»Should I be joking at a time like this?«
Five years after he turned his back on performing, Bo Burnham is finally back on stage —or rather would’ve been if the pandemic hadn’t prevented his return last minute. Instead Burnham used the forced isolation during the last year to write, perform and edit the new Netflix comedy special –an improper label, by the way– all by himself at home. Basically he’s coming full circle more than a decade after starting out as a teen performing quirky comedy songs alone in his small room for a fast-growing YouTube audience.
The new program, aptly titled Inside, is a wild amalgamation of sketch comedy pieces, documentary elements and –of course– catchy musical performances. One of its great achievements is how well the seemingly disjointed bits are pieced together to archive a somewhat coherent narrative to follow along, not unlike a four act story structure. Burnham always had immense talent for witty writting and pinpoint timing and he has clearly perfected his craft, adding some political awareness and meta humor to his already poignant zeitgeist commentary.
In earlier shows he brought up his personal struggles every now and then, be it him coping with newfound fame or suffering from anxiety, but this new experiment blurres the line between his stage persona and the artist’s mental inside entirely, delivering multiple gut-wrenching insights and a painful character dissection throughout its 87 minutes runtime. That’s why I think labeling it a comedy special doesn’t do it justice, probably even bringing people in with completely wrong expectations. To me those highly emotional, dark and intimate moments intensify the comedic value and vice versa, but I totally understand how they might catch viewers off guard if the expectation is easygoing, mindless fun.
I’ve heard people calling Inside an arthouse film and I think that’s probably the best way to characterise the project. Not only because of its content, but because of its arrangement as well. It’s absolutely incredible what the comedian, musician, actor, director and screenwriter is able to archive basically with a tripod, a small consumer camera and various LEDs all by himself. The meticulous planned motion picture is brilliantly framed, illuminated and edited, resulting in a visually gorgeous, highly cinematic piece, in spite of its claustrophobic single room setting. It’s an inspiring example of how far creativity can get you even –or maybe especially– within strict limitations.
I think Burnham has crafted a true masterpiece and an exciting contemporary document —of the pandemic and its isolating impact in particular as well as our self-centered generation and modern (internet) culture at large. Inside is probably the best thing I’ve seen for a very long time and I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone willing to go through this emotional rollercoaster ride. I’m pretty sure the
two three four viewings of mine won’t remain the last.