‘Bo Burnham‘ by jmcarthy99 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
In his Netflix special, Bo Burnham: Inside, Burnham captivates his audience from the outset. The comedian, actor, playwright, director and poet begins by explaining his intention to write, direct, and film an entire comedy special. What unfolds is a twelve-month journey through isolation in a modest granny flat—by song.
Unlike any other comedy special on Netflix, Burnham's journey takes place without a large audience. Throughout the show, he draws attention to how notably uncomfortable he felt producing content with no immediate validation or crowd. Converting a comedy special into a stage play, the confined space transforms with each erratic cut and transition. The show's production is laid bare, with equipment adorning the edge of shots. Several scenes feature dubbed crowds cheering, with slow moving shots and spotlights, creating a sense of loss and disjuncture in Burnham’s creative and personal processes.
The special is experimental, poignant, and empathetic, drawing comedic inspiration from internet culture, consumerism, neoliberal fascism, and white privilege. Burnham is acutely aware of his own narcissism and privilege, remaining introspective. From the first scene, lyrics like, ‘I’m healing the world with comedy', to the last, ‘You try making a joke when no one’s around’ render him relatable and stripped bare for the audience—quite literally naked at times. Throughout the show, he oscillates between a Christ like figure, a bubbly internet personality, and a disoriented millennial in the throes of a global pandemic.
In ninety minutes, Burnham performs the ultimate one-man show, and we watch both genius and madness. As his mental state deteriorates and the twelve-month lockdown takes an emotional toll, Burnham's masterpiece becomes more cerebral, further breaking the mould of what a ‘comedy special’ should look like. The lighting and music darken with Burnham's appearance, his hair becoming unkempt, and his beard outgrown as the pandemic drags on.
The special’s deft social and political commentary is elevated by the limited resources used to create it. Drawing attention to Burnham's intense creativity and skill as a musician, lighting technician and cinematographer, he created the entire show with no crew.
Burnham’s minimalist style enhances what is essentially a self-portrait of a person struggling through a global pandemic. We see the highs and lows, perseverance and loneliness. It takes us to a place both familiar and dark, somewhere most of us can relate to. It’s an honest look at a year locked inside, in our pyjamas, ordering Uber Eats while simultaneously having an existential crisis. It’s Bo Burnham grappling with self-loathing and isolation, and never missing a comedic beat.