Bo Burnham: Inside represents the spiritual travelogue of a man forbidden from going anywhere. Trapped within his own COVID bubble, Burnham’s gamut of emotions will undoubtedly feel familiar: Over the course of this sardonic collective of skits and songs, Burnham is sad, bemused, frustrated, and fitfully introspective. He questions his place in the world, and the role of his chosen profession within the unfurling of a massive tragedy. Is it okay for comedians to make jokes about the pandemic? Are we allowed to laugh at them?
Those are heavy questions, but the short answers are they should and we are. Indeed, Burnham answers the first part by making jokes about making jokes. (“If you wake up in a house that’s filled with smoke/Don’t panic/Call me and I’ll tell you a joke”) It’s macro humor, broadcast from the rigid confines of a microverse. Burnham tackles the second half of that question by filtering it through a comedian’s insecurity: He punctuates early jokes with a deliberately clunky laugh track, and assures us on a later song that he doesn’t care whether we’re laughing or not. (Spoiler alert: He really, really does.)
Burnham embraces this cordoned life by writing, shooting, and starring in this docu-fantasy all by his lonesome. He plays all the instruments, does all the lighting, and sets the entirety of this cockeyed variety special within the confines of one little room. This provides an unrelenting sense of claustrophobia, which becomes a supporting character in of itself.
In a further act of eccentric bravery, Burnham showcases the emotional and physical disrepair that come with a year spent in lockdown. He gradually takes on the look if Duane Allman had starred in Jesus Christ Superstar. Many songs feature Burnham in his skivvies, dancing provocatively in demonstration of just how much COVID has forced us to jettison vanity in the name of survival.
As for the content, Burnham flies all over the place, with everything loosely tethered to his fragile emotional state. He sings about FaceTiming his mom, with the unsubtle commentary that our parents and grandparents are about as smooth with technology as a monkey humping a doorknob. There are also wild numbers about the faux-cultural awareness of corporate America, the white women of Instagram, and the untold difficulties of sending a really good dick pic.
Through it all, Burnham works through his own anxiety and loneliness. “How am I doing?” He asks, and even though the question is rhetorical, he answers it anyway: “Not……great.” Burnham marks the exact moment of his 30th birthday with undiluted melancholia, sitting in the darkness and staring at a digital clock for several minutes. Big life transitions are weird enough as it is, but the virus forced us all to endure them alone. Funerals stopped happening. Weddings were canceled. Burnham sums it well, with a song about how all this shit will probably be over soon, but it also seems to be just getting started.
Inside probably sounds pretty dark, and parts of it can be. But, it’s also very funny. COVID cornered us all into strange paradox: We’ve been united in our collective isolation; saved by abandoning the human connections that make our lives worth living in the first place. Such a tragedy provokes a tangled thicket of emotions, and Burnham spends 87 minutes hacking through them all, searching for something funny. When he hits a joke, we should all laugh–if only to prove that we still can.
87 min. TV-MA. Netflix.