At the beginning of 2020, actor and comedian Bo Burnham decided to return to performing live after a long absence away. And then, the COVID-19 pandemic changed his plans.
“Inside,” written, produced, directed, and performed by Burnham, is a comedy special recorded entirely by Burnham over eight months in 2020 in his apartment. The film is structured like a typical comedy special with different bits and is particularly unique for the fact that Burnham filmed the special and then sold it to Netflix. The film features a variety of original music performed by Burnham in his typical sarcastic and sardonic style. It should be noted that the special is quite mature, and that viewer discretion is advised.
The first thing to note about this comedy special is that it is not for the faint of heart. The topics that Burnham covers, even to the point of dumping his own purse, are dark at times. Burnham stopped performing live comedy for five years before this special and while I am not a medical professional, it’s clear that either the shutdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on Burnham’s mental health or he’s an extremely good actor. Burnham is an incredible songwriter, and his lyrical prowess is unmatched in terms of comedy music. That being said, some of the songs in the special are a little serious to be considered “comedy music.” Unless you’re really prepared to sit down for an hour and a half and think about some of the darker parts of your life, this might be a special to avoid.
The special is quite unique as it represents an extremely rare form of media: the so-called “cinematic selfie.” A cinematic selfie is merely a movie or short film that is filmed, produced, and performed by a single person. Burnham’s isolation throughout the COVID-19 pandemic made this format perfectly natural although Burnham himself admits throughout the special that he doesn’t know much about filming solo and had to feel some things out to accurately portray his artistic vision. This special becomes even more extraordinary when you realize that all of the special effects are all practical effects done with lighting changes or sound editing. There are brief behind-the-scenes snippets throughout the special that show Burnham fiddling with a piece of technology and show an often-overlooked aspect of the movie and TV industry: the tech crew. Yes, most people understand that it takes a village to produce a TV show or a movie, but the final product can obscure the process by which the movie or TV show was made. In this cinematic selfie, Burnham made the conscious decision to include his own behind the scenes material to show that it really was all him that worked on this special. The metaphorical implication with his own isolation is quite palpable.
Ultimately, Bo Burnham’s “Inside” is a tough look into the psyche of both Burnham and the health of the world at this strange time in our history. “Inside” receives an A-plus rating.