Bo Burnham’s latest work is about both a particular moment in history and in the young comedian’s career. While you shouldn’t expect a barrel of laughs, Inside is a clever, personal and probably the most cinematic comedy special ever made.
Filmed over the span of a year amidst the global coronavirus pandemic, Burnham is left with no choice but to create, create, create, alone in his bedroom. And create he does – Inside features a mix of songs, skits and personal reflections. Bo waxes poetic about straight white comedians one minute, and does a skit satirising reaction videos the next.
The funny moments are counterbalanced with very serious ones, which already sets Inside apart from other comedy specials. Burnham’s direct-to-camera monologues reveal a deteriorating mental state as the year goes on, and he provides honest thoughts on his career and what it means to be a comedian. This ebb and flow of Bo-as-performer and Burnham as sad-man-in-bedroom means Inside feels more like an essay than a special, something more emotionally-driven than comedically.
But there are good reasons for why Inside should be considered a stand up special, albeit one that pushes the envelope. Traditionally, getting your own special was a rite of passage given to only those select few. It meant hundreds and hundreds of hours of practice and decades of touring. Today, this rite has been well and truly sullied, where Netflix seem just about ready to give specials to every newborn baby that wanders in.
Inside could be what single-handedly reinvigorates specials in a way that’s sorely needed. Similar attempts come to mind – An Evening with Tim Heidecker is a deconstruction of stand-up that only works if you’re in on the joke; Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette is a serious monologue on homophobia disguised as a comedy. And Inside is a personal essay about someone who just so happens to be a comedian.
It’s also the most cinematic special ever made, too, which is an impressive feat considering Inside was made entirely by Burnham alone. We see footage of him playing around with instruments, setting up lights and camera movements – an unfiltered look at the creative process.
So perhaps it’s unfair try to categorise what is such a unique piece. It’s personal, singularly Burnham’s and shows what’s possible when filmmakers have true freedom of expression. In fact, what’s most poignant about it is largely unsaid – Inside sees Bo stuck within the confines of his bedroom, reflecting on his career from the very place it all began.