Content warning: This article contains information regarding death and suicide. Students dealing with mental health concerns can walk into USC Student Health centers or contact the 24/7 phone line (213) 740-9355 for professional assistance.
Bo Burnham’s new special, “Bo Burnham: Inside” is unsettling, candid, ironic, sincere, hectic and awe-inspiring in a way that both illuminates Burnham’s incredible performance abilities and casts a shadow over what appears to be a dark, depressive state of loneliness scratching at Burnham’s mind.
It’s a twist on the one man show, a solo Tiny Desk performance-esque comedy special. One that utilizes its title to point fingers at both the harrowing isolation that the coronavirus pandemic has brought to the world and the personal withdrawal into Burnham’s own mind. “Inside” is a wonderfully tender, comedic and sobering look into mental health and the loneliness that comes with the pandemic. It reminds audiences that it’s okay to feel isolated, but that they should always continue pushing forward.
In that way, “Inside” is a true masterpiece: It pushes the primary idea that, even through the suffering of loneliness, consistently trying to live is the best you can do.
Burnham’s special is just as chaotic as one would expect from a comedian locked inside for more than a year, jumping from discussions about FaceTime calls with his mother to parodies of Twitch streamers and sardonic reactions to Jeff Bezos’ business practices.
A common theme that finds itself replicated throughout the special, however, is the overarching suicidal feelings Burnham struggles with, both in his understanding of his own loneliness and his relationship to the concept of suicide itself. Burnham constantly mentions death, both as an overly personal moment and an apocalyptic, end-of-world concept. He discusses suicide by gun with a candor that demands the audience’s attention. Further, the death of a mother makes an entirely unexpected appearance in a bit about white women. This obsession with death culminates halfway through the special, where he sits solemnly in the dark, alone, a projection of himself as the only source of light on his body. He gives advice to an alternate version of himself, one that’s been stuck in quarantine for a longer period of time, but this version of him acts as a stand-in for the audience; Burnham is talking directly to the viewer when he’s discussing death.
It’s dark, but, more importantly, it has a sliver of hope to it; not once does Burnham ever end a joke about suicide without ever qualifying it within the context of the joke or outright telling the camera (and as such, the audience) to “Just, don’t” in reference to suicide. It never becomes too depressing without swinging back to the empathetic — pushing audience members to not wallow in their own depression (ironically, in a setting almost completely defined by Burnham wallowing in his own sadness). The special revolves around the vulnerability Burnham opens himself up to through to an audience that isn’t there, for a viewing party that will never see “Inside” in person and yet, never strays into darkness too much. He notes in the song “Turning 30” that by “2030, I’ll be 40 and kill myself then” but almost immediately backtracks on the depressing sentiment.
There’s something to be said about that: a focus on the positive even through a noticeably more depressing, chaotic and shut-in special than his grandiose “Make Happy” and his wonderfully well-put-together “what”.
It’s a special born out of the coronavirus, and, yet, Burnham chooses not to dwell on the upsetting circumstances for too long. Although “Inside” doesn’t shy away from thinking about existential crises, it doesn’t specifically dwell on these problems excessively; the special only takes the time to look back at the pandemic to contextualize his thoughts on death.
Indeed, “Inside,” for all of its distressing material covered and the disheartening situations Burnham finds himself in, ends with Burnham watching a recording of himself, with the final few frames being a shot of him beginning to genuinely smile. It’s an uplifting shot, one that drives home the central theme of “Inside:” Through all the isolation and the pain that naturally comes with, there’s always a better ending to work towards.