to me?” type stuff. But he does it well. He acknowledges systemic problems (Ugh…) and how useless “the system” is…can ever be…at solving them (Oh!).

There’s lots of criticism of woke capitalism, which you know I loved.

In one bit Bo criticizes tech companies for, essentially, brainwashing us, another of my favorite topics. I was a little disappointed that he didn’t take any specific digs at Netflix. Probably too easy. Or maybe they didn’t let him. Who’s to say?

I dunno. I don’t want to give too much of it away. It’s spectacular, in the most literal sense of the word. The games Bo plays with lighting, camera tricks, sound, loops upon loops upon loops, projected images, etc. make it at once super trippy and super poignant. I think you should watch it.

Why am I so fucked up?

So here’s the deal: I was on the verge of tears for most of this show. 2020 took a massive toll on me and the way I see myself in the world. You’ve watched part of it. I panicked in the middle of the year and started making very real plans to go full-on survivalist. I don’t even know how to change a tire, for heaven’s sake.

I have a very real fear that I’ll never see some of my best friends again, at least not in any normal sort of setting, for fear of catching a disease. They’re vaccinated from covid (obviously), but they’re still self-isolating because “there’s just so much we still don’t know”. (INB4 “Just ditch them” from autistic libertarians.)

I’m not a full-time content creator. I barely make any money with this gig. (Please subscribe if you haven’t already 😉) My job was already fully remote. I was probably working remote before you’d even heard of Zoom. And, while I love my job, I can feel myself going a little stir crazy. There’s nothing better than working remote when it’s voluntary. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in your home when it’s mandated by the state. Well, nothing except maybe when it’s mandated by your own anxiety and panic disorders. I’ve been freaking out because an external force hasn’t let me live free. I can’t imagine how awful it must be to have an internal force doing that.

This show is hard to watch. Bo’s hair gets longer and longer as his fuse gets shorter and shorter. I don’t know how much of it was theatrics and how much of it was real. But I do know that this is a guy who’s legitimately struggled with his mental health for years, and he had finally gotten to a point where he felt comfortable touring again. His new confidence was dashed by actions of the state “authorities”. His (maybe theatrical) descent back into something even worse than he had experienced before 2020 perfectly illustrates what all of society felt last year.

Regardless of what “side” of any of the infinite debates we fall on, I don’t think anybody is really ok right now, and it’s really tough to watch.

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