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Home   /   Bo Burnham – Inside: An unapologetic insight into a declining mental state masked as a comedy special

Bo Burnham returns off the back of a five-year hiatus to bring an insight to a year of solitude and a man who has documented his decline mentally. Burnham’s fifth comedy special is easily his best, and yet, his least funny. It is Burnham’s typical humour, however, the quirky jokes are few and far between. This special is exactly that, special. A ‘read between the lines’ and take your own opinion feature, filmed and edited by Burnham in a tiny room.

Burnham has always been a very gifted musician. He utilises wordplay like no other and has an incredible vocal range. Yet, Inside shows his craft has developed throughout his hiatus. The use of a vocoder in Hands Up is reminiscent to his previous finale song Can’t Handle This. However, there is a clear improvement in the range of songs Burnham plays with the jazzy Unpaid Intern, electro-pop Welcome to the Internet and guitar lullaby Funny Feeling.

Burnham takes shots at large political parties and corporations which we have let completely monopolise the market and in turn, our every thought. “Maybe allowing giant digital media corporations to exploit the neurochemical drama of our children for profit… maybe that was a bad call by us,” Bo says casually lying on a pillow. This follows the first part of a ‘celebration’ of Jeffrey Bezos, who Burnham continually congratulates on the capitalist nature of Amazon.

“Every politician, every cop on the street protects the interests of the paedophilic corporate elite.”

Burnham’s on-stage hiatus allowed him to direct other comedians’ specials, and his first feature film. It is obvious he has an eye for direction. The first skit from Comedy sees this perfectly in use as Burnham creates scenarios of the terrible things to be joke about. Even the TV ratio for White Woman’s Instagram changes to match Instagram, but the stream of different ideas presented in this single song examples the talent.

Burnham utilises a projector on many occasions throughout the special, Hands Up is vital with videos of Burnham swaying and acting as backup singers in the background. It also allows the audience to see time transitions, in the finale Burnham starts as a young, relatively healthy-looking person which then transitions to a dishevelled older Bo. The projector is important in the finale of Bo finally leaving the room and panic setting in, it then falls back to Bo in his room where he watches on, before finally smiling. Problematic begins with a sixteen-year-old Bo who lights up showing current Bo. Whilst it is necessary for the song’s introduction, it also translates to Bo wishing to be an audience again and not care about what people think of him, which has been a running theme throughout his career. In his finale to Make Happy, Bo lingers the line “I want to say what I think, and not care what you think about it”. This sentiment is carried on in this special in the small song I don’t wanna know, “Are you finding it boring, too fast or too slow? Don’t tell me I don’t wanna know.”

As well as directing, Burnham had to handle the lighting of the special. His ingenious take on lighting starts in the opening song Inside with a light strapped to his head which illuminates on a disco ball as Burnham jokes “daddy made you your favourite, open wide”. Going forward, Burnham can be seen in Turning 30 hitting pedals to change the lighting as well as circling a torch around his head.  

Mental health is a clear focus in this special, shown in the first scene as Bo speaks to the camera and shows you his upfront honesty “I hope this special does for you which it has done for me this last few months, which is to distract me from putting a bullet in my head with a gun”. The first half of the special is quite relaxed, minus the shots of Burnham looking visibly upset. The small song Stuck in my Room incapsulates the special of trying to be funny whilst stuck in a room, with the haunting line “Look who’s inside again, went out to look for a reason to hide again”.

Following the clever intermission, the special takes a turn. Burnham looks a state, visibly broken and reaching an ‘ATL’. Yet he still manages to put it in the joyful sounding song Feelin’ like Shit and Feeling in my Body. “Well I feel like shit. Feeling like a saggy, massive sack of shit. Big ol’ motherfucking duffel bag of shit. All day, all shit.”

The masterpiece of this special, and I believe of Burnham’s whole career is the Hands Up section. It starts by Burnham stating he has worked on the special for a year, but cannot bring himself to say anything more, storming out of shot.

“Are you feeling nervous, are you having fun? It’s almost over, its just begun. Don’t overthink this, look in my eye. Don’t be scared, don’t be shy. Come on in the water’s fine.”

Burnham interludes the song by describing his hiatus. Stating he stopped performing after having severe panic attacks and took time to better himself. He did, and thought that he should start performing again before the lockdown happened. However, it leaves the viewer second-guessing whether Bo is okay now. By the looks of this special, and Bo’s words himself, it looks like his mental health has declined rapidly.       

“You say the ocean’s rising like I give a shit. You say the whole world’s ending. Honey, it already did. You’re not gonna slow it, heaven knows you tried. Got it? Good, now get inside.”

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this special. It has been constantly revolving around my head and it has made me appreciate the genius of Bo Burnham. But, it has made me evaluate my own mental health over the last year. Anyone with mental health can emphasise with the line “Look who’s inside again. Went out to look for a reason to hide again”. I appreciate Bo tackling the topic head on, unapologetically. If Bo can take the step, maybe I can. Musical comedy might not be everybody’s flavour, but this special is a must-watch.

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June 2024