I find myself compelled to write this, because apparently not everyone knows the comedian and musician Bo Burnham as the absolute sensation I do. For those who do, in case you don’t know yet, Burnham’s got a new special out on Netflix, Bo Burnham: Inside. Go watch it; it’s a masterpiece. However, for those who aren’t familiar with Bo Burnham’s body of work, the rest of this is for you.
Meet Bo Burnham
Seemingly forever ago in the early “new millennium,” back when YouTube was new and “Weird Al” Yankovic still seemed hilarious—Bo Burnham was a tween writing funny and eminently offensive songs, recording videos of his performances and releasing them online. Although maybe not the first to go mainstream, Burnham was one of the first YouTubers to get major attention, eventually becoming the youngest person to do a half-hour special for Comedy Central and spawning a ton of other hilarious specials, albums and the accolades that come with doing it the best.
Now, it’s important to remember that things were very different back when Burnham was coming up. As the internet began snowballing and social media started taking off, being offensive seemed much more like a great way to attract attention than the socially unacceptable practice of today. There were no “PC police”—in fact, people were still being outwardly hateful without the slightest understanding or consideration that one outrageous outburst could ruin your life, so comedy was, frankly, a lot edgier.
While of course all of this was clearly in jest, many of the songs Burnham drafted up simply wouldn’t work today. For example, a white guy singing about white supremacy in 2021 is going to get a much more critical look—even if it’s a parody. However, unlike most other shock comics, there’s always been a certain insightfulness about Burnham’s productions that add an allure, even if you’re absolutely disgusted at what he’s saying. Not to mention he makes all these terrible topics so hook-y, you often can’t help but sing along.
Now, for those of you reading this still holding onto that Weird Al reference, it’s probably important for you to watch this: New Math.
As you can see, clearly offensive but damn is it catchy! And intelligent! His ability to turn jokes upside-down, giving the crowd a punchline to expect and then swerving at the last minute to another, equally hilarious, yet unexpected, destination is masterful. Experimenting with quick cuts and pitch changes since the beginning, the way he plays with his subject matter, and the different perspectives that could be had on the same thing, is a joy to watch.
Although Burnham has always provided an insightfulness past his years, he’s developed a maturity and emotional awareness throughout his career that has seriously elevated his work from fun puns to jokes that actually make you think. He plays with the serious in a way that reminds you of your childhood perspectives—an almost whimsical interpretation of what’s before you. He never lost that perspective, but the way he relates them to today’s world is where the magic really happens.
A return to the stage of sorts, the comedian took a break from performing a few years back to get a better handle on his anxiety. It’s clear that while Burnham’s break provided the well-deserved mental reset he needed, he hasn’t lost that keen sense of humor about modern society and his own shortcomings. An exploration into the depressive lull we were all forced into last year, Inside offers a bright take on the familiar and frustrating experience of the pandemic, with his special ability to tap into the details you might not have realized were communal feelings.
You’ll probably laugh out loud, you might even cry at times, but you’ll definitely feel what he’s saying. Burnham once again turned his depression into something beautiful, and an agent of growth for the rest of us. From the start he’s been self-recording his work, so his latest project Inside isn’t as much a feat of new skills as an insanely on-brand masterclass in what’s possible for one guy to do alone in a room with some equipment over the course of a year.
I don’t want to give away too many specifics about the actual special as it will likely ruin the moments, but be forewarned it’s laced with little easter eggs you’ll need to pause to fully observe.
It’s probably clear by now that I loved this special, and think very highly of its creator, so if this has been too much praise from your typical shit-talker, I get it, but you should trust me on this one. If nothing else, watching Inside will inspire you. It will motivate you to create.
What Bo Burnham was able to do in one room, by himself, during the closest thing to the apocalypse we’ve experienced in our lifetime, should go to show that you can do nearly anything you put your mind to. The past few days, I’ve caught myself listening to the soundtrack on Spotify on repeat, and using it as fuel. Even without the visuals, Inside will motivate you to be your best self, and to find ways to share that with those you love.