The premise of Bo Burnham’s new Netflix special, Inside, is that a 29-year-old is forced to live alone in a room for a year. As he tries to make something good out of it, his mental health deteriorates, and no amount of comedy or singing can change that.
This, to be clear, is not a pandemic commentary, even if many (myself included) find it an incredibly profound illustration of their own pandemic experience. It’s an intimate look at what life would be like if a person, stripped of any social interaction, had their entire existence filtered through the internet, which is portrayed by Burnham as a sadistic labyrinth of infinite possibilities all leading him further from any sense of self.
That experience isn’t exclusive to pandemic times.
Throughout each song, Burnham lists off problems facing the world — “the drought,” “the war” or other global catastrophes. But these issues are only mentioned in passing, as if you just scrolled past the headlines on your phone. Yet they cause Burnham to self reflect. In these awful times, should he even tell jokes anymore? Will anyone want to hear from a White guy? He decides to tell jokes anyway, because he’d be bored otherwise.
While songs like “FaceTime with My Mom (Tonight)” and “Sexting” get at some of the more relatable technological experiences for Burnham’s generation, this comedy special is darker than Burnham’s been before. He overtly discusses suicidal ideations. The source of his internal anguish, however, doesn’t stem from a personal event — a breakup, or a failed life pursuit. The source is instead shown to be the constant barrage of horrors in the outside world as shown to him on the internet — the exhausting, unending online discourse.
In “Welcome to the Internet,” he’s a crazed host giving a tour of the online world where you can “fight for civil rights or tweet a racial slur.”
“Could I interest you in everything all of the time?” he repeats again and again, right after a manic, disturbing laugh.
The circus of the internet stands in stark contrast to the real life Burnham shows the audience, like when he’s dealing with his sound equipment or fiddling with the lighting to get the perfect shot. It’s these simple moments where Burnham actually seems OK. In this sense, Burnham seems to be saying that being alone inside isn’t the problem. It’s the fear of venturing outside, of being caught in the terrifying reality he’s spent so much time experiencing on the other side of a screen.
“Now come out with your hands up,” Burnham imagines the world will say in the final song as he steps outside. “We’ve got you surrounded.” ♦