Inside Comments On Mental Health & Creativity

Bo Burnham’s “Inside” is streaming on Netflix for those who have an account. // Illustration: Mazie Neill

Message Resonating with Multiple Generations

Every artist knows the feeling of regret. Regret that they do not feel good enough, regret that they are not successful enough, and regret that they are not doing something good in the world. In his recent comedy special, Inside, Bo Burnham explores his own existential regrets of being a comedian in a world where no one seems to want to laugh. Burnham wrote, directed, shot, and edited the entire 87 minute ‘comedy’ special during 2020 in a single room, and reflects on art, solitude, and mental health. 

Bo Burnham is known for his musical style comedies and has multiple specials on Netflix including Make Happy and What. Inside comes five years after Burnham’s last live performance, stating he took the time to improve his mental health. Right as he geared up to enter the world again though, the pandemic hit. Instead of hiding, he began to work. Six months of preparation, lighting tests, song writing, and contemplation came together to form the existential comedy special that makes the audience cry, laugh, reflect, and change. Despite being set in a single room for the entire duration of the special, Burnham’s use of camera angles and lighting give each scene a unique feel, despite the overall tone being claustrophobic. 

The tone throughout most of the special is serious with songs such as “White Woman’s Instagram” and “FaceTime with My Mom (Tonight)” allowing for comedic relief while also making commentaries on the meaning of connection through the internet. Conversely, in “Welcome to the Internet”, he describes the pandemonium that comes with having large amounts of information available as fast as wifi will allow. He switches between tones in a single song so quickly it gives the audience whiplash, which is a perfect metaphor for the internet as a whole. Since the internet has been one of the only ways for people to stay connected with their friends, family, and community during the pandemic, Burnham’s songs demonstrate the light and the dark of the internet. 

The 1918 influenza pandemic had a higher death toll than World War I. This, combined with the events of the war and other social issues, changed the landscape of art at the time. According to the New York Times, artists, “explored this hopelessness, tried to fight against it, and showed the ways in which everyone was trying to cope.” Bo Burnham is taking his own art and repeating history in a way that connects with modern times. He documents his own making of the special and it acts as a documentary of his own mental state throughout the filming. The audience gets glimpses of him setting up lights, catching a camera that falls accidentally, and even him bursting into tears at one point. He begins with short hair and a clean shaven face that slowly becomes longer and unshaven as grooming appointments are canceled with the pandemic. It shows that every single person has changed in some way. Some for the worse, and some for the better, but no person is who they were before the world shut down. 

In the second song of the special, “Comedy”, Burnham sings, “Should I be joking at a time like this? I wanna help to leave this world better than I found it, and I fear that comedy won’t and the fear is not unfounded.” The song brings into question the value of art when no one is able to see it. However, it also criticizes himself and others in their attempt to make the world better the next lines, “Should I stop trying to be funny? Should I give away my money? NO!” In a world that runs on money it seems like a simple fix to pay for answers, but when money is controlled by a small amount of people that benefit more without the change, change is almost impossible. 

This ties in with his songs, “Bezos I” and “Bezos II”, both of which center around and criticize Jeffery Bezos, the richest man in the world. Amazon made waves in the last year, making billions in profit in 2020, overall benefitting from the pandemic that has harmed many more. “Tell us why, show us how, look at where you came from, look at you know,” are lyrics that mock the billionaire for his continued ‘success’ by benefiting off of people who have no choice but to stay inside. Class is one of the largest dividers of people and this division has become worse in the past year. Burnham’s catchy tune satirizes the absurdity of one person’s large amount of wealth versus billions of people’s  suffering. 

One of the most impactful songs of Inside is “All Eyes on Me”. Burnham bares his soul to the camera while singing about his anxiety while performing and how the opportunity to start again was taken from him. The somber song is tinged with bitterness as he sings, “You say the ocean’s rising like I give a s–t, you say the whole world’s ending, honey it already did.” The raw hurt and moody lighting make this the most impactful line of the whole film. Burnham asks why humanity should care about anything if the world has already ended. Isolation has changed the lives of many and has led people towards a more existential line of thinking. 

In “Goodbye” at the end of the special, Burnham asks, “Does anyone want to joke when no one’s laughing in the background?” Creativity stems from human interaction, and comedians especially thrive off of an audience to give immediate feedback. He makes the audience wonder, what is the point of art if no one is there to see it? Can a person grasp the full beauty of the “Mona Lisa” through an image on the internet? Inside strikes the audience to the core, and it is plain to see it resonated with the creator himself as well. Art of all forms, including comedy, comments on the world at large, and when a person’s world is suddenly contained to their room or through a screen, art takes on extreme changes as well. A comedy special becomes an existential reflection on life, and silly songs like “Left Brain, Right Brain” transform into absurd observations about having access to insane amounts of information in “Welcome to the Internet.” Burnham redefines his type of comedy into something that resonates with a person’s inner thoughts on art. 

Life has taken an absurd tone as of late and Burnham sums it up wonderfully in his most recent special. He shows the audience his world and the world of so many others in the small one room area where the entirety of Inside is filmed. Despite the joking tones of some of his songs, Burnham demonstrates the large amount of self-reflection done over the course of the year. The final image is of Burnham watching his special back again, and finally showing a real smile. Existentialism pertaining to a person’s passions can lead to a freer existence or one full of doubts, yet in the end he leaves it up to the viewer to decide which route to take.

This article is from Volume 07 Issue 01:

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