What Did You Think About Bo Burnham’s “Inside”? (My Thoughts)

After countless people recommended Bo Burnham’s recent Netflix special, Inside, we finally watched it over the weekend. I have some thoughts.

Inside is a mostly a connection of songs tied to a central theme of being stuck inside. Some are funny, and all either include social commentary or a look inside Burnham’s mind. Everything in Inside was filmed, directed, edited, written, performed, and created by Burnham in his guest house during the pandemic.

The special is a monumental achievement of vulnerability and direction. Burnham bares his anxiety and depression to the world using a single room (and a lot of equipment) as his medium. It’s fascinating, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking to watch.

It’s also sometimes entertaining.

I say that not as criticism but rather to note that Burnham frequently visits dark places in this special. It’s about being stuck inside during a pandemic (or for other reasons), and you’re stuck in that room with Burnham. It reminded me a bit of the acclaimed film Das Boot–it does a fantastic job of making me feel like I’m confined to a claustrophobic submarine, but that isn’t a feeling I actively seek.

With that in mind, my favorite parts of the special are on the lighter side (but still with meaningful social commentary): The sock puppet song and the reaction video sketch.

The special–as brilliant as it is–also left me with a few questions:

  1. Is Inside a little misleading? There are quite a few clips that show how much time Burnham spent in the room. I have no doubt that the special is about that experience and that it’s an accurate portrayal of what Burnham has felt/thought over the last year. But it isn’t a documentary. The room is Burnham’s guest house, and based on everything I can find, he and his girlfriend live together in their actual house. That seems like a pretty big omission if Burnham is intending the special to be semi-autobiographical, as there are a lot of people who were single throughout the pandemic and spent the whole year alone (not just feeling alone, though feeling alone when you’re not actually alone can be devastating in its own way). I don’t know–I’m conflicted on this. I’ve heard from people that the special made them feel less alone (regardless of the reality of Burnham’s life), and I think that’s awesome. Mission accomplished.
  2. Inside was created entirely by Burnham…but did it have to be? I walked away from Inside in awe of what Burnham achieved all by himself. It made me want to watch the movie he directed, Eighth Grade, as he’s clearly a very talented director. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered why Inside’s creation didn’t involve anyone else. I guess I’m always just a little hesitant to celebrate “all by yourself” as an inherent achievement. It’s like when an actor does all of their own stunts: It’s impressive, but there are professional stunt specialists who want that role and are very good at it (and they don’t put the entire production at risk). Another example would be a self-published author who edits their own work–to me, there’s a benefit to the audience in getting outside help. I’m even more conflicted on this, because it’s just impressive that he did it all by himself without any loss in quality. Overall, it’s on theme for Inside that Burnham did it all by himself, and I don’t want to take away anything from the achievement. I’m incredibly impressed by his talent.

What did you think of Inside? Did you have a favorite song/sketch?

4 thoughts on “What Did You Think About Bo Burnham’s “Inside”? (My Thoughts)”

  1. I watched Inside at the urging of my daughters. To be sure, it gave the impression that Burnham lived the pandemic in solitude. And I thought, what a tiny house! I’m glad I watched it before I learned what your research showed. Nevertheless, I think the special stands on its own as performance art. It’s a marvel to see what he created on his own. And since he has disclosed mental health issues, I see it as a triumph. Bo had decided after five years of self-isolation from performing to do stand-up again — then the pandemic hits. So he does this instead. And there is much to think about in the songs and lyrics. For me it was sort of cathartic as we emerge from the pandemic to look at what the pandemic has done to many of us. I spent 16 months in a home office working away from colleagues and clients, at least in terms of in-person contact, so the theme resonated with me. Lastly, my favorite song was the Avenue-Q-worthy “How The World Works” with the crude sock puppet.

    Reply
    • “Performance art” is an excellent way of putting it, and I agree that it’s an incredibly timely piece as people emerge from self-isolation for the first time in so long. I think it could be considered as an Oscar nomination for that reason.

      Reply
  2. About ten years ago I listened to a debate about comedy between professional comedians, and it helped me unshoulder a guilt I hadn’t realized I carried; that I didn’t like a lot of stand-up comedy. Their insightful argument was that comedy is like music, there is a wide spectrum of offerings, and it’s absurd to expect people to enjoy every flavor. You can respect the skill and the craft and still not enjoy the content.

    It was surreal but cathartic to -in my 30s- essentially be told ‘just because you love stand-up doesn’t mean you have to love ALL stand-up’. Or maybe I’m weird and everyone else didn’t need this external validation.

    As a result, I embraced the fact that I have no taste for musical comedians like Burnham, Lynch or Garfunkel and Oates. (I also don’t care much for ventriloquism comedy, though I am in awe of the skill when it’s done well.)

    As such, I immediately dismissed Burnham’s special much like I would a local speed metal concert.

    However, I do have some insight into your second question.

    I have been in production and post-production for about twelve years, and to bring a crew into his special would have been…difficult. Even if we ignore the Covid restrictions against having a bunch of people in a small space, you are still talking about hiring several professionals with prohibitive day rates.

    Typically, you would need -at minimum- a DP, a shooter, a grip, an audio tech and an editor. The DP (director of photography) would be doing triple duty as the gaffer plus best boy, the grip would likely have to be the PA and craft services, and if you’re lucky the editor can also master sound.

    At $600-1500 a day for pros (depending on function) wearing several hats as the creator becomes a no-brainer. Add in the fact that the majority of entertainers have a megalomania streak where they want to be a writer, director, editor, rock star, fashion model and royalty…and it’s easy to see why Burnham did this solo. It was a ton of work, but he DID have a year to get it done.

    Also, he was in a static environment equivalent to a studio, so once he got set up, he would really only have to hit ‘record’ on the camera and audio gear before he did his thing.

    I would say that at the very least it would have made sense to have a Lighting Director and an editor, but he may have obtained lighting knowledge on his own, and it’s HIGHLY unlikely that Netflix didn’t take a pass at the footage with their own people before release.

    Anyway, hope that helped.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing this! I’m also not one for musical comedy, but I would still recommend the two sketches/songs I mentioned as my favorites.

      I appreciate you sharing the details of what a small crew would look like and how hard it would be to include even a few crew members during COVID in such a tight space.

      Reply

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