One actor, one director, one cinematographer, one editor—rendering a one-man American special vaudeville Inside by Bo Burnham. Is it a documentary? Is it a show? What is it? Well folks, expect bass comedy, vivid drama, pandemic burn, poppy music, noteworthy theater and the hard truth of how the world works today. On May 30 2021, releasing this special on Netflix, American comedian Bo Burnham is back at it again as he snatches everyone’s attention head on. Praised left and right, Inside has become a relatable special that depicts the pandemic and online transition in its most authentic form. Open to interpretation, this ‘call it what you want’ special is an almost heart-warming yet hostile escape from reality that is centered on reality itself.
‘‘A well-crafted, expertly edited, comedy special that presents life in the pandemic” is an underrated description of a piece that is well becoming literature in the world of original motion cinema. The following public comments and general critics on popular review sites gives off sweetener cream from the actual cup of coffee that was brewed and is now readily commercialised:
Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics’ & Audience’s comments:-
“Maybe five years from now it, too, will be hailed as a classic. Or, once the apathy subsides and we all transition out of the liminal space between lockdown and full reopening, maybe we’ll recall it, vaguely, as some decent content about and of its time.”
“A masterpiece and proof of Bo Burnham’s genius”
“Inside” is a tricky work that for all its boundary-crossing remains in the end a comedy in the spirit of neurotic, self-loathing stand-up.”
Vulture Magazine Review:-
“It’s topical humor taking shape as a song, at once a piece of pop culture and a piece of pop-culture criticism.”
“The skewering is harsh but fair; Burnham is isolating the point where allies flake, where white-hot outrage cools, where posting black squares on your Instagram feed is taking a stand, where signifying goodness overshadows decisive action. Some people’s activism comes from a place of need, and some people’s activism comes from wanting to feel good about themselves.”
“Inside becomes less about messing with the audience than plunging them into the contours of Burnham’s conflicted mind, mining brilliant and scathing observations in the process.”
“Burnham has built an intricate tapestry of cinematic devices to deepen the psychological intrigue in play. But in the midst of the chaotic display, complex ideas burst into the frame from unexpected directions.”
Substantially a great deal more, the themes crafted in Inside are genuinely short lived. Setting it at an all-time certitude inside his house—beard and hair growing uncontrollably out of proportion—Bo portrays several themes including childhood, suicide, isolation, race, truth in comedy, capitalism and the internet through what he does best. In this section, each unique pixel of the whole special will be broken down for its purpose. What is the plot (story) that plot (schemed) the plot (plan)?
Disclaimer: If you want to avoid spoilers, it is advisable to skip this section as it will give you an in depth analysis of the themes present. And if you have watched Inside, lay back to enjoy the hidden significance unfold as you contemplate watching it again. All content below has references from two different YouTubers, #deep thoughts and Tuff Specialist.
Before we go through the overarching themes of Inside, let’s talk about this single song, “Welcome to the Internet”, as it became the center of attention, summarizing the genius and rawness of Inside itself.
Welcome to the Internet
Yes folks, this is the song that broke the internet, contributing to Bo’s success in Inside. It’s even proven by the masses that this song single-handedly stole the show based on a poll conducted by Musical Comedy, a YouTube channel. The YouTube community has spoken, with “Welcome to the Internet” being rated the greatest song from Inside.
The song started with an ominous dark aura yet there was a single spotlight on Bo himself. As he started singing, it was clear he was personifying the Internet. One might think about how the Internet has progressed thus far since the 2000s but if looked closely, there might be some uncomfortable facts that are being overlooked. So, this is where Bo comes in to shed light on the ugly, harsh and disturbing truth.
Welcome to the internet
What would you prefer?
Would you like to fight for civil rights or tweet a racial slur?
Be bursting with rage
We got a million different ways to engage
The song was as if the villain Internet was inviting us to something much more than anyone could chew. Yes, the internet has its advantages, but that does not deny the degrading content that’s been put out there. The song slaps hard as it subtly says, “hey, look at how far we’ve come, but at what cost?”
Now let’s dive Inside!
The Pain of Pandemic
Inside begins, of course inside (pun intended) of Bo’s small studio location which he utilised at the end of “Make Happy” (his 2016 Netflix special transitioned from the live stage). It’s apparent that Bo is picking up from where he left off with the public when he took a 5 year break after performing in “Make Happy” due to reasons mentioned in his song “All Eyes on Me”. (Read on to find out the reason for Bo’s hiatus).
