Welcome back to NOTEWORTHY! Take a moment to look around.
(Just a heads up, this will be a multi-part blog, with the next part coming soon.)
Let's discuss something that is very close to my heart: a project that was released around two years ago. This project has been circulating on the internet since its release and offers a bitter yet darkly comical take on our world and society as we know it. That's right; we're talking about Bo Burnham's Inside.
Burnham, after taking a massive break for a few years, announced his surprise return with a Netflix special called Inside. Fans of Burnham were immediately excited to see the return of arguably one of the most interesting comedians of the last decade. Burnham's style of mixing shock and dark humor with music was a facet of comedy rarely seen until he entered the scene, and he made waves with it. From his own massively successful tours to his cameos in projects like Parks & Recreation, Burnham was known for his humor being the first thing you noticed about him. As such, many fans thought they knew what was coming when they opened up Netflix and pressed play on his new special. However, they couldn't have been more wrong.
As soon as the film, which Burnham shot and performed alone, begins, we are welcomed into a small, dimly lit room where Bo enters through a door. The song "Content" starts playing, and Bo begins singing about how the pandemic changed everything for many people, including himself. He proceeds to apologize for his absence but mentions that he has created some content for the audience. The song ends abruptly, revealing his room in full production mode with keyboards, wires everywhere, microphones and their stands, lighting rigs, and everything else.
Part of the charm of this project as a whole is the fact that it was shot entirely in this one location. While different angles and lighting are used at times, the audience never leaves this spot. In fact, even the state of the room mirrors one of the central ideas of the special: living within chaos. Life is chaotic, and our brains process millions of bits of information and stimuli over the course of even an hour and a half, let alone our entire lives. This room serves as a perfect representation of Bo's mind: disorganized and messy but still functioning.
Over the course of the project, we see the setup change a lot. Almost nothing is in its original place when the video ends, an even further symbolization of his mind. Nothing within our brains ever stays the same for long. If we never changed at all, we would stop working, fail. As such, we move around constantly, putting out fires, adapting to our situation.
Another thing to note is that over the course of it, we see Bo's hair, facial and scalp-wise, grow. This, again, speaks to his development and his mental state. The increasing disorganization is yet another way to characterize all that transpired over the course of the period. All of this, of course, is to say that Bo is desperately trying to convey the sense of uneasiness and uncertainty that had everyone in a chokehold over the course of 2020 when this movie was made.
Moving on from Bo and the room itself, it's important to talk about the other major focus of this project: the music. The music itself has a variety of themes, but the majority focus on grimly giving the audience a reality check. Take the song "Comedy" for example. The song centers around Bo, obviously, but in this instance he is characterizing himself as the caricature we saw a lot of around the start of the pandemic: people trying to "make a difference" in ways that really don't do much at all. This version of Bo is the stereotyped version of himself: an American white guy comedian trying to "make the world a better place" via his own comedy and getting paid in the process. It's easy to misconstrue this special as a whole as the exact thing being portrayed in this song, but I disagree. Rather, I am of the opinion that Bo was entirely aware of this and intended it to be easily misconstrued as the very thing he is writing about. By acknowledging the very nature of a work, the work in turn circumvents true association with its counterpart.
Another segment later in the special, around the 27-minute mark, is Bo making fun of a widely popular style of content on the internet these days: reaction videos. His mock video immediately follows a song about being an unpaid intern and the depressing nature of it. However, things take a turn when the song he's "reacting to" ends, and then his own "video" starts playing as well. As such, it goes into a sort of feedback loop where Bo is reacting to himself, then reacting to himself, then so on and so forth. Eventually, to close out the loop, he ends up criticizing himself and his reactions a lot. Once again, critical self-thought is shown. Barely less than 2 minutes after the segment starts, he has already done a 180 in terms of how he's talking about himself and the video, which yet again feeds into the sentiment of human mental chaos that is prevalent in this. While not a song itself, this segment is still critical to the work as a whole because of how it both breaks and builds tension. It starts off as a comedic reference or break in the special, which, up to this point, has been much different than what people were expecting. It builds a false sense of security as he begins, which is followed, of course, by him essentially pulling a "Sike!" moment on the audience as it devolves to serve the themes of the special once more.
That's all for this week; be sure to check out Part 2 of this blog series when it's out!