Not strictly queer, but holy cow, I’m queer and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Inside, so here goes.
The first time I watched Inside, the Netflix special by Bo Burnham, my eyes dried out because I literally could not look away. It was beautiful, harrowing, and utterly engaging. “Look, I made you some content. Daddy made you your favorite, so open wide.” Did he ever! In revealing himself, he revealed my own obsession with sharing myself but not wanting to be seen, with overthinking every thought and vulnerable admission into uselessness. It is uncomfortable, dark, and the best thing I’ve watched all year.
Inside is about the timeless intersection of depression, anxiety, and performance combined with the specific circumstances of a privileged white person dealing with COVID isolation and his culpability in creating a culture that is harmful to BIPOC people. The beginning of the show (especially songs “Comedy” and “How the World Works” as well as the bit about brands fixing racial injustice) is a self-deprecating attempt to defend his voice as a straight white man during the Black Lives Matter movement. It was a turnoff for someone I recommended this to, but I found his honesty entertaining and illuminating. I never fail to crack up when his sweet singing voice transitions into a demonic negation when he asks, “Should I give away all my money? NO!” I relate to the struggle! In the increasingly terrifying song “How the World Works,” Burnham perfectly demonstrates the subtle and scary power that he has as a white man. Is it changing the world? Maybe not, but it does reveal truths in uncomfortable in hopefully beneficial ways.
Burnham is a comedian, and there are definitely some excellent comedy bits in the show, from songs about Facetiming his mom to the truly phenomenal “White Woman’s Instagram.” But as the hour and a half special continues, his hair and beard grow out, and the bright creative energy takes on a real vulnerability. The show ends with him sitting naked at his keyboard, hunched into himself as he sings his deepest fears at an audience he both craves and resents (“Hey, here’s a fun idea: how ’bout I sit on the couch, and I watch you next time? I want to hear you tell a joke when no one’s laughing in the background.”) It’s a familiar feeling for any of us who thought the isolation of the pandemic would jumpstart our creative projects but instead found ourselves dealing with the darkest and most uncomfortable parts of ourselves. I respect the hell out of him for finishing the project, for allowing it to get darker and keeping it all as representative of his experience.
The turning point in the show, for me, is when he jokes about killing himself, then immediately cuts to a new scene. In a lighthearted conversational tone, he assures viewers that it isn’t cool to joke about suicide, and that anyone who feels like they want to die should reach out for help. It’s a hollow after school special that works because the video is projected onto a second Burnham’s white t-shirt. He literally wears his message, but his face is drawn and intense. We’re left with the knowledge that he knows this is what he’s supposed to say, even if it doesn’t change the feelings of pain that he is sorting through. It’s arresting, creative, and heartbreakingly relatable.
From that point on, the social issues of the first half of the show fade into self-reflection and admission, “How we feeling out there tonight? Yeaaah! I am not feeling good.” Burnham perfectly portrays a Twitch streamer controlling his own uncontrollable life, stuck in a single room with the only available action: crying. This layers upon layers is a consistent theme throughout the show, and I have never seen my own propensity to overthink so accurately portrayed. In one segment early on, he watches himself sing a song about unpaid interns, commenting upon what’s happening, until this too is layered upon, commenting upon his comments, and again. It is a physical representation of a thought spiral, going deeper and deeper into his psyche through the medium of an Internet pastime.
Speaking of the Internet! My favorite song in the entire show is undoubtedly “Welcome to the Internet,” in which he lures us like a carnival barker with “a little bit of everything all of the time.” His madcap lists of all that the Internet has to offer, from tips for straining pasta to a nine-year-old who died, damn viewers with our unthinking engagement in a system that demands more, more, more. It’s a fun song, one I can’t stop singing, even though it absolutely fills me with fear.
Guys, I love this show. I’ve tried to describe some of what makes it so appealing to me, but I can’t do it full justice. Watching Bo Burnham’s Inside is an emotional experience that hits deeper than words and explanation. If you’ve ever felt trapped inside your own head, I think you’ll relate to this production. I know I felt seen, understood, and oddly hopeful, knowing that I’m not alone in my mass of twisted feelings that are both strange and beautiful.