Low lighting in the song Content gave off disco vibes and was in fact hospitable. Nothing to shudder about, all facts and sort of the hook to a welcome speech that gave the current standing on where things are right now. The opening lyrics, and the ending lyrics pretty much say it all.
If you’d have told me a year ago
That I’d be locked inside of my home (ah, ah, ah)
I would have told you, a year ago
“Interesting, now leave me alone”
But look, I made you some content
Daddy made you your favorite, open wide
Here comes the content
It’s a beautiful day to stay inside
In between certain songs, Bo also shares his thoughts on the digitized world today, especially how the pandemic has heightened it. Here’s what he said that was left for the audience’s interpretation, “I’ve been thinking recently that maybe allowing giant digital media corp to exploit the neurochemical drama of our children for profit, maybe that was a bad call by us. Maybe the flattening of the entire subjective human experience into a lifeless exchange of value that benefits nobody except for a handful of bug-eyed salamanders in silicon valley, maybe that as a way of life forever, maybe that’s um not good.” #deep (pun from Bo’s old song #deep)
What is comedy? What is funny?
Listening to the song Comedy, it was a must-have for the entire special, and the moment to place it was also excellent. It is similar to setting a goal before beginning a project, but also unclear whether the objective was accurate. Part of the existential dread inducing lyrics that follows:
The world is so ****ed up. Systematic oppression, income inequality,
The other stuff…
And there’s only one thing that I can do about it.
While— While being paid and being the center of attention
Healing the world with comedy
Making a literal difference, metaphorically
If you wake up in a house that’s full of smoke
Don’t panic, call me and I’ll tell you a joke
If you see white men dressed in white cloaks
Don’t panic, call me and I’ll tell you a joke
Should I be joking at a time like this?
Somebody help me out ’cause I don’t know
And I want to help to leave this world better than I found it
And I fear that comedy won’t help, and the fear is not unfounded
Should I stop trying to be funny?
While being undoubtedly vague, the lyrics “Should I be joking at a time like this?” subtly creates a parallel from his song “Sad” from What (2013) that went:
Everything that once was sad is somehow funny now
The Holocaust and 9-11
That ****’s funny 24-7
‘Cause tragedy will be exclusively joked about
Because my empathy is bumming me out
Similarly to the current situation with the Covid-19 epidemic, bush fires, racial discrimination and what Bo sings “the other stuff”; is it something to joke about? A coping mechanism, maybe for the better or worse, which is why this song could be life-ruining, removing all possible cheery views of life.
Moreover, in “Sad”, he had a monologue that went:
Laughter is the key to everything. It’s the way to solve all the sadness in the world. I mean, not for the people that are actually sad, but for the people like us who gotta ****ing deal with them all the time. Being a comedian isn’t being an insensitive prick capitalizing on the most animalistic impulses of the public. It’s being a hero. The world isn’t sad, the world’s funny! I’m a sociopath!
Clearly Bo has been questioning his stance on comedy ever since and as the audience, we could see how his thought process has evolved.
Details, Details, Details
Bo Burnham’s strengths in Inside include his attention to detail, be it in lighting, frame size and the subtlety of putting hidden gems in each segment.
Exhibit 1, the lighting in Welcome to the Internet.
The song started off with an accelerating tempo, along with stars being projected behind Bo. Such portrayal of how vast and infinite the Internet is really goes to show the amount of mundane content everyone goes through while scrolling through social media.
Then Bo slows down as he starts talking about the early stages of the Internet whereby the Internet was not as fast paced as it is today. With the new lights, it symbolises how the Internet has successfully and powerfully enrooted itself into our lives, being the center of our addiction.
Lastly, both lighting combine as one, as if it’s saying that there is no escape from the pangs of the Internet.
Exhibit 2, the frames in FaceTime With My Mom (Tonight) and White Woman’s Instagram.
Sarcastically and truth of the matter, Facetime was very clear cut. The take of this song, though, was commendable. The song started and ended with a standard portrait phone sized frame that elevated the whole FaceTime feel.
