The Daily Stream: There's No Other Way to Say This – 'Bo Burnham: Inside' is a Masterpiece06/07/2021
(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching, why it’s worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)
The Movie: Bo Burnham: Inside
Where You Can Stream It: Netflix
The Pitch: When the pandemic hit last year, comedian Bo Burnham decided to film a comedy special in his living room, all by himself. As a way to distract from the chaos of the real world, he fully threw himself into creating this special…and as the months dragged on, the final product ended up serving as a time capsule for the insanity of the last year.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: There are three distinct aspects of Bo Burnham: Inside that make it notable.
First, there are the “joke” moments, which are not traditional stand-up bits but often one-man sketches in which Burnham comments on the eagerness of brands to claim they support social justice movements, makes fun of white women’s Instagram accounts, pokes and prods at his own insecurities during a fake YouTube-style reaction video to a previous segment of the special, and more. (As usual with comedy, all of these things are far more effective seen in context than explained in a blog post, so I’ll just move on.)
Adjacent to these moments are the instances in which Burnham gets real while addressing the camera, giving the audience insight into his deteriorating mental state as the pandemic rages on and he “celebrates” his 30th birthday in a room, alone. These are the parts of the show that feel the most therapeutic: watching someone physicalize and sometimes literalize the feelings of desperation, anger, frustration, and confusion that many of us felt due to being homebound for months on end is powerful. It’s incredibly relatable, and feels like he’s able to verbalize many of the things I’ve felt for months but have never found the words to properly express.
Speaking of songs, that’s the second component of this special that makes it extraordinary. I’ve never seen any of Burnham’s other specials, so I can’t compare the music here to what he’s done before – but in Inside, he creates a series of absolute bangers that are frequently very funny, but also genuinely well-produced and technically proficient. Again, trying to explain exactly why something is funny is futile, but I want to highlight that Burnham knows the comedic power of great editing; he unleashes several extraordinary cuts with laser precision to fully optimize the humor at the end of several tracks. Not all of the songs are are keyboard-heavy anthems, though – a few are more on the melancholy side, like the emotionally devastating “Funny Feeling,” performed on an acoustic guitar in front of a backdrop that makes it seem like he’s singing at a fireside camp.
And finally, there’s the visual component. One might think that filming a 90-minute comedy special inside a person’s living room (and without the help of a crew, no less) might result in a dull visual style. But seeing the myriad number of ways the comedian is able to maximize that room and make it feel like a totally different environment is not only remarkable, but frequently jaw-dropping. He makes great use of a projector and a mind-boggling number of props (especially in the aforementioned “White Woman’s Instagram”), and taking a step back to think about exactly how he filmed professional-looking music videos completely by himself – including a sweat-dripping number that feels inspired by Jennifer Beals in Flashdance, as his hair and beard have grown out to unkempt lengths over the course of 2020 – is genuinely awe-inducing.
It would be impressive if one person accomplished just a single one of these facets on the level that Burnham does here. But the fact that he did all three and successfully synthesized them into something that feels honest and hilarious puts him, in my estimation, into the full-blown “genius” category. This is a towering creative endeavor, and will go down as one of the defining pieces of media of the pandemic era.
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