Bo Burnham’s INSIDE – The Perfect Music-Comedy Crossover
Satirical, emotional and hilarious, Bo Burnham's Netflix comedy special 'Inside' is an addictive and authentic commentary on social issues.
Early in 2020, Bo Burnham had decided that he would return to performing comedy after a self-imposed five-year break to prioritise his wellbeing. But then, as he says in his latest critically acclaimed Netflix show Bo Burnham: INSIDE, the strangest thing happened*…
So, back to the drawing board he went. As he couldn’t do the physical comeback on stage, he was forced to get creative. He embraced that challenge so well that on 30th May 2021 he released potentially my favourite piece of art to come out of this recent period of time*.
*yes, the pandemic
I watched INSIDE in June, about a week after its release. I absolutely loved it. It was eye-opening, eye-watering and pretty much flawless. It’s neither an hour and a half of pure fun nor an entirely depressing reflection of our global crises. It provides a bit of everything, playing on the full scale of emotions and offering social comment. It is the perfect time capsule for these times.
Bo went on to win 3 Emmy Awards for the show, Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special, Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special and Outstanding Music Direction.
There was a deliberate open-to-interpretation feel around some of the special’s most intense moments. To me, it felt like every time he got angry, anxious or tearful that it was authentic rather than part of a performance. He left all this vulnerability in to show how much the creative process, and negotiating this new normal, took its toll.
Bo recorded, created, and edited it exclusively from home by himself, apparently only ever assisted by a producer. It is full of his trademark joke songs with a few piece to camera standup-style lines, which were mainly just punctuation in between the main bits. His music hit home emotionally for many, including myself.
He opens up with ‘Content’, a tune that acknowledges the surreal nature of him being stuck in his room in Lockdown. This instantly addresses the elephant in his, and for the next 87 minutes our, room. This makes it clear he’s going to express himself about this whole thing, not give us an escape from it.
He wants us to live the experience through him, a cheeky ask when we had already lived through it ourselves. But he demands it as he knows we will get a payoff due to the quality of what he has in store for us.
‘Comedy’ then gives us his overthinking dilemma of whether he ought to be “joking at a time like this” and concludes that he will be “healing the world with comedy”, tongue firmly in cheek.
‘Welcome to the Internet’ is a thought-provoking but fun one about the absolute craziness of the internet and how it is engrained in our society. He creepily delivers: “Could I interest you in everything all of the time? A little bit of everything all of the time. Apathy’s a tragedy, and boredom is a crime. Anything and everything all of the time.” He even belts out a prolonged evil laugh after he has sung this chorus many unsettling times.
If I can recommend anything on YouTube at the moment it would be to watch a genuine first time reaction of the track ‘All Eyes on Me’. Funnily enough, there’s a skit in this special where Bo makes light of reaction videos as he reacts to himself reacting to himself reacting to himself etc. ‘All Eyes on Me’ is an audacious, autotune-boasting hip-hop track where he’s audibly and visibly craving crowd/human interaction. He gets angrier as he goes on that he can’t get this, eventually snatching the camera and shouting “get the f*** up!” at us.
‘White Woman’s Instagram’ has a bit of everything. It pokes fun at a privileged middle class woman’s use of the app. “Some random quote from Lord of the Rings, incorrectly attributed to Martin Luther King. Is this heaven? Or is it just a white woman’s Instagram.”
Despite these p***taking lyrics being relatable on some of the eye-rolling things we often see on social media, he still acknowledges there might be something deeper at play. He hints that some of these same users may be relying on apps to express true emotions beyond just the superficial, citing heartbreaking captions dedicated to lost loved ones: “I can’t believe it’s been a decade since you’ve been gone. Mama, I miss you, I miss sitting with you in the front yard. Still figuring out how to keep living without you. It’s got a little better but it’s still hard.”
One of the spoken parts is him talking about the fact he is imminently turning thirty years old, next to a clock that eventually flickers to midnight which officialises the start of this depressing birthday. He then breaks into the aptly named ‘30’, where he bemoans the ageing process and vocalises his disbelief that he’s no longer in his 20s. He frames his shock by mentioning the adult-y things the people around him are doing: “My stupid friends are having stupid children. Stupid, f***ing ugly, boring children.”
Perhaps my favourite song on the collection is ‘FaceTime with my Mom (Tonight)’. The relatability for millennials here is huge as he takes us through the frustrations of doing a video call with a parent. He makes it clear that this time speaking to them, due to being stuck inside alone, is essential and he’s glad he’s doing it. But he couples that with the fury he sometimes feels towards their technological incompetence, especially with his outro: “My mother’s covering her camera with her thumb, I’ll waste my time FaceTiming with my mom.”
He has since released a collection of the special’s songs on all the usual streaming platforms and I have listened to them on there a fair bit. Some of them get even better with every play.
One of the songs towards the end that hits hard is ‘That Funny Feeling’, where he switches to an acoustic folk sad song about his struggles mentally. Phoebe Bridgers has since covered this song live a few times, which you can watch on YouTube, and she has now even released an official version you can buy through Bandcamp.
There have been all sorts of consequences from being stuck inside, with many gut-wrenchingly sad stories hitting our news feeds. Bo is one of very few people in the arts industry to have conveyed its complexities so accurately. One of the main reasons he has received so many plaudits is because he did this in so many ways - through humour, crying, satirising. Through music.
INSIDE is an absolute triumph for honest expression and a win for anyone who says music and comedy don’t belong this closely together. If you haven’t watched it by now, which would surprise me a little if you find yourself on a music website, then honestly go ahead.
You could even go music first before watching it on Netflix. That would be fine, although some of its impact would be lost. In fact, I feel a little guilty I’ve ruined a few nice surprises for you during this piece. There are plenty more for you to find out though. Press play.