Next, while the whole song of White Woman’s Instagram was shot in the trendy square portrait frame from Instagram’s features, there were times when the frame widened. It’s as if Bo is demonstrating how broad judgements about using social media may obscure sincere, wholehearted sentiments conveyed online. He’s also showing us how social media abruptly switches superficial images and emotive postings about suffering and grief through these lyrics:
Her favorite photo of her mom
The caption says, “I can’t believe it
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 ya
It’s got a little better but it’s still hard
Mama, I got a job I love and my own apartment
Mama, I got a boyfriend and I’m crazy about him
Your little girl didn’t do too bad
Mama, I love you, give a hug and kiss to dad”
At the end of the song, Bo fades to a scene in the dark watching his own video of the same song on a computer. He’s self-evaluating his own visual work in the same manner that people frequently go back and check their Instagram stories or posts after they’ve published it to see how it appears. Imagine the consideration of all of this; every detail is to its ideal excellence.
Thus, all these details just goes to show how serious Bo is in his work and it portrays him as a perfectionist.
Exhibit 3: the hidden gems in songs and segways
In the song Comedy, there is a visual of his whiteboard that was calculatedly filled with some interesting content. All facts to laugh, cringe, or just recollect about.
Another example would be right after the song FaceTime with my Mom (Tonight), at the right-hand corner of the screen, there’s another glimpse of an image of Bo roleplaying presumably as a Twitch streamer or gamer. The character felt like a glitch to the screen that reminded viewers of flashes in ‘Fight Club’ when Tyler experienced frustration or anger during his insomnia. Although left unexplained, it could once again be taken as a glimpse to the future of the special, where a scene of a self-inflicted video game is revealed.
With this frame of reference, viewers may be able to better grasp the direction of all this. Also around this point, Bo begins to employ timed laughing tracks that most comedy shows use, and it plays its part beautifully.
Deep Thought Provoking Existential Life Ruining Content
In the song How the World Works, meet ‘Socko’, ladies and gentlemen. The whole song chimes between Bo portraying a very delightful description of the world functioning as a cohesive ecosystem and his puppet, ‘Socko’, portraying the controversy behind the insane underground power oppression of the way the world truly works. What’s remarkable is how Bo smoothly played out the whole intention of the song with Socko’s twisted relationship that was inspired from Hans Teeuwen’s performance. When ‘Socko’ is threatened by Bo to be removed from existence, as he sings in a “liminal space between states of being”, Socko’s obedience precisely shows ‘how the world works’.
If How the World Works wasn’t enough to portray the dystopianism present in our world, here comes That Funny Feeling. The song is a fan favourite due to its simple yet heart wrenching lyrics:
Stunning 8K resolution meditation app
In honor of the revolution, it’s half off at the gap
Deadpool’s self-awareness, loving parents, harmless fun
The backlash to the backlash to the thing that’s just begun
There it is again
That funny feeling
That funny feeling
The song managed to bring up the theme of derealization and it’s best to have the comments speak for everyone about this song.
Next song that gets one awake at night thinking about life is “Look Who’s Inside Again”, with the lyrics:
Look who’s inside again
Went out to look for a reason to hide again
Before we go to the last right-in-the-feels theme, here’s a quick video to lighten up the mood.
Now this song is for all the marbles: All Eyes on Me. Looking back at the poll, the song was close to becoming the greatest song of Inside, standing proud beside Welcome to the Internet.
For those who have watched it, it’s clear that Bo finally shed some light on his 5 year hiatus. In his lyrics he mentioned that he quit performing live comedy because of his severe panic attacks while being on stage. So, he spent those 5 years improving himself mentally. To his joy, he did improve to the point where he was ready to perform again live in January 2020. To quote Bo, “And then the funniest thing happened”, *inserts laugh track* (Bo literally played a laugh track over his raw monologue as if all of this was brushed off as a joke).
Now, let’s look at how Bo rose to fame since he started making YouTube videos in 2006. Guess where he started out? INSIDE his ROOM! It was only till he got famous that he started doing live comedy, only to have himself go back to square one. All of this is depicted in these raw lyrics from Goodbye:
Am I going crazy?
Would I even know?
Am I right back where I started fourteen years ago?
It is highly encouraged to listen to the full song of Goodbye to notice how Bo managed to add the melodies of Welcome to the Internet, Look Who’s Inside Again and Comedy, creating this astonishing crossover medley.
That’s it folks, this marks the end of the show. For those Bo loving fans out there, don’t worry if Inside is over, there’s still other musical comedies done by Bo such as Words Words Words, Make Happy and What.
Guess what? What. is even on YouTube! Posted by the man himself, Bo Burnham. Check it out here!
If movies are your cup of tea, then consider watching Eight Grade, directed by yours truly.
Lastly, to quote Bo Robert Pickering Burnham, “So long, goodbye. I’ll see you when I see you”.
Written by: Jamie, Maki
Edited by: Julia