Did Bo Burnham: Inside wreck you? Let's talk about it
Warning: Bo Burnham: Inside, the comedian's first special since 2016, will tear open the fragile fabric of your soul.
What did you accomplish during the pandemic?
For most of us, "getting through the day" was the top (slash only) thing on our to-do lists. And for comedian-composer-actor-director-writer-general prodigy Bo Burnham, there was only one way to get through those long days and even longer nights.
"Content" can be a dehumanizingly generic word for any creative effort, but Bo Burnham: Inside is too vast to be labeled with anything more specific. The 87-minute special - which Burnham wrote, shot, directed, performed, and edited himself from his home in L.A. over the last year or so - is not just comedy, though it is searingly funny. It's not just a musical, though it's filled with immensely sing-along-able songs. It's not just performance art either, even though Burnham does get into an argument with a sock puppet about the systemic exploitation and oppression of the global workforce, among other things.
Inside is all of the above, but it's also an intense lamentation on isolation in the digital age, and - at least for Burnham himself - a coping mechanism. Early on in the special, Burnham addresses the viewer directly: "I hope this special can do for you what it's done for me these last couple months, which is, uh, distract me from wanting to put a bullet into my head with a gun."
We've all struggled with mental health in some way during the (ongoing) pandemic. Or, if you're like me, you thought you were totally fine - and then Inside found the psychic bruise, the one that's been spreading like an ink stain deep in your soul, and poked it over and over again, until not feeling what you're feeling was simply no longer possible. For me, the dam broke at the one-hour, five-minute mark, just after Burnham sat down in a darkened room to perform "That Funny Feeling" on his guitar. It's a gentle acoustic ballad, a melancholy ode to the disjointed, discordant way we engage with and understand the world - during the pandemic and beyond.
Full agoraphobic/ Losing focus, cover blown
A book on getting better/ Hand delivered by a drone
As soothing and pleasant as the melody is, the lyrics of "That Funny Feeling" begin to signal an impending doom:
The live-action Lion King/ The Pepsi Halftime Show
Twenty thousand years of this/ Seven more to go
By the end, Burnham's message is clear: Humanity failed, and that funny feeling tickling your brain in quiet moments is the realization that we can't go on this way. The song ends on a triumphant, almost peppy refrain:
Hey, what can you say? We were overdue
But it'll be over soon/ Just wait
Something about that juxtaposition - the bouncy tune and the mournful warning of the words - well, it just pierced the flimsy fabric of my holding-it-together façade. All that loss, all those months spent absorbing life through a screen, all that time wasted. The tears were a surprise, but they felt good, too.
Of course, there's no wrong time to get emotional during Inside. Even the purely "funny" songs - like "FaceTime With My Mom Tonight" or "White Woman's Instagram" - pulsate with an undercurrent of hopelessness, and the ennui that stems from living amidst a constant barrage of uncurated information. ("Here's a tip for straining pasta/ here's a nine-year-old who died," sings Burnham on the chillingly accurate "Welcome to the Internet.") And the non-musical parts (sketches? bits? episodic vignettes?) are equally moving in their own subtle ways.
Go ahead, ponder the foundation of your entire day-to-day existence. By writing this, I am part of the problem. And yet here we are. (Content alert: If this were a typical review, I'd give Inside an A- for its stunning originality and powerful pathos. The "minus" is for putting me in touch, temporarily, with my inner life.) But as Burnham notes just past the one-hour mark, "Real world, human-to-human, tactile conduct will kill you," and we should all just contain our interactions in the "much more real interior digital space." To that end, please interact with me and other Burnham fans by taking the poll below. As for me, I don't know. I'll cry, I guess, again.