We’re Only Living "Inside" Bo Burnham’s Mind
After almost five years, Bo Burnham made his return to comedy with his new special Inside. Back in 2016, Burnham quit doing live comedy after he started experiencing panic attacks on stage.
Since then, he has mainly worked on directing and acting but has not directly been involved in comedy, at least as a performer. Burnham hasn't really been absent from the public eye though, but his absence from comedy had left a gap in the scene.
I think this is partly due to Burnham's level of relatability. Don't get me wrong, comedians, in general, thrive on being relatable, but as they slowly start becoming rich and more popular, they lose their relatability. A classic example: Jerry Seinfeld.
However, Burnham's relatability with his audience has always been from a different angle. His struggles with mental health, use of self-reflective themes and readiness to humiliate himself in the process of his comedy has always been why the audience loves him. That's exactly why it was incredibly sad when he quit doing live comedy.
When I first came across his Instagram post announcing a new special titled "Inside" was coming to Netflix soon, I punched the air in joy. I was geared up for a much-needed laugh courtesy of a catchy Bo Burnham song, and couldn't wait till May 30, 2021.
Now, having watched the special, I realise I did not mentally prepare myself for it. It would be unfair to categorise this as a "comedy" special because it's so much more. Burnham takes your expectations, throws them out the window, takes you off the roller coaster you buckled up for, and instead straps you into a rocket and puts you on a journey through an intergalactic emotional trip.
The first 40 minutes of the show is a return to the classic format where Burnham made his claim to fame. Him, alone in a room with a camera, with endless supply of talent. With each song slowly edging towards the unravelling of the overall theme of the special.
In between songs, there are interludes where Burnham talks about the special, what made him create it, and being stuck inside. He mentions how since he quit in 2016, he had been working on his mental health, trying to improve to the point where he could once again be able to return to doing live shows. And while he had made great progress and was gearing up to a return on January 2020, before, as he says, "the funniest thing happened".
With every song, Burnham starts losing bits of his sanity, as he deals with a new life where he is stuck inside. At the beginning of the special, Burnham tells the audience that he started making the special to distract himself from negative thoughts. In a later interlude, he confesses that as the special nears completion, he finds himself in a paradox, where he does not want to finish it. Why? The thought of finishing the special, and having nothing else to occupy himself with is devastating.
The show ends with Burnham finally exiting the small house in which he had been trapped for over a year. I don't want to spoil any more of it, because it truly is a masterpiece, at least for those of us who were trapped for a significant amount of time indoors last year.
Burnham is a generational talent, who has continued to change how comedy is viewed with every special he makes. The leap he takes with Inside just shows that he hasn't missed a beat, even after being absent from comedy. If you haven't watched Burnham's comedy before, I recommend watching either what. or Make Happy before you step inside his house, and mind.
Aaqib is a journalist at The Daily Star. You can reach him at email@example.com