Bo Burnham’s new special Inside is self-aware. It’s self-aware in a way that is sometimes difficult to watch, but is also funny, even as it circles back around to being self-aware about being self-aware. Bo Burnham knows his privilege, knows that speaking about it from the lens of a Netflix special is a privilege, and he takes potshots at himself and at the powers that be in a way that settles into the zeitgeist but also questions why he, a white man, is doing it. He never pretends to be anything he isn’t and that’s part of what makes it special.
Inside is also a perfect representation of the past year of our lives as we navigated the pandemic. Which is to say it’s absurd, all while covered by an umbrella of exhaustion, hopelessness, existential dread, and loneliness. It’s funny, too. He’s singing about the absolutely dickishness of brands trying to sell you on their dedication to ending racism by changing their logo for a day and refusing to change their structural racism one minute and then sharing the soul-crushing, mortifying ordeal of asking for nudes without making it sound like vaginas are a Ferris wheel, or having to face that somber reality that not everyone can make their dick pic look like it was crafted with the delicate sensibilities of Irving Penn.
The year has been absurd in a lot of traumatizing ways – we asked for basic human decency from the world and only, like, New Zealand said, “That sounds cool. Let’s do that.” Dollar store clowns and foaming-at-the-mouth political evangelists ruined the last few years of our lives with unholy glee, turning the pandemic and marches for justice into an unnecessary specter of suffering and insurrection, while we were just…chilling at home in our underwear, waiting to be able to go outside again.
We’re traumatized. We’re exhausted. The pandemic is ongoing – the stupidity is too – and Inside manages to take all of that absurdity and trauma and transform it into an hour and twenty-seven minutes of, “What the fuck is this shit?” that I deeply appreciated.
I also think I really needed it.
I needed someone to articulate the conflicting emotions of doing my best to be a good person and stay inside, wear a mask, and stay away from loved ones for their safety while I’m exhausted, isolated, and scared in a way that didn’t make me want to sob as regularly as Bo Burnham did in the special. I needed someone who understood the “What the fuck?” I’ve been feeling in my soul as spectacularly as he did, as well as the ways in which we are now being forced to reckon with reopening. Reopening has been as easy or as hopeful as I expected, and I like that he didn’t make it seem that way.
At the end of the special, he goes outside only to realize he can’t get back inside, all to the soundtrack of canned laughter, and wow does that speak to how I feel while I watch people claim the pandemic is over while refusing to get vaccinated or while the majority of the world doesn’t have access to vaccines still.
The world’s a mess, and we have a lot of trauma to unpack from the last year, but there’s something about Inside that makes it all feel just a little less frightening, a little less like I’m alone in dealing with an existential crisis while laying on my floor and numbly eating cold Pop-tarts while the crumbs get in my hair and down my shirt.
If you’re struggling, too, with the realities of our reality, of a year that went a little madder than most, I’d recommend…you see a therapist because we all need one at this point. After that, and some processing, I’d recommend Inside so that you can laugh, cry, and experience the last year with Bo Burnham’s delightfully self-aware, absurdly dark, wonderfully unhinged, and perfectly done special.