“Bo Burnham: Inside” review: An auteur’s descent into madness


Courtesy of Netflix

The first time I finished watching Bo Burnham’s latest Netflix special “Inside,” I immediately started it over and watched it again. I realized that it is definitely his masterwork. Aside from being hilarious, deeply sentimental, and a biting satire of the current zeitgeist, it manages to be one of the most ambitious experimental films ever made, being fully created in one setting by one man and his camera.

Although it feels like a deeply personal documentary charting Burnham’s volatile mental health, “Inside” is no doubt an entirely deliberate and meticulously crafted work. It only shows the audience exactly what Burnham wants them to see, and only tells them what he wants them to know. His complete and total control over the viewer’s overall experience is impressive, considering the fact that he wore just about every hat required to create the special.

Aside from the form of Burnham’s work, it is just as interesting to analyze its content. “Inside” actually begins with a song titled “Content,” which promises the show as funny, bizarre, and reflective of Burnham’s own mental health. Burnham’s brilliant satire comes in many forms, whether it be a meta-commentary on his comedy origins in the song “Problematic,” a never-ending reaction video to a song, or an educational children’s song “How the World Works,” in which he states that “every politician, every cop on the street protects the interests of the pedophilic corporate elite.” Burnham compiles his opinions in such a way that comes from such a unique, self-aware, and articulate voice that is nothing short of brilliant.

Personally, I believe one of the funniest jokes in Burnham’s special is within the song “White Woman’s Instagram,” which features a darkly satirical Instagram post with a picture of the mother of the titular “white woman” with the caption, “Mama I miss you…” It goes on for far too long, with far too much accuracy, completely lambasting those who use the deaths of their loved ones as an opportunity to perform and gain Internet points.

That being said, the joke that I specifically think takes the cake is right after the song. We see Burnham wearing a hoodie, slouched at his desk, lit only by his computer in the middle of the night, silently watching the song on his computer, completely unimpressed. This joke particularly got me because I, too, was wearing a hoodie, slouched over my computer watching the song silently in the middle of the night.

Although Burnham’s special is highly personal and speaks to personal experiences of many individuals over quarantine, I felt that I related to it on another level, as I went through an almost identical experience as Burnham. I created my first feature film, a 102-minute musical, during the pandemic last year. I use the word “create” here because, like Burnham, I wore almost every hat during the production of the film. I self-financed the project, wrote the script, directed, edited, sound mixed, and starred in it. There was not a moment during production where I was not thinking about the film, much to the chagrin of my friends and family. However, in my mind, it didn’t matter; I was going to get it done no matter what.

Due to this insane experience, I identified with Burnham to a degree that it felt like I was watching myself on screen. Burnham’s film is not only my sense of humor, but it also spoke to me on a level that made me feel seen in a way I didn’t think possible. I felt I finally had someone who knew what it was like to go through what I had gone through, so of course there were moments where I burst into tears while watching Burnham’s special, and laughed harder than I’ve ever laughed before.

Seeing Burnham watching “White Woman’s Instagram” in the dark was a moment I knew all too well: watching myself perform my own ridiculous song, questioning whether it was any good at all, or if everything I was putting myself through was even worth it. I understand not everyone finds Burnham funny, and I understand that many find “Inside” to be unnecessary and out-of-touch. But when I watched it, I felt seen, and I know many others did too. I recommend it to anyone who cares for theatrics, anyone who has a disdain for our modern corporate overlords, and anyone looking for a film to let them know, “You are not in this alone.”

Click here to stream “Bo Burnham: Inside” on Netflix.

Illustration by Ariel Landry