An intimate and beautiful special that's bloomed from the pandemic.
Isolated during the pandemic, comedian and director, Bo Burnham put together a special. All by himself.
Here be spoilers…
What we like
What do you do when you're stuck indoors, trying to wait out the pandemic? If you're like most of us, you'll take up that hobby or finish that series you've queued or write that fucking book you've always talked about. But if you're Bo Burnham, you make a comedy special.
A little background on Bo Burnham for the uninitiated: he came into prominence on YouTube in 2006 with his musical comedies. That led to film and TV appearances, album releases and live tours. After suffering from panic attacks during his last tour of Make Happy, Burnham retreated from live performances and social media. He wrote and directed Eighth Grade and starred in Promising Young Woman before surprising us with Inside, a special he made during the pandemic.
For Inside, we track Burnham's journey as he puts together a special all on his own. We witness a creative trying to make do under these dire circumstances; the place, he's in, is a mess of cables, lighting and camera equipment. Burnham's personality always felt that it can fill a stadium or a small room. He's at ease whenever he's performing but underneath the bravado, is a man who is assailed by the enormity of his work in putting together a special on his own and the closing isolation he had placed on himself.
"Comedy" pokes fun at the self-importance of a comedian's worth in a world on fire; "Problematic" touches on past activities that might be distasteful in today's context; "Shit" really lays it on about what everybody is feeling during the pandemic… on a whole, Burnham's setlist is inherently funny but some of the songs draw from serious issues.
You can look at the special as a sort of therapy for Burnham. After his panic attacks during his last tour, he moved his attention towards making Eight Grade, which was critically lauded. The return to creating another special, especially during the pandemic, is such a ballsy move, one that really browbeats Burnham's mental health. Interspersed between the music and comic bits, Burnham addresses the camera, often giving updates or insights into his creative process. This verbalisation of one's thoughts is a way to cement them, as though the manifestation of what's in your head can only happen when you ascribe names to them.
What we didn't like
If we were to take the special at face value, it is a revelatory piece of work that came together at an unusual time. But because I'm the sort of individual to smother happiness while it is still in its crib, I've questions about the honesty of the special.
Look, there's always an agenda to everything. A documentary cannot exist in a vacuum; editing and omission can nudge the narrative to its desired direction. On a superficial level, Inside's goal is to highlight creating during isolation.
Burnham hasn't given an interview about the special. What we're able to gather are from previous interviews and articles about the special itself. We don't know if he sequestered himself all the time in the guest room (we sorta know it's the guest room from the final scene of his last special, Make Happy). We can only assume that if he wants, he could always go back into the main house to recuperate. Did he sleep in the guest house? Was he able to still hang out with his girlfriend, Lorene Scafaria, with whom he lives with? And there's a moment where he broke down in tears. Was that planned? How many takes did he take to get it? These and other dumb cynical concerns are stopping me from fully enjoying Inside.
What to look out for
The meta-ness, the effort he puts into his bits as a one-man crew. All of his songs are great but the song (below) really took the cake for me.
Bo Burnham: Inside is now out on Netflix.