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‘Bo Burnham: Inside’ Embodies Quarantine Creativity

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Bo Burnham’s brand new Netflix comedy special “Inside” is an ingenious and deranged masterpiece that dives deep inside the comedian’s mind, while transcending his usual zany humor to a more avant-garde disposition. Written, directed, shot and edited by Burnham, this hour and twenty-seven-minute comedic, musical performance is both honest and fervent, surveying the apathy and utter loneliness associated with quarantine amid the COVID-19 pandemic. What was originally intended to be executed in front of a live audience turned into a questionable, yet cathartic production — featuring various musical comedy sketches, stand-up bits and performance art — filmed inside his own home in the span of a year. 

The special opens in a pitch-black room with an eerie and ominous ringing sound playing while the darkness slowly fades into a clear image of a small room with a chair and an electronic piano centered. As the ringing stops, Burnham opens the door and ducks his 6-foot-5 self into the room. What appears to be the beginning of a horror film is immediately replaced with up-beat disco-esque beats while the comedian sits in the chair performing the show’s first song, “Inside,” that canvases the initial effects of the nationwide lockdown including haircut reschedulings, the overwhelmingly depressive feelings of being alone and the creative content that he fabricated over the course of months spent alone in isolation. As he sings, “I’m sorry I was gone / But look, I made you some content / Daddy made you your favorite, Open wide,” fans and viewers are sucked back into the melodic and eccentric ways of the comedian’s humor.  

Burnham’s career began on YouTube in 2006 as a content creator with his comedic videos receiving over 300 million views as of March 2021. “Inside” exemplifies his YouTube background and expertise within various departments of the arts and entertainment industry. As a comedian, actor, film director, poet, writer and musician, Burnham authenticates there’s no limit to what he can accomplish. Ultimately, his proficiency in the industry is what makes the special so incredibly mesmerizing. COVID-19 forced Burnham to return to his roots — singing, recording, editing and directing hilarious, but relatable videos for the world to see in the comfort of his home. His background and knowledge of the internet provided him with the necessary tools to construct his own comedic twist on stand-up during a time when live shows came to an abrupt halt. 

Burnham is intensely raw throughout the entirety of the special, maintaining a strict theme of finding the humor within his and the worlds’ vulnerabilities. Some topics tackled include racial biases, income inequality, Jeff Bezos, women of Instagram and sexting, among many others. 

“Healing the World with Comedy” is a self-reflection on his white privilege and how he can help to fight oppression. Through his jokes, Burnham believes he can help heal the world. 

“Healing the world with comedy,” he sings. “Making a literal difference metaphorically.”

Photo provided by Netflix @netflix/Twitter 

Perhaps the most candid element of the special was Burnham’s decision to discuss his own struggles with mental illness in “Funny Feeling.” With his guitar, he examines the psychological disorders of derealization and dissociation, connecting these behaviors to real-world events that occurred in the year 2020 — including shootings, YouTuber and influencer Logan Paul, the Super Bowl halftime show and things he’s done during isolation such as playing Grand Theft Auto V. 

As soon as he finishes the song, the show changes to a clip of Burnham directly talking to the audience and sharing personal experiences in regards to his declining mental state before and during the pandemic. This is why “Inside” is being raved and considered sensational. He is undoubtedly bare and reveals his true self in a delicate state of self-reflection. The comedian reveals that he is not doing well in isolation and immediately breaks down in tears — something everyone can relate to. He also discloses that he hasn’t performed stand-up in front of a live audience in five years due to the panic attacks he would have on-stage. In January 2020 he decided he was finally ready. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 outbreak prevented him from overcoming a tough obstacle within himself. 

“Inside” exceeds any and all expectations, while bringing a new form of authenticity to the world of stand-up comedy. Not only did he include his most vulnerable and creative moments, but he spent an entire year curating the special and successfully delivered it on his own terms. Burnham presents himself as a comic struggling with creating content and being innovative during a global pandemic, however, with a direct look inside his mind, viewers are graced with an insatiable and peculiar performance. The special is not only extremely entertaining but honest and relatable. This blend of stand-up and musical comedy is worth every second in its 87-minute runtime.

McKenzie Boney is an Entertainment Intern for the spring 2021 quarter. She can be reached at mboney@uci.edu