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Review: Bo Burnham, Inside

Camila Hernandez reviews the fragmented self-portrait of a comedic mind in quarantine

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Brilliantly bleak, melodically self-loathing, and dangerously relatable; Bo Burnham has done it all over again, albeit without the laugh track, in his new isolation opera, Inside. In this exclusive Netflix comedy special, Burnham takes his hands to the camera, points it to himself, and finally tells his audience about how he has been feeling. We find out that he not only captures his demise during a complete global shut-down, but he captures our collective despair, our shared 'funny feeling' that isn't quite so funny when it comes down to it.

Inside is not only another emblematic production of Burnham's loved, socially dense gags about Jeff Bezos and white women's Instagram feeds, it is a self-portrait. Indeed, Burnham shifts into differing voices and inflated renditions of performance; whether it be an intensely jolly songster, a half-asleep sloth who simply presses buttons, or a social-justice-warrior-sock-puppet, he does it all in the spirit of bringing to light the disturbing, unspoken side of disillusionment. Much like his characters, the cramped setting that the special takes place in likewise shapeshifts to determine the moods and the hyperbolic overtones of his segments. Despite being isolated in the small room he has had to adapt his grandiose, comedic character to, Burnham has expertly forced himself to go bigger than he otherwise might have done after abandoning his craft for several years. At one point, the screen is filled with showy, pulsating lights. At another, we are forced to watch him talking to us and to himself in a cluttered mirror, worrying about productivity, authenticity, and the performativity of the previously over-dressed scenes.

Burnham's opening jokes are framed as questions that immediately, and paradoxically, frame our own experiences in these trying times, while also fuelling the depths of his art, his comedy. As well as poking fun at himself as he undercuts his own work and identity, these jokes bring forth the conundrums at the core of most millennials' minds. Should he stop trying to be funny? What is the point of comedy when the world is falling apart? Should he, a white guy, even be saying anything at all? If you came across a person in a burning house, why would you ever offer them a joke?

The questions come pre-packaged with their own answers, though. Maybe this is all a terrible idea, but the fact that we’re watching it means he made it and someone wanted it. “Look, I made you some content,” he sings at the beginning. “Daddy made you your favourite; open wide.” Effectively, they expose the comedian as part of the very problem he is complaining about. His frustrations with modern entertainment and unjust, social affairs are balmed with the laughter he urges in himself and in us - until we've reached the end, and we find ourselves laughing less and less.

When he finally walks out the door, Burnham seems to escape the abyss he had been in all this time, finally finished with the project - yet he finds himself only to be in the spotlight, in a shot that was created to appear like a theatre stage, and then he breaks. He tries to go back inside, to get into his safe space again, but he has been locked out, because what he had just created forces him into the world again. Then, the cameras cut to him back inside, watching it all take place out there - as both a piece of it and totally detached from it. It's truly the darkest he's ever been, and probably safe to say it is the most introspective viewing we've had of any celebrity during the last 15 months.

We truly don't know if he (or we, his socially distant audience) has emerged on the other side more destroyed or more enlightened. In this way, Inside becomes an intricate tapestry of what life in complete detachment and listless routine has been like. It is a product of Burnham's attempts to make sense of it all, finding that, ultimately, laughter will not be a means of coping but a way of overcoming.

Before the credits roll, Burnham smiles for a brief moment, for a second of sincerity, as if he were telling us it was going to be okay, that there are things worth living for; and as predatory as content has become, there is still a lot of joy to find in it.

Editor's Note: Inside is available to stream on Netflix

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