Bo Burnham is Healing the World with Comedy

There it is again, that funny feeling… After a year and a half of staying inside, Burnham gives us a reason to smile.

While I’m roughly the same age as Bo Burnham, I don’t know him from YouTube. I mean, I know he was a YouTube comedy phenom back in the early aughts, but I wasn’t one of his many viewers at that time. Somehow, I seemed to have missed the golden age of YouTube completely, while still managing to know everything about it by simply being alive. There’s no escaping the cultural zeitgeist no matter how far from the center of it you choose to be, and so, just like anything of relevance at any given time, I became at least vaguely familiar with the man this is Bo Burnham.

Something about songs, right? He’s a 16-year-old boy who performs funny songs on YouTube? Got it. You can see how a girl about to graduate from high school at this time might not be the audience for this particular brand of comedy, but I digress.

Cut to years later when a little movie called, Eighth Grade premiered at Sundance Film Festival. Lo and behold, it’s directed by a guy name Bo Burnham and suddenly his name is everywhere again and back on my radar. Being a cinefile and in attendance at my very first first Sundance in 2018, I had already read all about this film. While I couldn't manage to snag tickets to the screening, it was on my list and I saw it the first chance I got when it came out in wide-release. When I finally did see it, I was completely in awe of the achievement and even more blown away by the idea that a guy in his mid 20s was behind the scenes.

How had he managed to capture the essence of what middle school feels for a girl growing up using social media and navigating all the negative aspects of the internet? Boys and girls have very different middle school experiences, not to mention experiences using social media. Born in 1990 himself, Burnham didn’t grow up with social media like his protagonist, Kayla. While he was likely exposed to the internet at a fairly young age, the way things operated then weren’t on par with what ‘internet culture’ demands of youth now.

Despite this, he managed to tap into the very real uncertainty, vulnerability, and awkwardness that defines the middle school experience, especially for girls. He addressed the fact that kids now grow up navigating two different realities—the real world and the digital world—and how overwhelming that is for them. As someone in my late 20s at the time, I felt seen watching this film, and I still find that remarkable years later.

My next encounter with Burnham was during quarantine this year when I saw Promising Young Woman, in which he acts alongside Carey Mulligan, as her love interest. His magnetic on-screen presence makes it all the more difficult to accept that he’s actually a villain by the end of the film, but for a while there, you’re really rooting for the guy. At least I was. Despite the ending, he’s completely charming in this role, and just like that, Burnham was back on my radar.

When I heard that he had a new Netflix special coming out, I was naturally intrigued. I’d never actually known him as the comedian, singer-songwriter he started out as, and I was curious what that was all about. This said, I’m not normally one for the musical comedy genre. Sure, I’ve listened to Weird Al (shoutout to my brother who, at one point in his life, only recognized songs if Weird AL had parodied them), Flight of the Concords are fantastic, and who hasn’t belted out, Wonder Boy by Tenacious D at least once? I get that musical comedy is a thing and I understand its appeal to a certain extent, but for whatever reason, it’s never been my go-to brand of laughs. For this reason, I was wary about Burnham’s special, Inside. I wasn’t ready not to love him, and I thought this might be the breaking point in our relationship.

WRONG.

Burnham delivers and then some. This is by far the best piece of content I’ve enjoyed all quarantine, and a welcomed release from the monotony of being indoors for a the better part of two years. It’s the most visceral, comedic, musical rollercoaster ride, and I was completely unprepared for the feelings that came up for me as I watched it. There was laughter, there were tears, there were moments of unadulterated joy. It’s something I haven’t been able to stop replaying in my head since watching it, and the songs are catchy as all hell, so you know I got me that soundtrack. I’ve loved plenty of comedy specials in my life, but none of them stands out in the same way Inside does. It’s honest to goodness gold through and though.

It’s relatable. It’s, at times, on the nose. It’s observant and witty. It’s seriously funny. It’s creative and smart. It’s subtle and sad. I could sit here and spit out every adjective in the book, and I still wouldn’t be able to fully capture the magic. It’s just fucking good.

I suspect my enthusiasm comes from a place of being relatively the same age as Burnham because I relate so hard to much of the content, which may not be as true for older viewers. “White Woman’s Instagram,” for example, is one such song that absolutely slayed me, but that my parents would scoff at because they aren’t on Instagram and have no idea what he’s talking about.

He’s so on point with his commentary, however, and while he is certainly poking fun, it’s so thoughtfully done, you aren’t offended even if you are a white woman on Instagram whose posts reflect his portrayal to a T. You’re just sitting there nodding, like “Yep… that’s me. 100%.” And I find that that’s where the real joy of this special can be found. Burnham isn’t trying to offend us per se, he’s just showing us ourselves over and over and over again.

Songs like, “FaceTime with my Mom (Tonight)” had me rolling on the floor because, goddammit if that isn’t everyone’s mom to a certain extent or at least a mom we know. And his tribute to Jeff Bezos, not once, but twice, over the course of the special killed me. He doesn’t even have to directly speak to why he’s bringing Bezos into this thing, we know all too well.

AND THERE’S SO MUCH MORE.

I don’t have time to discuss all the many songs he sings during the hour and a half run time, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s better that I don’t. You’ll want to see this thing through fresh eyes. What I can say is that I was captivated throughout. He’s talented, and that talent oozes off the screen—from lighting design to meta video commentary to musical ability and oh, yeah COMEDY—in the most genuine way possible.

The result is a magnetic, observant, poignant, charismatic, and wildly hilarious portrayal of life during one of the most difficult times in our collective lives. Through the course of 20 original songs, I feel like I not only got to experience another side of Burnham that I hadn’t seen or known before but relate to him on a level I really wasn’t expecting. Not only was this the most original piece of content I’ve seen from anyone recently, I think it set the bar extremely high for self-made/self-produced art from here on out.

Bottom line: If you are somehow still unaware of Bo Burnham, or unconvinced by my shameless gushing that he’s the real deal, please watch Inside, and decide for yourself.

Inside is now streaming on Netflix.

Just another movie-obsessed writer with a lot of opinions.