Last seen Kanye-ranting about the small diameter of a Pringles can and Chipotle’s messy burritos in Make Happy, Bo Burnham bounces back five years later with Inside, a brilliant comedy-meets-meta Netflix special that is sure to stay with you for days, or even months.
Directed, written, filmed, edited, scored, and starred in by musical comedian Burnham himself over the past year, Inside stands out in a sea of pandemic-born content as it honestly (and satirically) illustrates how a pandemic prisoner counted his days. In Burnham’s case, instead of actually writing vertical lines on his wall, he wrote and translated his experience into a comedy musical stemming from intense self-examination and social commentary. Because really, if there’s one thing that the pandemic is definitely guilty of, it’s making us look inward and outward harder than ever.
Set inside his guest house in Los Angeles, Burnham turns his four-walled audienceless stage into a whole theatre just through skillful editing, camera setups, and lighting techniques. His LSS-worthy performances of “Facetiming with my Mom” and “White Woman’s Instagram” demonstrate a refreshing use of different aspect ratios to effectively present a spoof, making it even more engaging and hilarious. His headlamp-plus-disco ball light trick as he sings “Content” is also something I never thought was possible in real life. It’s just *chef’s kiss*.
Plunging further into Bo’s rabbit hole and setting the superb technicality aside, we are confronted with the documentation of a pitless self-dissection and socio-digital observation that disturbingly hits home. We see how Burnham places himself under a microscope in different scenes in different roles, acting as a meta-commenter, vlogger, or video game streamer to disassociate or call himself out. At the same time, he also accurately touches on (and parodies) the trending activities since the onset of the pandemic. The common denominator? Unsurprisingly, screens.
The thing is, while it appears to be a self-deconstructing memento of a bearded digital caveman stuck in a room, the depth of Inside is that it also peers over other forms of “prisons”. In the earlier parts of the special, Burnham subtly talked about being held captive by your own mind. Later, he gets snarkier as he performs his Disney-villain-esque “Welcome to the Internet”. As he slowly characterizes the range of content on the internet, singing faster as if trying to sound like he’s addictively scrolling on diverse images, he’s casually exposing how we’ve become guilty victims of the attention economy.
After throwing shade at digital consumerism and Jeffrey Bezos, Burnham switches to a more serious, unfiltered tone. Taking a break from jokes, Bo drops “All Eyes On Me” as if it’s a sequel song to “Can’t Handle This” from his last special, Make Happy. Mid-song, he delivers a speech explaining why he took a five-year hiatus from stand-up comedy, encouraging the audience that it’s perfectly allowed to step back so you could take care of yourself.
Personally, I like to think of Inside as a cinematic representation of my favorite Nietzsche quote: “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” And it’s not because of how Bo literally dances half-naked, questioning his 30-ness in his catchy song “30”; but by how he manages to produce a timeless, virtuosic masterpiece out of a severely difficult time and unexplainable state of mind. Despite its dark humor and cynicism, Inside is well-packaged sunshine made to recall a crisis that is unbelievably survivable.
Inside is streaming on Netflix.