Bo Burnham has cultivated a reputation as one of the sharpest and most meticulous young comedians in recent years. His earliest public works can be found on YouTube, where he shared his remarkably witty, albeit goofy, musical comedy. Since then, Burnham has written and directed a Golden Globe-nominated film, released four studio albums and created five comedy specials.
His latest special, Inside, is unlike any of its predecessors - or any comedy special ever. Inside was written, performed, shot and edited in its entirety by Bo Burnham, within a single room, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Burnham’s specials have consistently improved in their production value through the years, with some of his most beloved skits and songs relying heavily on lighting and staging. One could be forgiven for expecting a dramatic downgrade from a DIY-special, but Inside seeks to create even more of a visual spectacle than before; and it succeeds. Through use of various props and lighting devices, Burnham forges a staggeringly unique visual experience that is made even more impactful by his own visual transformation.
During the long process of writing and filming the special, which Burnham said took him an entire year, he did not shave or cut his hair. Despite beginning the special as his usual self, Burnham slowly becomes unrecognisable as he develops a grown-out beard and shoulder-length hair. There is no doubt that this physical change also comes hand-in-hand with a mental one, with loneliness, anxiety and depression all coming under focus in Inside.
Burnham has shown some degree of pessimism and introspection in his works in years gone by, but nothing comes close to Inside. Under normal circumstances Burnham might have created something closer to his prior special, Make Happy (2016), but the state of the world, paired with his own anxiety, leaves Burnham in a dark place. “Robert’s been a little depressed,” he sings in the opening scene, kicking off an absolutely heart-wrenching hour-and-a-half journey. During the special he candidly discusses his declining mental health, he cries on camera, and he laments the declining state of the planet.
With that being said, the special is certainly still within the realm of comedy, with hilarious moments sprinkled in between the dark ones. Often, they are one and the same.
‘Comedy’ and ‘Problematic’ encapsulate Burnham’s self-deprecating, critical side, while ‘White Women’s Instagram’ and ‘Sexting’ take more light-hearted turns. ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’ and the reaction skit feel terrifyingly, gloriously meta and self-aware, while ‘How The World Works’ and ‘Unpaid Intern’ touch on Bo’s social concerns in impressively creative ways. ‘Funny Feeling’ might be Burnham’s greatest work yet, a song to chronicle the present day, like an incredibly sad, modern-day answer to Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’. All is brought to a remarkable conclusion in ‘Possible Ending Song’, which includes a medley of the rest of the special.
Burnham’s claustrophobic, unstable state resonates deeply, and is made all the more impactful by the unique nature of the special’s release. This, paired with his perfectionism and comedic timing, means that Inside becomes something remarkable. It is hard to even call it a comedy special, as it feels like something more. Whatever it is, it feels like a pure, intimate piece of art that introduces the watcher to Burnham in a completely new way. Inside is not only Bo Burnham’s greatest work yet, but is as close to a pandemic-era masterpiece as anything I’ve seen.
Inside is available on Netflix now.